Content Warning: Body talk, links to NSFW images
Vulvas get a pretty tough rep. They have a whole mess of taboos attached to them, not to mention negative stereotypes about smell and taste and appearance. And now we’re apparently convinced that there is a correct way for them to look—which can be a tough thing to combat when many of us are not seeing a lot of diverse vulvas over the course of an average day. Fortunately, some fantastic photographers and artists are working to combat this by publishing books that show us real, human vulvas and (in some cases) teach us a bit about anatomy, common myths and misconceptions, or stories of the humans who own them.
It is extremely important to note that not everyone with a vulva identifies as a woman, and that not everyone who has a vulva wants to celebrate it. I love these books because they seek to undo some of the harm done by societal taboos on bodies in general, and vulvas specifically; that does not mean they are all for everyone, or that there are not complex layers of oppression at play in any body negativity. Body positive resources are not always inclusive of transgender people, though some of these books are. Please hold that in mind as you read, or stop here if needed.
One last disclaimer: I’m gonna use the word “vulva” a lot in this post. Ready for that? All right, let’s get started.
Wrenna Robertson spent 18 years as a stripper, and found herself increasingly frustrated with trends of body negativity and body alterations. She especially noticed the increasing popularity of labiaplasty, a cosmetic procedure that changes the appearance of the vulva—usually to make it more closely match a shell-like ideal typical of mainstream porn. She collaborated with photographer Katie Huisman to showcase a range of 60 vulvas of many shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. Their mission is to normalize and celebrate diverse bodies and diverse genitals, as well as to lift up the stories and sexualities of the people photographed. A percentage of all proceeds go to women’s charities.
“I recognized that there was a dearth of resource material which allowed women to view other women’s genitals. […] I decided to make a book which would display life-size and full color photos of a diverse range of vulvas, all shot from the same camera angles and in the same lighting conditions. I also recognized that this was an incredible opportunity for women to share their experiences surrounding their bodies and their sexualities. I believe our inability to share openly about this part of our body is a very large part of the problem. I saw this as an opportunity to encourage women to examine how they feel about their bodies, about their sexuality, to uncover the root of those feelings. I recognized that being able to glimpse into another woman’s experience can be such a powerful way to learn about ourselves and the way society has shaped our feelings and beliefs.”
Similar to I’ll Show You Mine, erotic photographer Nick Karras’s collection of 48 black and white photographs aims to celebrate the vulva and push back against trends of vulva-focused body negativity including labiaplasty. But where I’ll Show You Mine works to maintain full realism and defines itself as educational, Petals balances between art and realistic representation. It’s a beautiful collection—as long as you can get past the vulva-flower metaphor, and the consistent language equating having a vulva with female/feminine identity. It also led to a documentary, Petals: The Journey of Self-Discovery, about the creation and reception of the book, and a “sequel” book in full color called I Love My Petals.
“Petals was created to encourage self-love to a world of women inundated by false messages from the media of unattainable ideals. Fewer and fewer magazines are acknowledging the inherent beauty of the feminine, utilizing Photoshop to create Barbie-like standards. Petals takes a stand for women everywhere, revealing that they are sacred, ravishing, and powerful just the way they are.”
Photographer Hylton Coxwell came up with the idea for his collection of 101 full-color vulva photographs while on a nudist beach. He has spoken about our society’s harmful taboos as evidenced by the plethora of euphemisms for vulvas, in comparison with the total acceptability of saying “penis.” His mission, similar to the previous two books, is to break down taboo and bring forward a variety of images and narratives.
From Hylton Coxwell:
“Designed to help society overcome its fear and shame regarding vulva, Vulva 101 features closeup photos of one hundred and one women’s vulvas, ranging from 18 to 65 years old. Each page focuses on one woman’s vulva from three different angles. It also highlights the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the women involved, and the natural, unique beauty of the female form.”
What would this list be if it didn’t include some of my favorite coloring books? Adult coloring books are a popular trend at the moment, but vulva coloring books have been around since at least 1975. That’s when lesbian activist and artist Tee Corinne created The Cunt Coloring Book, which is now available once again from Last Gasp Press. The images are detailed and accurate, and the best part is that you get to color them in however you choose!
From Tee Corinne:
“In 1973 I set out to do drawings of women’s genitals for use in sex education groups. I wanted the drawings to be lovely and informative, to give pleasure and affirmation. I organized the drawings into a coloring book because a major way we learn to understand the world, as children, is by coloring. As adults many of us still need to learn about our external sexual anatomy.”
Maria Fernanda’s more recent vulva coloring book is not only available for free online through the intersectional anti-oppressive publication bluestockings, but also includes images, awesome anatomy lessons, and myth-busting points of information! This might just be my favorite find in the world of vulva imagery—it’s celebratory, educational, radical, liberating, and accessible.
“We seem to know so much about the penis and how it functions while completely neglecting the vagina and its companions. Furthermore, what we do know about it tends to be based on pornography and the constant image of one ‘ideal’ type of vulva. This coloring book aims to demystify this anatomy while also providing fun to its reader, or in this case, new vulvatastic artist! I put forward colorable images of many types of vulvas, with their differing labial and clitoral sizes, colors, piercings, amounts of pubic hair, and the like.”
Let’s normalize and celebrate sexual and body diversity—vulvas first.