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(sex)uality: making friends with your vulva

Jamie McCartney’s ‘Great Wall of Vagina’

We’re told from a young age, if our parents use anatomically correct language, that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. But if we are being accurate, the female external genitalia should be called the vulva. Why is this distinction important? By labelling your downstairs mix-up ‘vagina’ you are skipping over a lot of important anatomy and a lot of fun.

The vulva includes all the external parts of the female genitalia. The labia majora (the outer lips), the labia minora (inner lips), the vaginal opening, the external part of the clitoris, the mons pubis (tissue lying above the pubic bone), and the urethral opening are all included. Calling all this a ‘vagina’ really hurts your vulva’s feelings.

Any girl who had comprehensive sex education (which in Australia may or may not happen depending on your State or your school) will have been instructed to have a look at your vulva with a handheld mirror. Many of us didn’t do this, making our vulvas a place of mystery and sometimes shame. That we continue to mislabel this part of our bodies is an indicator of this shame continuing into our adult lives.

So what can we do to rebuild our friendship with our vulvas? We can start by labelling it correctly and learning more about it. Perhaps we can finally grab that hand mirror and have a proper look around. Say hello to your vulva.

All vulvas look different. If you have watched any porn, you may be under the impression that all vulvas look the same – shaved, pink, small labia majora and minora. This is rarely the case. If your vulva looks different from the porn vulvas, it is still beautiful and lovable (and deserving of excessive amounts of oral sex). Jamie McCartney recognised this with his art piece The Great Wall of Vagina. He moulded a wide range of women’s vulvas and placed them in a wall of other vulvas to demonstrate the diversity and beauty of the external female genitalia. What you notice first when looking at this piece is how different these vulvas are from porn vulvas. Labia minora and majora can range in size and shape from woman to woman. Labia minora can be longer than labia majora. Lips can be uneven. But all these vulvas are beautiful. Your vulva is beautiful.

How else can we make friends with our vulvas? Masturbation, my favourite self-esteem booster and act of self-love. I know, I know, I am constantly harping on at you to masturbate. What can I say? I truly believe your wellbeing is improved from just a bit of self-love.

Sometimes in a long term friendship, you need to do things for your friend that may not be fun at the time, but make the relationship stronger long term. Your vulva will thank you for doing your pelvic floor exercises. Strengthening your pelvic floor will minimise complications relating to natural childbirth, including incontinence. You know when you stop in the middle of urinating? The muscle you use to stop mid-stream is the muscle you want to focus on. If you were to clench your pelvic floor for 10 seconds about 10 times a day, perhaps on the commute to work or every time you think of it, you will gain mad muscle tone. You can also invest in kegel balls, which you insert into the vagina and are pretty much dumbbells for your pelvic floor. A stronger pelvic floor can also enhance sex, but don’t take my word for it.

A friend and I recently made a batch of play doh. We decided it would be interesting to make a model of our vulvas. Both of us had only really looked at them briefly in a hand mirror during puberty, and found it interesting to have a proper look. It was confronting. At first, I felt extremely embarrassed and weirded out. Aside from this being something you almost never look at, there is also a lot of social shame we feel as women about our vulvas. However, once you get down there with a mirror it is pretty powerful. You can’t help but love that old friend.

Once our moulds were completed, my friend and I were so proud and in love with our green and orange play doh vulvas, we now have plans to mould them out of clay that we can keep forever. Loving my vulva makes me feel full and womanly. I feel more powerful and comfortable with my sexuality. I hope my story reminds you to say hi to your vulva and learn to love it. Isn’t it time?

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