V is for Vulva

I’d never really thought about my vagina as a potential source of controversy until this week. Coming up with ideas for articles for the print issue of CUB, around the theme ‘love yourself’, my fellow editor and I proposed ‘things you didn’t know about the clitoris’. This, however was deemed “crude and distasteful” and was vetoed by the SU. It got me thinking – What’s the big deal?

I’ve seen hundreds of penises in mainstream films *cough* Ben Affleck shower scene *cough*. I remember my first penis very clearly, it was Graham Clapham’s in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Ive seen boobs a-plenty, but I am still holding my breath for my first glimpse of fanny on films that aren’t restricted to the top shelf. In America, a flaccid penis can be shown and still gain a ‘R’ rating (requiring under 17s to be unaccompanied by an adult) but the film Blue Valentine had to fight to secure the same rating, not because it actually showed anything because it depicted Ryan Gosling’s character going down on Michelle Williams meaning we couldn’t ignore the vag’s existence (it was originally rated NC-17, meaning over 17 year olds only). Hollywood, it seems, has said no to the noonie.

But even in porn, where I expect to be able to see the front bottom footloose and fancy free, it’s not that simple. In Australia, vaginas in soft pornography must be airbrushed to ‘heal it to a single crease’ so that no outer parts of the labia are shown, because heaven forbid people are turned on by a real-life lady garden. In the art world, where boundaries are often pushed, the vagina isn’t safe either. In Japan, artist Megumi Igarashi who bases her art on her vagina has recently been charged with obscenity. If convicted, she could be jailed for up to two years and/or fined as much as 2.5 million yen (£13,350, $20,750).

Sometime, just the word “vagina” is deemed too shocking. In 2012, Apple censoredNaomi Wolf’s newly published book, Vagina: A New Biography, opting to asterisk the pesky reference to pussy. One commenter of the Telegraph article reporting this writes “What a load of bollocks, silly feminists getting uptight about a decent company filtering an indecent word.” Why, if I can tell my friend to “stop being a dick”, or shout “bollocks!” when I forget about that assignment that’s due in tomorrow, can I not refer to a part of my body without inspiring blushes and even disgust?

The reason why people are offended by the reference or depiction of the vagina is because it is seen as inherently sexual and thus private. It is reserved for the bedroom or pornography, when the veil is lifted is tantalisingly. But that way of thinking needs to be challenged. The vulva is a body part. Women (despite some thinking otherwise) are not inherently sexual, and neither are our vaginas. People use their hands, tongue and goodness knows what else for sexual pleasure but we don’t seek to censor those.

One of my favourite moments on Orange is the New Black is the episode where Sophia, a transgender woman, educates some of the other inmates about the anatomy of the vulva. The scene is hilarious, but it’s also saddening because the truth is many women aren’t entirely clued up on their genitals. How many of you have actually got a mirror and had a good look down there? We are taught from a young age that those parts are private to a degree that’s almost secretive. We should not talk about it. The media is equally hush hush so, when one inevitable stumble on the airbrushed “perfect” porn fanny, we’re left confused that ours don’t look like that too. Being open is the first step to being educated. How are we to learn about such an important part of our body if we’re too embarrassed to talk about it, let alone look at it.

My clitoris is not crude or distasteful, a lot of us have them. I think it’s about high time those with vaginas were able to talk about them without fear of offending.

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