How a Tattoo on My Vagina Helped Me Finally Relax During Sex
I was always worried what men would think when they went "down there."
Image by Sarah MacReading for VICE
I've had a skin condition since I was nine years old, one that saw the sweat glands around my groin get blocked, infected, and inflamed. The symptoms manifested as grotesque boils that would pop and ooze puss along my panty line. I needed surgery because sometimes these boils would be so big and painful I couldn't walk or do normal activities. They were like zits on steroids, those that went way deeper. My dermatologist would cut out the infected area and stitch me up. Lots of women hate their vaginas, but because of my condition, I grew up thinking mine was especially hideous. By the time I was in the eighth grade, a series of surgeries meant my panty line was crisscrossed with visible scars.
In addition to the scar tissue, I also have what could be classified as large labia. The two combined left me with the idea that my private parts were too big and too damaged to be attractive in a sexual context—even before my first kiss, and that idea stuck with me as I grew older.
When I was finally ready to have sex, I wasn't sure how boys would react to my fat lips and all the marks. One of my aunt's suggested "low lighting." My best friend, Pepper (who was also a virgin), suggested that I warn guys before they got "down there," to alleviate the shock. Another friend suggested I "just get him super drunk."
I aggressively shoved my virginity onto a very understanding and open minded boy I met on the debate team who would ultimately become my boyfriend. After months of fooling around, I got on birth control, and we gave it a shot. We didn't have any alcohol or much control over the lighting in his sun-soaked bedroom. He saw my vagina and was unfazed.
Shortly thereafter I started having lots of sex. A few men mentioned the scars, but in a curious way. No one ever stopped to reconsider, or even seemed taken aback. I killed more boners uttering the phrase "sweat gland inflammation" than the actual problem ever did.
Still, I had been eager to cover up the scar tissue for almost a decade, so I got a tattoo on my vagina the second I turned 18. I believed the artwork would divert attention away from my "horrific flaws." I picked cherry blossoms for a few reasons. At the time, I wanted to work in politics. I associated the iconic blossoms with Washington, DC. And also, my "cherry." I was young so double entendres still seemed smart. I still think it's a pretty flower that represents the beauty and fragility of life.
The truth is I didn't have the balls to commit to something so permanent that was going to be seen in public. I've always looked like the "girl next door." I like that most social spaces are always open to me. I can "pass" as a sweet girl in public for short periods of time. My square look is the shield I use to take risks.
But in bed, I have a tattoo on my vagina. It's a sneaky reminder that I'm a rabble rouser, a rebel, a bit of a basket case. Which I think is a fair warning that I have no intention of playing by the rules. It's a physical mark that says I'm "not the marrying kind." Anyone who has cherry blossoms tattooed on her private parts has already been deflowered.
No one I've slept with has had anything to say about it other than "I don't see any scar tissue," or "What tattoo?" or "Wow, that looks like it hurt." On that last point: It did. It is a very sensitive area. Getting a tattoo there (and anywhere, really) feels like getting burned, but the pain goes away as soon as the gun does. After a few moments, the adrenaline and endorphins and whatever other painkillers your body produces start to pump through your system, so sometimes it can even feel like a good kind of pain. I always feel like driving fast or having sex in public after getting it worked on, it's a rush. But honestly, I've had Brazilian waxes that are more painful than the tattoo. But that might also be because it isn't as taboo or exciting. Brains and pain are complicated.
I am likely not alone in feeling unloveable because of a physical flaw. I decided to permanently mark my body with cherry blossoms. I picked the right image for the way I've chosen to live—I push boundaries and take risks. Although life is fragile, it isn't very serious. I don't regret it.
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