volvo? vulcan? vulva!
As far back as I can remember I have been aware of my vulva, at least from the front, but I didn't go inside it much until I started learning about menstruation at school and realized that my vagina was internal. I do remember pulling on the lips and checking out what the insides smelled like, mostly with other little kids at bath time, but I don't remember it being a frequent compulsion.
I didn't make the solid realization that "vulva" was the name for the external parts until a grade 7 sex class, when I got the definition of "vagina" wrong on a quiz. I must have been 12 or 13. I'm sure I knew that the vagina was the internal birth canal, and I'm certain the word "vulva" wasn't new to me, but in some way I still conceived of my genitals in their entirety as something named a vagina.
Even once I had the terminology down, I continued to be one of those people who used "vagina" indescriminately to describe female genitals in general. Since starting The Grand Myvag.net Overhaul of 2004 I've gotten a lot more careful about specifying vulva or vagina in sentences where it would matter. For instance, there are very few photos of "vaginas."
Since that first realization that "vulva" referred to all the outside parts while the inside parts all had separate names, I have struggled with the lack of a unified name for the entire contraption. I'm not sure why I want such a name so much. There isn't really a name that unites my mouth with my digestive tract, or my eyes with my brain. Still, I always find myself trying to refer to my vulvo-vaginal unit with a catchy name. "Genitals" is lame, and generic. Men have genitals. Ducks have genitals. I don't want to have to add my sex to a word for you to understand what I'm talking about. Right now I'm working with "cunt" and "yoni." See names for other options.
Despite always having been on fairly friendly terms with my vulva, I distinctly remember being surprised when I looked at it in a mirror when I was about 13. I wasn't expecting it to be furry all the way to the back, and I wasn't expecting it to look so long. Having been used to viewing it from the front, the mound was the major feature to me and the split seemed minor. The open-legged view is entirely different than the front view. For several years after that I was mildly worried that my vulva was weird-looking. Most of that worry centred on the asymmetry of my inner labia, and the existence of a little beauty spot.
Porn, of all things, was the means through which I figured out that all vulvas were different and that mine therefore was OK, so porn has had a special place in my heart from my first introduction.
See also images for links to pictures of vulvas.
Here is a guide to vulvar self exams, complete with fab 80s soft-focus photos of women. Getting to know your vulva is good for lots of reasons!
A great guide to everyday care of the vulva, as well as vulvar and vaginal health concerns is The V Book. It is very detailed, but also positive and friendly. Just be aware of the pro-medical viewpoints of the doctor author.
I have given presentations about “ideal vulvas”, designer vaginas and genital self-esteem.
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