Check yourself out.
Vagina owners, how often do you look at yours? Once a month? Once a year? Have you ever looked at your vagina? There are good reasons to take a look at yours, and not just so you can make sure nothing is amiss.
Of course, there’s all sorts of shame associated with taking a serious look at our bodies, especially if they involve vaginas, vulvas, labias, etc. The long history of disempowering folks with vaginas depends on us being cut off from our bodies, being unaware of how they work so that they can be dominated. We’re taught that we should be ashamed of exploring our bodies. So feel free to see looking at your vagina as a political act, if you’re into that kind of thing.
Our Bodies, Ourselves, the iconic 1971 publication of the Boston Women’s Book Collective, details the architecture of examining your vagina and how to go about it. J, who’s in her 50s now, told me that her first vagina gazing experience was in her 20s, in a consciousness raising group, using Our Bodies, Ourselves as a guide. The website recommendations include first finding an atmosphere of privacy in which you feel safe and can relax. Suggested vaginal viewing positions include squatting over a hand mirror, or sitting forward in a chair and placing the mirror between your legs. Don’t just look, also touch – find your cervix, your fornix (the deep end of your vagina), and feel your pelvic contractions. Check out your vaginal walls, your clitoris, your urinary opening. Look at your vaginal mucus.
Maybe you do look at your vagina all the time, or maybe this piece is reminding you that you haven’t done it in a while. Maybe it’s making you think of the first time you ever looked at your vagina.
S saw her vagina for the first time when she was in college. She found a website called My Beautiful Cervix, a project in which various cervixes were photographed at different points in the menstrual cycle. She was taken with the mission of the project. “The idea was that people with penises see their penises every day but people with vaginas literally never see them. We can see vulvas but the vagina, inside there, is hard to see!”
“I couldn’t believe it! It looks amazing in there! And it looked just like the one on My Beautiful Cervix!”
Carly was a small child when she first saw her vagina. “My mom got me one of those books about your body changing,” she told me. “But because it was all white vulvas I thought mine was dirty.” The book was helpful in that it encouraged taking a serious look with a hand mirror and in terms of locating the different parts of her vagina, but the exclusive whiteness of the bodies created confusion and shame in her 10 year old self. “When I saw my labia was brown, I tried to clean it,” she said. She also thought she had “too much” hair.
Carly works as a sex educator now, and she has advice for anyone who’s interested in visiting their vaginas for the first time. “Don’t judge your vagina based on anyone else’s,” she urges. Porn can be a treacherous place for people with vaginas, and Carly recommends choosing queer or feminist porn, in order to see bodies that might actually resemble your own.
“Don’t make genitals sound dirty,” Carly advises parents of vagina owners. “You can set boundaries about maybe not touching them at the dinner table, but don’t shame them and make them feel weird about exploring their bodies. Let them know it’s good to do that, to know what they look like.” She also stresses using the correct names for genitals instead of “cutesy words.”
Checking out your own vagina can be intimidating when you’re doing it for the first time, but the most important thing is to do it in a way that feels safe and good. Consider it yet another way of getting to know yourself. “If I’m going to have a sense of ownership over it I really ought to check in with it every once in a while,” wrote Rebecca Vipond Brink in a 2015 essay for The Frisky.
So find yourself a hand mirror and get comfortable. There’s quite a lot to learn and see.