OPINION: Two vaginas walk into a bar and... okay, there's no punch-line to that. It's just that there's no obvious anecdote to start an article about vaginas. I don't know about you and your friends, but me and mine just don't tend to talk about our lady parts.
It's a problem our feminist foremothers tried to fix by getting everyone in a circle with a hand mirror and a message of self-discovery. Funnily enough, it never took off.
So, in the spirit of sisterhood I thought we should discuss our vaginas.
If you're still reading, congratulations. According to this international study of women's attitudes to, and knowledge about, their vaginas, nine out of 10 of you feel a bit shameful talking about this topic.
And the study found just less than a third of the women thought vaginas were not something that should be talked about publicly.
But behind the wall of silence there is a lot of worrying going on. Nearly 40 per cent were unsure if their vagina was the right size and 13 per cent had "major concerns" about its appearance, according to the study, which was funded by the makers of a contraceptive product and published in the journal Contraception.
And no wonder people are confused. Vaginas, it seems, are as different as women are. According to Women's Health Queensland Wide, a not-for-profit health promotion service, even small studies have found massive difference in the size, shape and colouring of women's vaginas.
One study, which only measured 50 pre-menopausal women between 18 and 50, found that the labia minora ranged from 20-100mm longways and from 7-50mm in width.
And a fascinating study released last month found doctors have been working with some serious misapprehensions. Contrary to popular belief they found women have massive differences in the microbes living in their vaginas, and that these "microbial communities" can change drastically over time.
These microbe-parties happening in your pants are one of your key defences against disease, and if you get a urinary tract infection or bacterial vaginosis (which is the most common vaginal syndrome experienced by women of reproductive age) doctors will basically treat you the same as every other women despite the fact your party invite list could be a whole lot different to theirs.
The researchers found some women in the study, if they were checked out every day for bacterial vaginosis, would have constantly tested positive. But these were healthy women, unaffected by their apparently high bacteria rates.
Other women fluctuated wildly, and it was not clear why, although things like sexual activity and hormones made some difference. Interestingly, what bacteria are there will influence what other bacteria develop, and it does seem like your ethnicity influences the basic types of bacteria you start off with.
But what discussion of the vagina could possibly be complete without the obligatory speculation about the G-spot?
Despite managing to stay tantalisingly out of reach of science (and sexual partners, amiright, ladies?), every few months or so a researcher pops up claiming to have proved/disproved its existence.
The last such study was in April, when a semi-retired Florida gynaecologist declared that he had found it after performing an autopsy a Polish woman who had died at age 83.
Petra Boynton, a UK sex educator and academic, puts it best. She points out that G-spot research is generally pretty dodgy, based on small studies often conducted by people with barrows to push. In this case the Florida gynaecologist runs a clinic that trains doctors in controversial and unproved "G-spot augmentation" surgery.
Really it is the collective mystery we feel about the vagina that leads to our obsessions with things like G-spots. As Dr Boyton says:
"Yet we do not suggest because men can and do experience pleasure from different areas in their genitals that there are specific spots that guarantee male orgasm or that men are somehow deficient if they do not experience say, a left testicle orgasm.
"We don't scan, survey, or perform autopsies on penises to establish the most sensitive parts.
"Nor do we have self-help books, courses or sex toys designed to coach men into experiencing orgasm through stimulation to specific areas of their genitals.
"Indeed suggesting this usually results in people laughing. Why would we do this?
"But we do seem to feel the need to continue to make women's bodies and sexual responses seem complex and difficult."
So, vaginas. Now I've started the conversation, will you continue it?
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