The Vagina Museum comes now; only 22 years later (just another example of men coming first), and there is still a long way to go. At least someone is finally doing it though.
Florence was able to raise £50,000 ($64,750USD) to create the museum, and judging from the popularity, it shouldn’t be difficult to raise more in the future. This is important because the museum is currently completely free, providing information to all who enter. (Like me though, you might be compelled to buy all sorts of vagina and clitoris themed merch in their gift shop.)
The Two Biggest Myths This Exhibition Busts
“Vaginas are smelly, unclean, and need to be washed with strong soaps.”
One panel is accompanied by a box of products meant to give your vagina that nip and tuck look and that new vagina smell. Everyone gathered around the box looked at it with confusion and horror. One product specifically, something called Virginity Soap, seemed particularly perplexing.
A number of these products are aimed at Asian or Middle Eastern women, so from a western perspective, it can be easy to separate ourselves from these types of products and say we wouldn’t do something like that. This however, is flat out just not true.
Go to your local grocery store and you will find all sorts of products that reinforce the idea that your vagina is not ok the way it is. In fact, Vaginal Rejuvenation surgery, which includes both Labiaplasty (removing part of the labia minora) and vaginal tightening surgery is the quickest growing form of cosmetic surgery in the world.
“You don’t need any of these products,” Dara says earnestly and repeatedly. Vaginas are self-cleaning, and unless something seems very unusual (in which case you should see a doctor), washing with water is enough. “Discharge can have its own smell,” says Dara. “It’s not floral, but it’s not supposed to be. Your armpits aren’t floral, your feet aren’t floral, we are not supposed to smell floral!"
This is not a small problem either. Non-medical vaginal products make up a $24 billion industry that doesn’t show any signs of decreasing. “It’s going to be hard to fight this myth that we need to put things in there to make it smell like fucking ocean breeze,” says Dara. “But we are going to do it.”
The other category of products in the briefcase against vaginas are vaginal tightening products. This is a marker of how much value many societies put on virginity and women who are not ‘loose,’ morally or otherwise. The premises for this whole thing is absurd though. The vagina is a muscle that tightens and stretches, and then goes back to how it was. No one has ever been able to prove any correlation between the frequency of penetration and the supposed ‘tightness’ of a vagina.
Read: 5 Myths OB/GYNs Want You to Stop Believing About Your Vulva
"Losing your virginity equals penis in vagina."
If asked when you lost your virginity, you would probably think about the first time you had penis in vagina penetration. While that may work for some, this definition excludes a lot of people.
What about people who experienced sexual abuse as children? Or people who are gay? Or people who have vaginismus, which makes penetration incredibly painful? The museum places a strong focus on the idea that losing your virginity is something that happens when you decide. It also doesn’t happen when riding a horse or inserting a tampon.
That brings us to the hymen, the new “it” topic when it comes to completely misunderstood anatomy. The hymen is a thin piece of membrane that covers most of the vagina at birth. “It’s the baby teeth of your genitals,” explains Dara.
As previously covered, the vagina is self-cleaning, but that superpower only comes with the production of estrogen, which doesn’t happen until puberty. Before then, the vagina can’t get rid of bacteria and infections on its own. Considering that babies spend at least a few minutes a day sitting in their own urine and feces, infections are clearly a possibility.
The hymen acts as a lid for the vagina, keeping it safe from intruding bacteria. Around three years old, that membrane starts to pull back and disintegrate, until a point where it rarely covers the whole entry to the vagina.
There is no possible way, let me repeat that, no possible way, to tell if a woman has had sex yet just by looking at her hymen.
Read: Your Vulva Isn't Ugly, It Just Looks That Way
More to Come
While the current exhibition focuses on vagina myths, the museum will feature various exhibitions and host a long list of special events throughout the year. There will also be monthly events like the PUB(e) quiz night, a book club called Cliterature, and a vagina themed bingo night called Bajingo.
Basically, if you like vaginas or vagina themed puns, the Vagina Museum is your place.