If your nether regions are rather mysterious even to yourself, you're definitely not alone. Most people are more familiar with typical male anatomy than they are with female anatomy, even if they're in possession of a vagina themselves. That's what prompted the launch of Vagina Dispatches, a video series from the Guardian US intended to bridge this educational gap. In four installments to be released between now and November, Vagina Dispatches explores the basics of the vagina and vulva — beginning with the distinction between the two, which is murky territory for many people.
In the first episode of the series, Guardian US data editor Mona Chalabi and video producer Mae Ryan tackle the vulva — not the vagina. (Although there's debate over whether it's OK to colloquially refer to everything as the vagina, there is an anatomical distinction; the vagina is the internal canal, while the vulva includes all the external bits like the clitoris and the labia.) To test the general public's knowledge of anatomy, Chalabi and Ryan created a gigantic diagram of a vulva and uterus, which they took out on the streets of New York City. Asking passers by to label different parts went about as well as you'd imagine.
It's no secret that typical male anatomy receives far more attention, in and out of the classroom, compared to typical female anatomy. Earlier this month, a study from the UK gynecological cancer nonprofit The Eve Appeal found that 44 percent of women couldn't correctly identify a vagina, and 60 percent were unable to point out a vulva. Furthermore, a 2014 study from Yale University indicated that many women possess misconceptions about their own reproductive health; researchers found that nearly half of those surveyed had never discussed the topic with their healthcare provider. This is troubling enough on its own, but the lack of knowledge didn't go both ways. According to the Eve Appeal study, 70 percent of women were able to label a penis.
Clearly, there's a disparity between the way we talk about male and female anatomy. As Ryan says in the first episode, "Before we started this [series], I don't think I could draw a vagina." And then it turns out she was talking about drawing a vulva, which goes to prove the point of Vagina Dispatches.
The duo go on to interview a labiaplasty surgeon, a gynecologist, and a number of women about their own anatomy, including a transgender woman. One topic that comes up again and again is the concept of what a "normal" vulva looks like when there's so much such variety in its appearance. As the labiaplasty surgeon explains, "I really hesitate with the use of the term 'normal,' because there's such a wide range... and if something's not bothering you, that's the beginning and end of the story."
To test your own anatomical knowledge, the team created a handy "Vagina 101" quiz for viewers. If it turns out your education is a little lacking, you can keep up with future episodes of Vagina Dispatches over at the Guardian US website.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy