Of vulvas and vaginas

When I saw the title, “Your Ugly Vagina is Normal & Gorgeous” on the Elephant Journal website, I had to click. I was expecting some sort of exploration of vaginal concerns, and how many things we worry about are actually normal. Sadly, the well-written, thought-provoking and informative column wasn’t about the vagina at all. It was about the vulva. Yet, the word “vulva” appears nowhere in the column, nor does the writer ‚ Tanya Lee Markul — appear to be aware that there is a difference. And she’s not alone.

She references a film, “The Perfect Vagina,” which focuses on the trend toward genital plastic surgery, because apparently someone has arbitrarily established a beauty standard for the vulva, and unless we’re all cookie-cutter copies, we should feel so ashamed that we’re willing to hand over thousands of dollars to a plastic surgeon so that he can reshape the perfectly natural shape of our genitalia. And once he does, we can trot down to the local beauty salon to have all that nasty pubic hair waxed away. Well, walk, maybe. Trotting might be a bit uncomfortable to trot with stitches down there.

Oh, one little thing — Markul mentions in her column that two possible side effects of this surgery to trim the inner labia trimmed to more aesthetic proportions (apparently it’s so unfashionable to have visible inner labia these days) include decreased sensitivity and sexual dysfunction.

Oh. My. Goddess.

Trade trimmed labia for decreased sexual pleasure? Are you ladies INSANE? The inner labia are key to having a pleasurable sexual experience, and one of many routes to reliable satisfactory orgasm. WHY on earth would any sane woman make that trade? Particularly when I suspect that most men probably really don’t give a shit about whether the inner labia are visible. Most men are more interested in getting past the frilly entryway and continuing onward, and the really good ones — the keepers — are even more interested in getting you into a state where you can’t wait another moment to open the door. The truly talented ones, the vulva ninjas, if you will, know what to do with the inner labia. Ant it’s not to point and saw “ewww.”

Yet, I digress, having been distracted by the sheer idiocy of handicapping your own precious, wonderful genitalia in the interest of “beauty.” Baby, if your parts do what they’re supposed to do, and help propel you to wonderful, rolling, rocking, grab-the-sheets orgasms, your genitalia is already GORGEOUS. Don’t change a thing.

Back to the woefully misunderstood vagina, however.

It’s clear to me that somewhere in the allegedly required sex education classes that I thought were supposed to happen in middle school, right at about the age when children need to understand their equipment because their hormones are simmering and they may be enticed to use that equipment in the very near future, there has been a huge disconnect. I can’t even BEGIN to enumerate all the times I have heard women say something about their vagina when they’re actually talking about their vulva.

It’s not that difficult, ladies. The vagina is the passageway from the uterus. It’s the esophagus of your reproductive system. It’s where the baby travels to the word, and an excellent depository for the sperm that gets the baby there in the first place. The vagina, like the labia, also plays a role in orgasm, but its main job is to allow babies and menstrual blood to escape, and to let sperm in.

The vulva is everything you see on the outside. You do not see your vagina on the outside, unless you have a prolapsed uterus and everything is hanging down through the opening like a big pink water balloon, in which case you aren’t going to see a plastic surgeon, you’re going to go straight to the hospital for gynecological surgery.

So, if the vagina is the esophagus, the vulva is the mouth. It’s the visible opening that allows things in and lets things out. Like a mouth, it has — “labia” is Latin for “lip.” No coincidence there.  So, unless your mouth is open, you don’t see your esophagus. Ditto for your vagina.

And while we’re talking about what we can and can’t see, what’s the deal with pubic hair? Why the disgust? Apparently to most under 40, there’s an obsession to keep the area hair free. Our vulvas have been pronounced unattractive unless they resemble that of a pre-pubescent 10-year-old. Why are we suddenly demanding that full-grown, sexually active women have the genitalia of a child? Is it because there is a subconscious fear of full-grown, sexually active vulvas? Too threatening? Too bossy? Too demanding? Maybe. However, the men (and women) who relish that challenge are the ones you want for partners anyway. NOW things are getting spicy. Me, I want the partner who embraces the challenge, not the one that cowers in fear.

Compare our culture’s squeamishness over the vulva, and shocking ignorance about it, to the Hindu culture, where the vulva is known as the yoni, a thing of beauty and feminine power, and associated with the Goddess Shakti. And the altars and artwork celebrating this physical representation of feminine power… they do not have trimmed inner labia. Our culture could learn a thing or two or ten thousand from the Hindu culture on the natural beauty of the female form.

So, ladies, I beseech you. Analyze your motivations about A) disparaging the wonderful, natural, perfect, pleasure-giving vulva that you have and B) considering letting a human sculpt your genitalia into a more “acceptable” form, all in the name of “beauty.” WHO are you trying to please? If it’s your sexual partner, he or she is the thing you need to trim away from your life, not your inner labia.

And, for God’s sake, learn the correct name for your own body parts. If you’re old enough to use them, you’re old enough to know what they’re called. Yes, your vagina is normal and gorgeous. But unless you have a hand-mirror and a speculum, you won’t know that. Your vulva is also normal and gorgeous, as unique as a blossom or a thumbprint, and or a Georgia O’Keefe painting. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

To read the Elephant Journal article, go here:


To learn more about why you should appreciate your natural, intact vulva, go here and learn about Sia Amma and the efforts of Global Women Intact:


To learn how to make the most of your glorious, natural genitalia, go here for some ideas:

And to truly connect in a healthy, spiritual, sexual way to your partner, learn about the work of Steve and Lokita Carter, and go here:


For more information on the artist that did the beautiful painting below, go here

The vulva/yoni as art

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