What do you call the area between a woman's legs? Nope – not a vagina. It's called a vulva. Why is it that most of us don't know this? That's a long answer, but if the UK's recent porn ban – outlawing face-sitting, female ejaculation and fisting – is any reflection of our culture's feelings about the vulva, it's safe to say that society is far from pussy-friendly. Thankfully, Laura Méritt is here to help.
Méritt – a sex activist, feminist linguist and gelotologist, who wrote her PhD on women's laughter – has collected over 2,000 "pussy profiles". Participants completed a survey about their vulvas in response to the increasing popularity of labiaplasty (the surgical reduction of the labia). The results will be published as part of "Cunt Month", an annual event held every March, where Méritt celebrates the vulva at Sexclusivitäten, Europe's longest-running feminist sex shop and salon, in Berlin.
This year's theme is "The Clitoral Truth", featuring workshops on female ejaculation and "How to Shoot a Porn"; a female sex party; a protest of the UK's porn ban; a photographer taking "pussy pictures"; and an exhibition curated by Méritt, " Porn That Way", at Berlin's Gay Museum. Méritt is also the founder of the PorYes Award, the first feminist porn film prize in Europe, and edits the annual erotic art and story book, My Lesbian Eye, which also comes out this month.
I sat down with her recently for a chat.
VICE: You've been celebrating Cunt Month for nearly ten years now. What is it and why do it each March?
Laura Méritt: March is the feminist month.
Women's History Month?
Right. Everyone's doing events about women's rights and perspectives. We always thought that there should be more sex in the feminist month, so we wanted to celebrate the vulva as the most important thing in March, or whenever, in the world.
You've said before that there's no culture of the cunt.
Yeah, that's the background. There is no culture of the vulva. There's a big culture of penises all over the fucking world, but not of the vulva since a thousand years ago. We want to re-establish the practice of looking, and the herstory of the vulva. There's bands, workshops, art – in all genres – films... it's always interdisciplinary.
Cunt Month opened on Friday with a "Pleasure Vernissage". What can we expect?
One thing is the pussy profiles. We started them last March, so we've come around one year later with the results. A lot of people did drawings of their pussies and it's really amazing. Everyone who wants to – your mother, or your grandmother, or whoever – can participate. So far, the youngest was 13 and the oldest 77. I'm really surprised that so many people are interested in it. Now we'll focus on different questions. Women really want to describe their own sexuality, and it's time to do it, so we'll go further and collect more data and write a book about it.
What are some common things women said about their vulvas?
I'm really happy that the majority of women said that the lips are asymmetrical and that the inner lips, one or both, reach over the outer lips. This is the most important thing that goes against cosmetic surgeries.
Yes. That was one aim of why we did the survey. I'm also happy about the hair and the styling of the vulva. The majority don't seem to be [completely bare] any more. There's a lot of natural – about 30 percent – and a lot who always cut it just a little bit, and then a third said, "I always have a certain style," like doing the hair on their head. I'm happy to see that there's more diversity than years ago. The majority said that they're proud of their vulva and they describe it positively. Of course, there are some who said, "My lips aren't even and I feel insecure about that."
What do most women call their genitals? I'm guessing it's not vulva.
Not yet. It will develop. The first thing is still vagina – that's the word that's used mostly by doctors and whoever.
Even though it's incorrect.
Yes. The second one is pussy; the third [in Germany] is another German word for vagina; the fourth is vulva; the fifth is möse, which is cunt, and this is where you can see some change, because ten years ago it wasn't common, and now it is. So language is changing. I'm sure that, when we do more of these surveys, it will continue to change.
It seems women are reclaiming language more and more, like "slut" and "cunt", for example.
Yes. Consciousness! That's the most important thing.
There's a photographer taking "pussy pictures" every Friday of Cunt Month. Will these photos be shown in an exhibition?
The pussy pictures have been an ongoing project for many years and we always show some of them in special exhibitions. You can see some of the pictures from last year in "Porn That Way". Anyone can contribute. They're made for the public to show how diverse vulvas are.
Cunt Month, My Lesbian Eye and "Porn That Way" all showcase female queerness. Is lesbian visibility still a struggle today?
Lesbian visibility is still a struggle – and now, with the trans movement, they're more the focus. And in the queer scene you're still aware that there's a lot of maleness around. Not specifically from the people, but from the structures. We still live in a patriarchal, capitalist society. It takes a long time to change the structures and become gender equal, so it's still on the way, but we're on a good path.
You're a gelotologist, meaning you study laughter and its effects on the body. How do you incorporate laughter in your sex education work?
For me, laughter is very connected to sexuality, because when you laugh you open your mouth. Not only the mouth on your head, but also the mouth on your chakra, the sex mouth. These two mouths are connected, and that's why, if you laugh and relax a lot, you can enjoy a lot. You can see in the history of women that people have tried to forbid women's sexuality and also women's laughter. For example, last year when the Turkish [deputy prime] minister wanted to forbid women from laughing on the street, it was all about self-consciousness, sexuality and not wanting women to open their mouths and be themselves.
Laughter must be useful for dealing with sexism and sex-negativity.
Of course. It's about bringing positivity to your life. In the beginning, when women first started to fight for their rights, there wasn't too much laughter – but laughter is one of the most important things for unity and for assuring yourself that you're alright. Especially when the rest of the world thinks you're not OK, or if you're oppressed. Laughter can be subversive.
Let's talk about 50 Shades. It depicts BDSM in a pretty negative way, but has to be one of the first successful mainstream movies to feature the phrases "vaginal-fisting", "anal-fisting" and "butt plug". You've been doing sex-positive activism for more than 20 years now – is this progress?
The fact that this book and film have had so much success, I see it as progress. Even if the gender politics are really conservative in the book, the sexual politics aren't. They're discussing sex and dealing with it. It's in the mainstream. So I think it's fine. Of course, there are a lot of critiques, but it's Hollywood.
With the cultural acceptance of more and more sexual subcultures and practices, are we losing the excitement of sexual taboos? Is sex becoming boring?
Ah, this is the question. I don't think that sex is necessarily combined with taboo. That's all a mystic thing, which is made up. It's ideology, and it's a thing that's especially ideological for women. That's why we don't have knowledge about ourselves, because people want to have the mystique of not knowing what's going on with women.
The mystery of female sexuality?
People are confusing ignorance with mysticism.
Yes, and people say we risk losing the adventure of sexuality when everything is allowed. But the other side is that, if you do something, you could risk going to jail. Is that the adventure you want? It's crazy. So I think all this discussion – that we lose the point of sexuality – is bullshit. This is for the conservatives who want to control sexuality.
If you want to have an adventure, you can play it. Go to a play party. When it's consensual and you have a frame, a safe space, you can have endless adventures. You can do anything you want.
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