Last week in Genitales’ inaugural column, we talked to a bunch of guys about their peens. It was involved, it was illuminating, and it was, apparently, “unburdening.” I got a lot of emails (not all of them not pervy) in the wake of that piece from men sorry they’d missed out on a chance to talk openly yet confidentially about their relationship to their penises. To those men I say: have those conversations with friends and loved ones, and also I am sorry but this week is about the vagina.
[Note: I know that “vagina” technically refers only to a woman’s vaginal passage, and not to the external features of her vulva, which are largely what we’ll be talking about here, but almost everyone I spoke to used vagina to refer to their genitalia in totalis, something I also do colloquially. Please consider “vagina” shorthand for the whole she-bang going forward.]
The 60 women I spoke to did not feel unburdened of the long-kept secrets of their pussies. Rather, the majority of them were interested in carrying private discussions they’d already been having into a more public space. When it comes to talking about our junk—processing our feelings towards it and intellectualizing our relationship to it—women appear to be miles ahead of men. The women who answered my survey were READY2CHAT, pouring out long emails about every aspect of their vulvas, hymens, clitoral hoods, and more.
The group’s age averaged out to 25, with most respondents from the United Kingdom or America. I let them pick their own pseudonyms. About 30 percent identified as straight and another 10 percent as lesbian, while almost everyone else opted for personalized descriptors like “straightish” or “girls are a sometimes thing.” Here’s what I learned from talking to 60 women about their vaginas.
Vaginas are pretty difficult to describe.
While last week’s men rattled off statistics like their dicks were the starting lineup of the Packers, the women struggled with what adjectives to use to describe their vaginas. Many phrased this portion as a series of questions, creating a kind of textual vocal fry. Laura, a 24-year-old from Norfolk, England, said: “I have medium sized (I think) labia between my clit and my vagina. I don’t have anything around the hole, if that makes sense?”
Descriptions varied widely, with a plethora of colors—from purple to red to pink to one partially albino vagina—and all kinds of shapes and comparisons (more on that later). Overwhelmingly, as we found with the men last week, people thought their ‘gines were basically average. Stephanie, a 27-year-old from Brooklyn, said: “You know how there's one breed of dog that makes you think, ‘That's a very generic dog. A photo of that dog belongs in the dictionary?’ That's how I feel about my vagina. My doctor always says, ‘Looks great!’ which makes me feel validated and like I'm doing a good job taking care of it.”
The most inscrutable vaginal description came from Amelia, a 19-year-old from Scotland, who said her vagina looked like “a baby mouse trapped in a bundle of twigs.”
There are so many different words for vagina it’s basically like naming a child.
In no particular order, survey respondents called their vaginas: Vadge, Front Bum, Vajayjay, Orchid, Little Ouse (a river in the east of England), Bits, Friend, Bearded Axe Wound, Matilda (“fun for when ‘Matilda’ by Alt-J comes on at a party”), Nunee, Minge, Noon, Vaginald (“pronounced like Reginald”), Demona, Vagina, Fleshy Twinkies, Ol’ Vag, Pum Pum, Vajeen (“like Borat”), My Girl, Kitty, Pussay, Fitte (“Swedish for marsh”), Ham, Clam, Fanny, Kitty, Waff, Her, Minge, ‘Gine, Lady Bits, Fertile Crescent, Junk, Cake, Innie, and Botty.
Of all the respondents, only FG, a 30-year-old from London, didn’t have a nickname. “It's a vagina, not a dog,” she said. “I don't want to give it a name.”
Almost everyone wants you to stop calling their vagina a flower.
“That feels a bit like the verbal equivalent of scented panty liners (covering up something that really doesn’t need to be covered up. And a bit too pretty for their job),” said a 24-year-old from Melbourne who asked to be called Spongeworthy. “Pussies are no more like flowers than dicks are like popsicles. A better comparison would be like… Pie? Tacos? Hot dog buns?”
She represented the majority of respondents in this, who suggested everything from volcanoes to mountain valleys (lots of landscapes), oysters, and “little furry sea creatures” as more apt comparisons. “We don’t go around comparing penises to dandelions, so why not just call it what it is?” asked a woman named Heather.
