Guest post by Kati Bicknell, Kindara
Now I know in the title of this post I say “Five things you probably don’t know about your vagina,” but really it’s about more than your vagina. The V Book, by Elizabeth Gunther Stewart and Paula Spencer, is basically the owner’s manual for all people who have any of the following V’s — vagina, vulva, and vestibule. Don’t know what a vestibule is? Read on, my good friend!
I am a bonafide vagina nerd myself, and when I read this book I learned a BUNCH of things that I did not know. Here are my top five:
- So we all know (now) about cervical fluid, but did you know that it’s not the only substance produced by your lady bits to keep things running smoothly? Your vulva actually produces a thin waxy substance, called sebum that lubricates the folds of your labia! It’s a blend of oils, fats, waxes, and cholesterol. If it didn’t, your labia and everything else would be all friction-y and chafe when you walked, had sex, moved, did anything really. That blew my mind. Thanks, body!
- Have you ever wondered how the vagina is simultaneously quite small, (i.e., sometimes even putting in a tampon might be uncomfortable and “stretchy”) and also somehow stretches to accommodate a baby passing through it? I definitely have. Well, it’s all thanks to your rugae! Rugae are small pleats that allow the vagina to be both very small and compact, and then to expand to many times its original size when necessary. Rugae is kind of like ruching! You know, the process of using tons of fabric and then scrunching it so it becomes a smaller form. I’m wearing a ruched jacket at this very moment, actually. It makes you think, if you wore this dress to the prom, are you subliminally broadcasting “HEY! THIS IS WHAT THE INSIDE OF MY VAGINA LOOKS LIKE”?
- Vestibule! (I told you we’d get here.) Okay! So the vestibule is important enough to be included in the three V’s of the V book, and yet I was like, “where the heck is my vestibule?” Well, it’s the place in between your inner labia. Here it is on Wikipedia, with an image that is ***not safe for work,*** unless you work in the field of sexual health, in which case, click away!
- Labia (as in the labia majora and labia minora). This word is actually plural. If you are referring to only one lip it’s called a labium.
Only in rare instances is a human female born with the hymen completely covering the vaginal opening. Most hymens are a little circle of very thin skin that partially covers the vaginal opening, but still leaves space for menstrual blood and cervical fluid to come out. Here is a hilarious and educational video explaining more about this. [Editor's note: Many sex educators today call it the vaginal corona, not the hymen.]
And there is a LOT more info in that book. Tons. Go pick it up today and learn more than you ever thought possible about vaginas, vulvas, and vestibules!
Research by SMCR members Tomi-Ann Roberts and Nicki Dunnavan garnered a lot of attention this week. Stories showed up at Live Science – Why Why Women Should Bring Their Periods ‘Out of the Closet, popular ladyblog Jezebel – Your Period Is a Time for Deep Lady-Bonding, and the Daily Mail - Women, start talking about it. Period! Roberts and Dunnavan surveyed 340 religious and non-religious women about their experiences and attitudes about menstruation. As the Daily Mail reported: ”U.S. researchers say women across the world need to be more positive about menstruation – and that means talking about it in public.”
There’s been lots of public discussion about contraception, some might say too much! The birth control/medical insurance coverage brouhaha hit a boiling point last week with Rush Limbaugh’s egregious comments about Sandra Fluke, and the heated debate rages still. Maureen J Andrade at OpenSalon writes that Birth Control Is Not a Women’s Issue: It’s a Human Right, while Asma T. Uddin and Ashley McGuire, blogging at the Washington Post, insist It’s about religious liberty, not birth control. A group of crafters has come up with a unique protest action: sending “interfering” male government members a knitted or crocheted uterus, vagina or cervix, while feministing.com has invited readers to Talk About Birth Control For REAL.
Back to women’s experience of menstruation, Enith Morillo in Menses’ non-sense: Menstruation and the Muslim Woman’s “Red Tent” and Carolyn West in Menstruation – Celebration or Taboo?, explore different cultural menstrual traditions.
