How often have you said to yourself, “My vagina is fantastic”? Follow-up question: How many negative messages about your vagina and vulva have you gotten in your lifetime? Such as: it’s too hairy, too smelly, or too loose?
I’m guessing the ratio here is not what we want it to be. And Jen Gunter, an ob-gyn who obviously knows quite a bit about vaginal health, wants to call attention to that fact. Gunter, in an essay for the New York Times, recounts the stories of many patients who have cried on her examining table because their (usually male) partners have told their them that there is something wrong with their (healthy, normal) vulvas or vaginas. She recounts her own story of writing about breaking up with a boyfriend who was critical of her nether-regions, the last straw in a series of helpful suggestions for improving herself.
That story – that she’d dumped someone who’d criticised her vagina – got her more attention from mansplaining commenters than even her articles on second-trimester abortions. The New York Post picked it up, titling it with the totally backwards headline “My boyfriend dumped me because of my vagina smell” (um, the whole point was that she dumped him.) These mansplainers — Gunter has coined the plural “a rash,” as in, “a rash of mansplainers” — were eager to write ugly emails, to deride her supposedly gross vagina, or to merely let her know how women can better prepare their vulvas and vaginas for the enjoyment of men.
For anyone who’s ever stood in the douche aisle and wondered if maybe she should try one, or considered paying $US75 ($99) to have a taciturn woman pin her leg over her head and spread hot wax on her delicate parts, this is not a surprise. Preying on women’s insecurities about their genitals is a lucrative strategy, Gunter reminds us, famously employed by Lysol. And culminating, evidently, with Gwyneth Paltrow advocating vaginal steaming, or all those Summer’s Eve products, or some Internet rando suggesting Vicks Vapo Rub, applied topically to places that topic should never be raised. (I’ll save you a click: Don’t put Vicks Vapo Rub on your vulva.)
But Gunter calls out these imposed insecurities as indicative of more than just a convenient profit model:
While I admit this is anecdotal data, my years of listening to secret shame about healthy vaginas and vulvas seems to suggest it is largely, if not entirely, male partners who exploit vaginal and vulvar insecurities as a weapon of emotional abuse and control.
Women who feel insecure are at a disadvantage. This applies to all insecurities: about your looks, your smarts, your weight — everything. If you think you’re not good enough, you’re not going to advocate for yourself; you’re going to accept less than you deserve. This goes for all arenas — professional, social, financial, and even in the very intimate arena of your genitals and whether they’re good enough or not. So if a partner (of any gender — power plays are not restricted to heterosexual relationships) tries this kind of bullshit on you, take a page from Gunter’s book and cut them loose. And find a partner who tells you your vagina is fantastic.