Other titles that caused alarm were the classic problem words “pussy” and “cunt.” “Pussy” was a crowd-splitter, even more so than “cunt,” which seems like it’s gaining ground. While many women listed "cunt" as their least favorite word, it also topped a lot of people’s lists as an everyday descriptor of their ladyparts. “Pussy” did not fare nearly as well, with about 50 percent of respondents more or less disgusted by it, sonically. Across the board, the most hated name was “beef curtains,” although Em, a 23-year-old from Toronto made a solid point: “Comparing labia to roast beef is offensive, but people need to appreciate both labia and roast beef more.”
Vagina complaints, in order of frequency:
1) Size of labia (see below) (I mean in the article, not your pants) (maybe, I don’t know your life)
2) Period-related problems (flow, cramps) and/or excessive discharge
3) Prevalence of thrush, UTIs, and other non-sexual infections and inconveniences
4) Fear of childbirth-related tearing
5) Shitty boyfriends from their teen years saying something terrible and scarring about their perfectly functional, healthy vagina
Concerns about unrealistic expectations from porn are largely unfounded.
While a few women said porn presented an unrealistic, idealized “porn vagina” that was “compact,” “perfect,” and “tight,” most of the respondents who talked about porn suggested it was one of the first places they had been exposed to the reality of widespread vaginal difference. “I watch porn to get off, but I also love the range of shapes, colors, textures and sizes of vaginas I get to see,” said Martha, a 27-year-old dental assistant from York, England. Overall, it was listed as a positive tool for self-love more often than a source of anxiety. “There are so many different kinds of vaginas, comparison is really impossible. [Watching porn] really helps me enjoy mine, knowing as long as it works it’s still going to be a source of pleasure for me and my partner,” said Samantha, a mother of two from Oregon.
Things women are most curious about in relation to their own vaginas:
- Squirting, how to
- Vajazzling, when to try
- Queefing, on command if possible?
- Growing out their bushes “just to see”
- Taste and smell (as one woman put it, “I just think it would be fun to experiment with making it more or less musky, fruity, or sweet”)
Women are very worried about the size of their labia.
While some people were very positive about their labia—“I think I've got a great package! (chubby labia with just enough trimmed pubic hair and a super cute clitoris!)” said Peach, an 18-year-old from Hamilton, ON, and the youngest person to take the survey—this body part was most often mentioned in the “do you have any complaints” portion of the questionnaire.
Negative feelings tended to center around what one woman described as “being a bit too ‘there’ in terms of labia minora.” One woman from London said, “There's a flap that is quite big and you can see it from the outside. I never liked this big, hanging flap. I thought my vagina looked weird. In fact I still don't quite like the look of it." Heather, a 20-year-old from the UK, said: “To quote the great Stoya, if my vagina was an emoticon, it would always look like this :P.”
A Texas woman with long, asymmetrical labia explained the root of the issue: “You can’t see it when I’m standing or anything, but sometimes it gets uncomfortable, and I feel kind of weird about it. During sex it’s not a problem, but it can like, rub against my underwear… Tucking your one hangy labia back in isn’t like picking a wedgie, you know?”
Respondents with large inner labia tended to echo the views of less hung men from last week. Most of them had experienced problems with this part of their body in their younger years, but were increasingly coming to accept and even love it. “One of my labia is larger than the other, and I think I have quite a big clit, but I’m really not sure. I used to think it was beautiful and pink and lovely, but after a shitty ex described it’s appearance as ‘complicated,’ I kinda just feel like all vaginas are weird,” said Alice, a 23-year-old from London who said she feels “very affectionate” towards her vagina overall.
Overall, though, women really, really love their vaginas.
For real. Regardless of complaints about heavy flow, especially pungent discharge, hanging lips, or a desire for different pubes, almost 100 percent of women were wild about their vaginas. Maria, a 27-year-old from London, said, “Mine’s not small and neat like some people’s. I feel fondly about it and protective over it. Nowadays I’m far more outwardly celebratory about having one, and I think that ties in with being more shouty and positive about being a woman.” Melissa, an Aussie, said “I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider my vagina a good friend. We’re VBFs.”
“Love is maybe not strong enough a word,” said Ella, from Edmonton, England. “My vagina is literally the best thing that has ever happened to me.” A 20-year-old named Violet added, “I love it more than Netflix.”
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