As a psychosexual therapist I often deliver sexuality and sexual education workshops to the wider public, and I have delivered many training days to male, female and mixed gender groups. The groups consist of people of all ages – ranging from as young as 16, to over 70 years old – which gives me insight into a wide array of thoughts and viewpoints.
One of the topics which surfaces frequently, is the different relationship men and women have with their genitals. Of course, there is a big difference between the sexes … in males, genitals are external and boys from an early age cannot ignore the fact that their “willy” is there, just hanging around. In females, the situation is quite different. “Private parts” are hidden and for lots of girls, are invisible.
Girls often observe their mothers looking in the mirror, fixing their hair or make-up. They are told to go and look in the mirror whilst washing their face. Girls also spend a considerable amount of time looking at themselves in the mirror. But, one thing, as girls, we are never told to look at in the mirror – is our genitals. That part of our body is hardly ever mentioned, let alone observed.
So, let’s fast-forward some 10-20 years when a girl becomes a woman. Unfortunately, for lots of women they are still none the wiser when it comes to their genitals. When I ask women in my workshops if they have ever looked at their vaginas a large number say that they never have. Those who have, would only do so to see if everything was ok or to attend to an itch, burn, pain, or some form of discomfort. Some women also only ever look when heavily pregnant. So, it seems that most women only look when “something is wrong or unusual”. Looking “down under” is rarely about exploration, curiosity, intrigue, excitement, or admiration.
Things are not helped by the fact that there are a number of products directed at female hygiene available at the pharmacies and online, but nothing for men. What message might that send out to people of both genders – that female genitals are less clean than male genitals, and that special products need to be used?
My female clients are very often concerned about shape, size, colour and odour of their genitals. What is normal, or not normal, arises as a common question.
An excellent book I use with clients and would highly recommend is Femalia, edited by Joani Blank – a book about female genitals up very close and very personal. Images of vulvas and clitorises of all shapes, colours and sizes are featured; yet it is beautifully composed and therefore highly educational. To this day I have not found a similar book of male genitals, which is rather unfortunate.
So, why is it that as women we rarely look and explore that area, yet at the same time we have become preoccupied with our external looks? Does it fall under the category of “101 things my Mother never told me – but should have” or do we find that part so far removed from who we feel we are?
So, the next time you feel like it, consider spending some time with yourself – and have a look. It might take some courage (especially if it is your first time), but you might be surprised and find yourself amazed at how you really look down there. And, just remember that we are all different and that is the beauty of it!!