The Vagina Monologues

“Why far too many women can’t figure out where their own vagina is.”

According to a recent study, there is a high probability that you do not know where a vagina actually is. Eve Appeal, a UK cervical cancer charity, surveyed 1000 women and found that 44% of women surveyed could not correctly identify the vagina when presented with a medical diagram. The study also revealed that a further 60% of women couldn’t locate the vulva. While initially shocking, it’s really no surprise considering that women’s bodies and sexuality are shamed from a young age, with masturbation appearing to be society’s final taboo.

One of the main problems is that female sexuality is stigmatised among men and women alike. The vagina, for your regular misogynist, is often seen as a magical entity, as if it’s something that Dumbledore uses to hex people. It brings forth life in an almost incalculable fashion, but is also the key to the mysterious female orgasm. Of course the two never mix, that would be gross. Either you are a loving mother or a sexual goddess, never both.

Part of the issue is the first discussion we have about sex, often occurring in school. In health class, or PSE, all we learned about was vagina meets penis and heterosexual sex begins. Apart from the odd internal diagram, there was no mention of any of the specific parts or the pleasure, which 75% of women cannot experience from penetration alone, that comes with the clitoris and other parts of a women’s vulva. As school is the only formal sex education many adults receive, it’s no wonder that we are all clueless when it comes to our own bodies. As a many young women grow up they are often in an environment where female sexuality is silenced; where masturbation is only something that boys and “slags” do and slang terms for a women’s anatomy like “fanny” and “cunt” are used as vulgar insults. From my personal experience, and that of my peers, the only sexual education many young people receive is from pornography, vague Google searches or clicking on the 18+ section of fan-fiction sites.

Men aren’t clued up either, with articles on AskMen popping up regularly, promising to reveal the mysteries of the vagina. We must also consider the recent post on Facebook that blew up pertaining to tampon tax. Many men agreed that women should “just hold in their pee”, as the man eloquently put it, instead of using a tampon and costing tax payers’ valuable money. Not to say that all men are clueless, they aren’t. But knowing that our own Dads’, brothers’ and boyfriends’ can’t support or understand us is worrying.

Within the media, things are slowly changing. The rise of erotic fiction into the mainstream with Fifty Shades of Grey, and TV shows like Girls and Orange is the New Black, highlighting female sexuality. After the Fifty Shades film hit theatres, there was a record 30% increase in sex toy sales. However, that’s not to say that every girl is running to their local sex shop to buy a vibrator. While sex scenes in television and film are incredibly common–whether they’re raunchy or PG-13 – masturbation scenes are not. If they are, it’s a restricted 18 or over rating; something that developing teens can’t access. It is, after all, the shameless and adventurous “good girl gone bad” that is always seen getting her money’s worth and never the good god-fearing woman getting to know her Hitachi. Furthermore, the media constantly tears down women who embrace their sexuality. For example, celebrities like Miley Cyrus are often called bad role models (ignoring her charity for homeless youths) and constantly compared to this impossibly high, squeaky-clean standard.

Apparently we don’t even like uttering the word “vagina”, as a study found that two thirds of women are uncomfortable saying the words “vagina” and “orgasm” to their own doctor. From a young age, I never felt comfortable asking questions like “what’s a labia and what is it for?” or realising that women don’t pee from their vagina. When I experienced my own problems with sex, I was absolutely mortified with the prospect of saying there was something wrong because I didn’t know what was actually going on down there. This is especially concerning when it comes to looking out for signs of cervical cancer or STI, if women don’t know what they are looking at, how can they know what to look for?

The most important thing is learning about yourself. Basic knowledge could save you from having awful sex for years and not understanding why. It could save your fertility. Most of all, it could save your life.

[Vicky Walker]

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