It’s about time we start celebrating vulvas

I remember going for a wee when I was around twelve, looking down at my vagina and being baffled by the sudden appearance of labia minora. I had literally no idea what they were…

I remember going for a wee when I was around twelve, looking down at my vulva and being baffled by the sudden appearance of labia minora. I had literally no idea what they were.  

Before that age, I obviously wasn’t familiar or interested in the lower realms of my body and so hadn’t noticed it changing during the start of puberty. Suddenly, I realised that my vulva looked different. Gone were the days of me feeling comfortable to run around naked or talk about my body. How was I supposed to find out if this was normal?

After a few weeks of regular investigation, I plucked up the courage to talk to my mum. She said that everyone with a vulva has labia and that they come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. This reassured me a bit, but I still wondered if my vulva was normal. Was it ugly? How would a future partner would react to it?

Over the next few years, during moments of insecurity, I googled vulvas (or rather vaginas) online. Sometimes with positive results. When delving deep into the internet I found a feminist tumblr site where women post their very real and varying vulvas. This was reassuring.

Unfortunately, porn is the most obvious and easy place to go with vulvas related questions. It is also where many young cis men will see their first vulvas, causing a warped view of what is normal. Mainstream porn sites aren’t representative of the diverse reality of vulvas.

With unrealistic bodies in porn, the taboo of female pleasure and vulvas jokes (focused on smell and labia) it is not surprising that people with vulvas feel insecure about this fabulous body part from a young age. In 2016, 45 per cent more labia plastic surgery procedures were carried out than in 2015, according to data gathered by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. This is extremely upsetting.

Drunk on new year’s eve a few years ago, my friends and I somehow got onto the topic of vulvas. We realised that all of us were insecure about ours and so decided to show each other. It left me feeling empowered and more confident. All my friends had lovely but different vulvas and this reaffirmed how diverse vulvas can be.

I am unbelievably lucky to have a ridiculously open friendship group, a comfortable relationship with a female family member, a feminist boyfriend who is extremely praising and to have found positive internet sites. And despite this I still don’t love or feel completely confident about how my vulva looks! All someone needs is for one of these people to have said the wrong thing, or nothing at all to be hateful towards their vulva. This can negatively impact on the pleasure and sex life of vulva owners. Many people with vulvas feeling insecure about receiving head, a vital route to the female orgasm.

At school, aged 14 I remember in a game of ‘would you rather’ I said I would rather give anything and do anything to a future male partner than be given head because I found the concept so embarrassing.

Often men don’t help combat this. Back in school, I had a friend who’s boyfriend told her that his exes vulva was much more ugly than hers. When they broke up she heard from a friend that he’d said the exact same thing about her to the new girl he was seeing. This would have made all the women involved aware that vulvas are something that they should be insecure about. As someone removed from the situation, hearing the story still made me rethink my feelings towards my vulva. Once again, I was wondering if a guy would think mine was ugly.

Recently, a study from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust has shown that women being insecure about their vulvas has even more serious consequences than bad sex. When surveying 2,005 women, the charity found that 81% said they either delayed or didn’t go to their cervical screenings due to embarrassment. This highlights how important it is that we strive to make vulva owners feel comfortable and happy about their vulvas.

So, how can we make those with vulvas feel comfortable about them?
People with vulvas should talk about receiving head more amongst their friends.
Their partners should talk about and celebrate giving head more amongst their friends.
People should praise their partners vulvas and not by comparing them to others.
Porn should show a more diverse range of bodies. We love feminist, ethical porn!
And lastly, there should be more positive places online where anyone with a vulva can discover that their vulva is normal and beautiful without relying on a partners validation. These places shouldn’t be porn-related as porn can be traumatic for young people who are just starting puberty.

This is why Clitbait wants to include a gallery where the diversity of bodies (and vulvas in particular) can be explored and celebrated, in a non-sexual way.

We want all vulva owners to learn to love their vulva from as early as possible.

Lilah Hyman