Depending on where you cast your net into the wild west of the internet, you could come away thinking women are proudly, shamelessly obsessed with their vaginas. So obsessed they “vajazzle” the sucker, or stick jade eggs up there to “cultivate sexual energy,” or steam it over cauldrons of mugwort tea to relax.
In the other, less sparkly corner is team Vaginal Repulsion: Women who find their own vaginas totally gross, and don’t want to talk about them, or think about them, and would prefer you didn’t either. While the truth for many women is likely in the middle, there’s one thing we can say for certain: Having a vagina means having contradictory feelings about said vagina.
A recent Savage Love question for sexpert Dan Savage illuminates this truth, where a reader writes in to wonder why his girlfriend of eight years likes sex but isn’t crazy about him going near her vagina with anything but his penis. He writes:
I’m a 35-year old straight male, engaged to my girlfriend of eight years. While we have a good sex life, she often won’t let me finger or lick her. When she does, she enjoys it and easily climaxes while receiving oral sex. But her higher brain functions get in the way, as she has internalized our culture’s body shaming. She has likened me “sticking my nose down there” to “sticking my head in the toilet.” Whenever I sexy-talk about licking her, she reacts with a mood killing “eww.” But she says she would enjoy it if she could let me. I can’t make heads or tails of it! When we have sex, she cuts foreplay short and gets straight to penetration. Since her pussy is not yet fully aroused and wet, we use lube and I climax long before she does. She feels pleasure and moans, but she really does not value her own orgasm. But I do, and I miss seeing her climax! I wish I could help her overcome her body issues — but when I “use my words,” she feels pressured and can’t relax. I am at a loss. Please help!
Loves Inhibited Carnal Killjoy
I can tell you why she likes sex but is weird about her vagina: Because she is a woman alive in a society that tells her to like sex but be weird about her vagina. Because men openly tell the internet they think vaginas are gross and openly tell their girlfriends. Because vaginal insecurity is a highly profitable industry.
Also, for us, the vagina is about a lot more than sexuality. If we menstruate, it’s a monthly reminder of our body’s biological capacity for childrearing. It bleeds, it emits moisture, it dries up, it can become infected, it can hurt inexplicably. It’s the pathway to a sacred space for nurturing human life to gestation; it’s also where a dick goes.
But it’s not the acts themselves that make it gross, it’s the messages women receive about their vaginal duties that make them insecure. Someone went to the forum Girls Ask Guys and asked why girls are so grossed out by their own vaginas, and I don’t think I could’ve put it in better terms than hero “Cuddly Carla,” who lays it bare:
I’m going to be honest, here. The reason a lot of girls harbor these feelings (and I’m in no way slamming men, I love guys, but I’m going to be honest since you asked) is that men have a lot of degrading jokes that affect how women see themselves. They use the word ‘douche’ to describe a bad person (and women can do this too, BTW), they use ‘pussy’ to describe a weak man (again, so can some women), but honestly it’s the fish and chicken jokes that make girls think there is something wrong with having a vagina. I can’t tell you how many women I’ve heard can trace it back to that, and it’s simply not true (unless a girl hasn’t taken a shower in like a month). That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a vagina, but if you ask girls a lot of the time they get their ideas from what they’ve heard guys say about it and they always assume the worse which is sad because there’s nothing wrong with it. It gives life, for heavens sake! Take some pride in yourself, ladies! (And I realize not all men are hostile towards vaginas, so do understand I’m not generalizing. I think men should love the vagina as well! And many of them do.)
In a piece at Huffington Post asking women if they’ve ever wondered if their vagina is “normal,” we get a perfect example of this sort of degrading vag commentary. “One of my ex-boyfriends once said to me, ‘Your pussy looks like roadkill’ during our breakup,” a woman named Sophie told them.
But it’s not just terrible ex-boyfriends doing a number on women about their vaginas, it’s also ads for douches that pathologize the “not so fresh feeling” — aka, totally normal smells — as something abnormal that needs to be cleansed chemically, even though the vagina cleans itself. This is why OB-GYN Jen Gunter, famous for taking on Gwyneth Paltrow for hawking those aforementioned jade eggs on GOOP, advises women to immediately dump any partner who complains to them about their natural odor.
And that extends to how a vagina looks: Many women worry that, in part due to the pornification of a so-called perfect, bleached vagina, that theirs looks “wrong” because of the “length or thickness of their labia minoras.” A woman named Kate told Huffington Post that this was her biggest insecurity. “I just knew that mine looked different from the images I had seen,” Kate said. “Vaginas were always depicted as compact flower buds while mine looked more like a blossomed flower. I always felt like my lips were too long and out there.”
Women are working against an avalanche of contradictory messages and feelings about their bodies. Women are also taught from a very young age to be sexy, but not actually be sexual, and that fucks with our heads and can often create a disconnect in bed.
This is why, if you’re a man wanting to get your face near a vagina, you should realize this is what all women carry around to some degree or another, which is why your unbridled enthusiasm and adoration is pretty key if you want to make friends with the hoo-ha.
Speaking of which, the 35-year-old straight dude LICK who wrote to Savage already has that part on lock. He’s clearly way into his girlfriend’s vagina and wants to get her off. What’s more, when things go right between them, she climaxes easily. That’s also remarkable. In other words, for a woman who thinks “eww” when her boyfriend says he wants to lick her, it’s amazing she’s getting off at all.
Savage goes on to tell some real advice: to try to get to the bottom of the root of her discomfort by talking about it at a neutral time, and also to recreate the circumstances of successful past vag facetime. But my guess is that women who have that sort of discomfort aren’t always able to explain why or where it comes from, so deep is that internalized shame.
My other guess is less charitable. Reading between the labial lines here, I think the girlfriend isn’t actually that grossed out by her vagina at all — she’s grossed out by his dirty talk, and those fast climaxes are fake. In other words, she’s giving in to PIVing to avoid getting bad oral.
Sadly, that sort of thing is probably as pervasive as actually hating your vagina.