Growing up in the 60’s and early 70’s we didn’t know much about our vaginas and clitorises. Today we have a greater awareness of our genitalia, which ought to be a good thing, but for a number of women that awareness brings feelings of inadequacy and shame when it comes to the female anatomy.
According to statistics released by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, last year 8,745 women underwent labiaplasty, a procedure to reshape their labia. Almost 4.6 percent of those women were under age 18; roughly 60 percent were between the ages of 19 and 32. Source.
These numbers are up 16 percent from 2014. The concern over this trend has led the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG, to develop guidelines for doctors to use when talking with teenage girls about labiaplasty.
Think about that. Young women are having their labia surgically altered—flesh, cut with a knife—out of shame that they don’t look “right”.
My feelings fluctuate from sadness to outrage when I think about this. As a sex educator and author, I encourage women to become comfortable with their anatomy—to touch and explore their bodies with appreciation and curiosity. The goal is to find comfort in the body we were given and learn to give ourselves pleasure.
I rarely hear older women talking about their labia’s appearance, for them the focus is more often on orgasms and a decrease in desire. It is mostly younger women who feel pressured to judge their genitals from a male-driven, porn-informed perspective. What they don’t understand is that having pre-pubescent looking genitalia is not tied to a better sexual experience. To the contrary, the possibility of doctor error and the unpredictability of scar tissue could result in a loss of sensation. But then, since we don’t educate girls about sexual pleasure how would they know?
Everywhere I look we’re talking about vaginas—but the emphasis is on the wrong things. This obsession, and revulsion, with our genitalia is one of the results. Without body awareness and permission to see themselves a sexual beings, girls don’t have the full picture. Add our obsessive sexual objectification of the female body and you have a generation of women who think they have to compete for male attention by looking like a porn star.
For older women it’s less about looks and more about remaining youthful “down there”. The latest scare tactic is that our vaginas are old, sagging, and desensitized. And therefore unappealing to a man. Enter the O-Shot, a procedure in which a woman’s own blood is processed and then injected into her vagina and clitoris.
Some of the women who had the O-Shot are raving about how alive and responsive their clitoris now feels. One thirty-something woman, who got the $1500 procedure done for free, had this to say, “Judging by my research, I have 13 good years of sex left in me and if there’s a way to achieve the apex of orgasms now and learn how to extend my sex life beyond age 50, no needle in hell is going to get in my way.” Source.
She wrote about her experience, required as trade for the $1500 procedure I’m sure. Her article reinforces the pervasive attitude that growing old is a bad thing. It’s ageism taken to new heights. Paired with the statistics showing young girls so distraught about their genitalia’s appearance that they contemplate surgery and one feels a sense of outrage.
The message directed at women in almost every stage of life (until we hit 70 or so and then we’re too OLD to matter) is that we are not good enough. To attract a man our bodies have to be fixed. The female body is worshiped, yet viewed as flawed and unappealing in its natural state. Breasts must be larger and round. Pubic hair must be removed. Labia must be small and symmetrical, bleached to a delicate pink (yes they sell bleaching cream for vulvar use). Vaginas get out of shape as we age and need to be steamed, tightened, and now injected with medically untested potions. But here are a few things I want you to understand.
What You Need To Consider About Your Sexuality
- The female body is gorgeous and unique. Medical conditions aside, cutting (mutilating) one’s genitals is not the key to better sex, happiness, or more orgasms.
- Sex is typically defined as penetrative—penis-in-vagina, a male-driven act. When we’re focusing on the look and appeal of our vaginas we’re not thinking about our own pleasure—we are distorting our bodies for the male eye.
- Fifty is not the end of your sex life, unless you want it to be. Desire begins in the mind—it is not dependent on how tight your vagina is. Most women orgasm through clitoral stimulation—regardless of how big, small, tight, loose or ‘old’ their vagina happens to be.
- Not every woman experiences menopause as a major catastrophe—many of us are still well lubricated, sexually desirous, and having sex at 60, 70, and up.
- Anatomy changes and so does sexual function. So do walking, thinking, and performing complex functions. It’s called the aging process. It’s natural. It happens to men, too.
- It is not necessary to alter one’s genitals in order to find a good man, or have satisfying sex. If a man tells you he doesn’t like how you look, feel, etc., Send Him Packing. There are plenty of possible boyfriends and lovers out there—we don’t have to alter our bodies, or our behaviors, just to get a little attention. We have to teach this to our daughters and granddaughters.
I believe strongly that teaching women to appreciate their own bodies, explore their sexuality, and how to ask for what they want is key to healthier, safer, more pleasurable sex. Hopefully on their own terms, with a person who respects them, as they are.
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