Actually, your vagina is awesome exactly the way it is.
In college, I was part of a performance of The Vagina Monologues. One of the pieces we did was called Hair, and it includes the line, “he made me shave my vagina.” It’s sobering, and it made all of us involved in the production furious, because on some level, we could all relate to it. Someone, likely a cis man, had at some point made us feel like our vaginas were gross the way they were, and that we needed to do something about them in order to make them pleasing to people who would interact with them.
The first person I spoke to for this piece told me a story about a boyfriend she had about ten years ago (she’s in her early 30’s now). “I’d been giving him blow jobs for months,” she said, “but he hadn’t ever reciprocated. I was fine with it for a while, because I’d never had anyone go down on me, but after a while I realized that was unfair. He agreed to try, and when he did, he actually gagged. He said he didn’t like the taste. I was so humiliated.” (In case you were wondering, they broke up soon after this incident.)
Then there was the friend who told me about the boyfriend who wouldn’t go down on her during her period. “He said it was ‘gross down there.’ I told him he was being a misogynist, and I made him sleep on the couch. He eventually realized that I was right, and he apologized.”
Another dude was uncomfortable with, you guessed it, the hair on his partner’s vagina. “At the time, I didn’t want to break up,” K told me. “So I shaved. It freaked me out, because then it looked like it wasn’t an adult’s vagina anymore, it looked like I hadn’t been through puberty yet. It really made me uncomfortable. I stopped shaving after that, and he still went down on me, but he didn’t stop asking me to shave. There were a lot of reasons we eventually broke up, but I think a lot of it stemmed from his discomfort with my body.”
Thanks to the sanitized versions of bodies we see in the media, the idea that we, people with vaginas, shouldn’t have hair anywhere on our bodies has incredible endurance. If it exists, we should get rid of it, but of course, no one should ever see us do it, and our cis male partners should have no reason to believe that it existed in the first place. Your partner might never have seen hair on a vagina, or a large labia, or any of the one million variations that exist on a body, but that doesn’t mean it’s on you to change how you look.
“The majority of the negative comments I have gotten about my vulva are from cisgender heterosexual men,” said Kenna Cook, a sex educator and columnist. “The people who don’t have a vulva and have no idea about the internalized shame us vulva-owners have had to navigate in order to even be able to share our vulva with another person.”
If you’ve been shamed by someone about the shape or smell or taste or anything regarding your vulva, you’re not alone, and the same is true if you felt like you should do something to alter your body because of those comments.
“There are entire industries that thrive off this shame – hair removal, vaginal washes and douches, and even labiaplasty,” says Cook. “Natural vulvas, in all their hairy, differently-shaped glory, are rarely celebrated and almost never spoken about.” You can read Cook’s essay about pubic hair and shame at Medium.
“After 30 years of treating women,, one of the worst things I can possibly hear (besides physical abuse) is mental abuse especially when men are making comments about the shape or smell of women’s vaginas,” says Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, who says she’s seen everything from people getting Botox near their genitals so they won’t sweat during intercourse to wearing makeup during sex to using a body wash that masks their natural scent. “Men can stink and fart and be totally gross but women need to look and smell like flowers. Can you imaging the opposite? Men freaking out how their penises smell?”
To be clear, there are plenty of people with vaginas who just don’t enjoy oral sex, but if you fall into that category, it should be because you aren’t into it, not because your partner is making you feel like your vagina is ugly or wrong and you need to fix it before you’re deemed deserving of pleasure or love. You don’t even have to want oral sex, but under no circumstances, ever, should someone you’re trusting with your body tell you that it’s anything less than fabulous.