I was inspired to begin a new three-part series for Model Behaviors on the vagina after reading Naomi Wolf’s 2012 book, “Vagina,” which spurred the desire to delve into the history, the interconnectivity, and the power of the female reproductive system.
In much the same way that “Spiritual Midwifery” by Ina May Gaskin had raised questions for me about the way that we give birth in our contemporary world, Wolf’s book brought to the surface questions that need to be asked in relation to the vagina and how it is talked about, interacted with, viewed, empowered, and disempowered in our current culture. I hope you find this series does the same for you and that you continue to seek out answers for yourselves.
Let’s start with a quick anatomy lesson. Often the word vagina is used to describe the complete female anatomy system including both the inside and outside of our lady parts. However, the term is only medically accurate when used to describe the canal within that leads to the uterus (source). The vulva refers to the part of the female genitals that are outside of the body including the labium and clitoris (source). The vaginal opening is the mouth of the vagina that connects to the exterior vulva.
However, for the purposes of this article I choose to use the word vagina, as Wolf has done in her book, in reference to the entire physical space of female sexuality and bodily functions, extending even to the complex network of nerves and the hormonally regulated tasks of the reproductive organs. I find it useful to think of the vagina’s clinical interconnectivity as well as its interior and exterior relationships because it allows us to question how one part will affect the whole. At the same time that the vagina is experiencing relationships with the outside world through sex, birth, menstruation, and self-pleasure, it is also connected to our mind, general health, overall sense of well-being, and creativity. So our exterior relationships are inextricably linked to our interior selves.
With that in mind, it becomes important to consider that, as Wolf writes, “The way in which any given culture treats the vagina—whether with respect or disrespect, caringly or disparagingly—is a metaphor for how women in general in that place and time are treated.”
I want you to really consider her words. What is your own culture’s view on the vagina? How has that changed over time? How does that affect you? How does it affect your view of yourself, your sexual relationships, the way you give birth, or your creativity and sense of wellness?
In our next post, I will explore what the “Western” American models of sexuality and femininity look like, from the ancient world to 1970s feminism to today. We’ll look at how this has left us with a cultural inheritance that is far from the “woman/vagina as goddess” history of the past.
How will understanding the history of the vagina change the way that we interact in the world as women, as partners, as mothers, and as ourselves? How will this knowledge change our communication, self-care, and self-love?
I am grateful to have you along on this journey with me. Go ahead, we can say it together: vagina!