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Friday, 4 October 2013

Vulva Isn't A Vulva


When speaking from our own experiences it is also important to acknowledge that we all make reference to our bodies using different kinds of language. When I was younger I remember calling my vulva my pussy, crotches & precious, but as I got older I realized that the language I used to talk about my body was only respected in certain communities and spaces. This personal language did not translate well into institutional spaces such as: hospitals, clinics & schools. While some of us may not use or even relate to highly medicalized terms that assume gendered norms and contain histories both beautiful and violent, knowing theses terms and what they physically make reference to has helped me to navigate systems that do not respect, understand or know my experience. A part of my self-care and self-direction is having the language to understand the conversations people have about my body. It has also given me the ability to take back and reclaim standardized words and use them as I wish. It has helped me in being able to describe to doctors where I am having problems to avoid oversight, it has helped in talking to lovers about intimacy and teaching them about my own body, and talking about sexual health. Being able to flip between two languages (code switch) allows me to tread in and between lived and assumed realities.

This does not at all suggest that this is how all vulvas and internal genitalia should or do look because vulvas and internal genitalia very greatly in shape, form, colour and sizes and belong to people of all genders! This required a lot of squatting over a mirror and a bit of research, but I think I've almost got it figured out!
  • Prepuce:
    Also called the clitoral hood is similar to the foreskin of a flesh penis (I like to think of it as the house for my clit). When turned on the clitoris becomes erect with blood and the prepuce pulls back exposing the clitoral gland. Like a diva stepping out on stage the clit is then ready for some attention.
  • Clitoris (clit):
    Is the pleasure center! It is super sensitive because (apparently) it has more nerve endings than the rest of the body that is why rubbing, sucking and playing with the clitoris can be so much fun.
    Myth: No folks we do not pee from the clit
  • Urethra:
    This is where we pee from! Located just beneath the clitoris (I think thats where the pee confusion comes from) it is the opening of a tube that connects to our bladders and allows us to pass pee. When people talk about urinary tract infections (uti) it is in relation to germs swimming up the urethra that's why it is suggested to wipe front to back!
  • Labia Majora:
    The large outer folds of the vulva or the lips! I think of them like the blanket that covers all of the external openings. They are hairy & coloured on the outside and smooth on their inner sides.
  • Labia Minora:
    Also called the inner labia, they are two flaps of skin located on either side of the vaginal opening and between the labia majora. They are shaped and coloured differently from person to person! Random fact: labiaplasty is cosmetic or reconstructive surgery for you labia!
  • Vagina:
    Is often confused with the vulva. The vagina is an internal sexual organ and we only see the opening from the outside. It is a muscular, stretchy, mucus membrane canal that connects to the inner reproductive organs & is caped by the cervix (so you don't have to worry about anything getting lost up there) It is sometimes where menstrual blood, discharge, lubrication and on occasion babies pass from! When aroused the vagina gets engorged with blood (making it sensitive), it swells, lengthens, lubricates and opens up. (the lower third part of the vagina, closer to the opening, is where all the sensitive nerve endings are) The vagina is great at cleaning its self and has a friendly and dynamic ecosystem of bacteria that keep it healthy!
  • Fourchette:
  • Is a fork in French. But in relation to the vulva it is where the two labia minora meet and close off and is located just above the perineum (the space between your vulva & anus) Also this can rip during child birth or penetrative intercourse...ouch!
A lot of information to digest and consider, but in short sometimes a vluva isn't a vluva because our experiences shape the way we engage with, understand and label our bodies. Understanding that there are wider systems that do not acknowledge the level of the individual, knowing the bio-medical, cisnormatove language of bodies can hopefully help in explaining, challenging and addressing issues on a larger scale. It's a fucked up reality of repeated violence that is experienced within medical institutions, and the fact that it ends up being the individuals responsibility to educate service providers as opposed to accessing care is messed up and exhausting. And while out of reductive language blossoms a new kind of language that is more relevant and meaningful, there is still lots of work to be done within institutions to make care accessible.