If a product manufacturer or its advertising company, or both, cannot figure out which part of the female body their new line of feminine hygiene products can be used for, then both are in big trouble.
There has been much hoopla over the recently launched Summer’s Eve campaign. Links to stories about and response to the campaign can be found in my fellow blogger Elizabeth Kissling’s July 27th post. The most serious backlash to the campaign resulted in three videos perceived as “racially insensitive” being pulled from the campaign website late last week.
What rankles me about the campaign – beyond its patronizing, unsophisticated and euphemistically silly approach to the female genital area - is that it appears to target the vagina when it is clear that none of these products are actually intended for use in the vagina.
Regardless of what one might think about the value of or necessity for these femcare products, an advertising campaign for such products must convey accurate information. Like where to use them.
The product line includes: cleansing wash, cleansing cloths, deodorant spray, body powder, and bath and shower gel. Click on the OUR PRODUCTS box on the website home page and you’ll see this: Meet the products that love your vagina. Oh, really?
These products are not intended, I repeat, not intended for use in the vagina. One would think that the product manufacturer knows this. Why then did they choose a talking vagina, and across-the-board references to the vagina, to convey their product message on the website?
Interestingly, the print and TV ads hold no direct reference to the vagina. The website coyly advises viewers that they can call it “V” for short. It is this moniker and the tagline ” Hail to the V” that crosses over to print and television.
Maybe this was intended as a subtle reference to the other “V” word – vulva . It’s pretty clear this is the body part for which the Summer’s Eve products are intended.
I wanted to know why the creative team at The Richards Group, the ad company responsible for the campaign, chose to use the word vagina instead of vulva. My request for an interview to ask this question was turned down, so instead I asked two colleagues what they thought the reason might be.
Valerie Barr, veteran sexual health educator and training centre manager at Calgary Sexual Health Centre, suspects it’s because vagina is assumed to mean what is actually the vulva. She says, “I believe this assumption, or taken-for-granted use of the term, serves to avoid discussion of the clitoris and therefore, female sexual response.” Barr says she thinks it demonstrates that in our culture we continue to be unconsciously uncomfortable with women being sexual beings.
Rebecca Chalker, female anatomy expert and author of The Clitoral Truth, also believes that fear of the word clitoris has much to do with it. ”Clitoris is the most toxic word in the English language, and to this day is considered obscene and too offensive to be used in the media. Just try it on people,” she says.
“Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) made the vagina safe for the general public – even she did not use the C–word. Vagina has now become the default reference for everything ‘down there.’ Those ad guys are no different. Perhaps they’re just using the default because that’s what they think people can relate to most readily,” Chalker says.
Although vulva is the accurate word to describe the female body part intended to benefit from the Summer’s Eve product line, Chalker says, “It would be a tragedy if vulva becomes the new default. In anatomical parlance vulva just means covering.”
All of this proves that Summer’s Eve Vaginaland is a minefield, and incredibly more complex than the silly campaign would have us believe. Marketing femcare products has always been a challenge for advertisers, but that’s another story.
In deciding to pull the aforementioned videos from the campaign, Stacie Barnett, Richards Group PR Executive, told Adweek that the backlash “had begun to overshadow the message and goal of the larger campaign – to educate women about their anatomy and break down taboos in talking about it….”
Well, the educational value of the ”Hail to the V” campaign is in question, and we’re still not talking about the right body part.
“If you’d told me three months ago that I’d let a plastic surgeon examine my froufrou, that I’d show it to another woman (who wasn’t a doctor) and then allow an artist to take a cast of my Mary, I’d have laughed you out of the house. But it’s extraordinary how documentary-making changes your mind about even the most concrete of things . . . “
–Lisa Rogers, presenter of Channel 4 documentary “The Perfect Vagina”
Rogers’ film is a poignant exploration of why young women in the UK seek labiaplasty and hymenoplasty.
Via Virginia at Beauty Schooled, who is celebrating her graduation from Beauty U by republishing selected posts, I found this August 24 article about the trend of spas offering hair removal services to increasingly younger clients – starting at age 8.
Wanda Stawczyk, owner of Wanda’s European Skin Care Center in New York, says girls who start waxing young, even before they have dark hair, will always have lighter, thinner hair.
“It’s a very big result,” she tells ParentDish. “The hair is diminished almost 100 percent.”
She advocates for it even more strongly on her website.
“I call it the ‘Virgin’ — waxing for children 8 years old and up who have never shaved before,” the website reads. “Virgin hair can be waxed so successfully that growth can be permanently stopped in just 2 to 6 sessions. Save your child a lifetime of waxing … and put the money in the bank for her college education instead!”
Pediatricians consulted for the article raise concerns only about removal of pubic hair:
Waxing pubic hair if a girl is too young can make it difficult for doctors to tell if a girl is maturing as she should, Williams says.
“We use development of a certain type of hair and distribution of hair as a marker of normal puberty,” she says.
No worries, though. Wanda says her salon doesn’t do bikini waxes on their prepubescent clients:
“Everything but bikini. We don’t want to introduce them to that kind of service yet.”
Regular bikini waxing starts at 14 or 15 for her clients, Stawczyk says. Apparently they missed the latest issue of Cosmopolitan.
Not being a subscriber to Cosmopolitan, I didn’t see the cover of the current issue until I was standing in the check-out line at my local Albertson’s on Tuesday evening. I didn’t want to contribute to Hearst’s profits by purchasing the issue and I didn’t have time to peek inside, so I can only guess what “sexy style” is back for your lady garden.
Step 1: Wash your vulva.
Yep, you’re a lady, so step 1 in asking your boss for a raise is washing your ladyparts with special ladysoap. It’s not until step 8 that we get around to “focus on things you’ve done for the company’s bottom line”.
(Actual advertisement from actual ladymag.)
[via Trixie Films]
ETA 08/27/2010: Via the always-awesome Bitch magazine, we’ve learned that Summer’s Eve brand manager has apologized for this ad, and is working to remove it from circulation:
Hi I am Angela Bryant, Summer’s Eve Brand Manager. I would like to first of all apologize if this ad in anyway has offended anyone. We are taking immediate next steps to remove the ad from circulation. We want you to know that Fleet Laboratories and the Summer’s Eve brand have the utmost respect for women. While we understand how some may come to an alternative conclusion regarding our recent ad, that was never our intention. Thank you.
In Therese Shechter’s guest-post about the German teen magazine feature article, “Every Vulva Is Different”, she noted that we’re unlikely to see such an explicit, body-positive article in a U.S. teen magazine. Therese, as usual, knows what she’s talking about. In this just-released video clip from her forthcoming documentary How to Lose Your Virginity, Susan Schulz, the Editor-in-Chief of CosmoGirl! magazine, tells viewers about the time CosmoGirl! ran an article titled “Vulva Love”, which included a cartoon drawing of vulvar anatomy and some basic, age-appropriate physiological and health information about vulvas. It was the most complained about article ever published by the magazine. The complaints were not from the magazine readers, however: the grievances were filed by the mothers of subscribers. Parents thought it was inappropriate material for their teen daughters.
After you watch the clip, consider throwing a few bucks Trixie’s way so she can complete the film – the project needs another $3585 pledged by July 1 to receive the $10,000 they’re trying to raise.
Two provocative stories about ladybusiness today:
- Our friend, artist Alexandra Jacoby, was interviewed by Curve magazine [pdf] about her Vagina Vérité® photography project. The interview notes her surprise at how few of the women who’ve posed for v-portraits have pubic hair.
- In a related story, Virginia at the Beauty Schooled project reports her latest thoughts on the popularity of baring it all with Brazilian waxing.