Since most of us need a hand mirror to get intimately acquainted with our vulvas, some go years without seeing one of their most significant body parts. Once we do, the reactions range from wonder to curiosity to disgust to shame. Our
feelings when we first see our vulvas often bring the messages we've gotten throughout our lives around sex and body image to the forefront, which is why it's so fascinating to hear all the different ways different people respond.
Unfortunately, a lot of people feel uncomfortable with their genitals. One MedExpress survey found that over a third of people in the U.K.
considered their privates abnormal. More women than men said this. We can probably blame porn for that: In recent years, the industry has been glorifying hairless vulvas with small labia as if they're the only kind that can be attractive. Of course, in reality, people are attracted to all sorts of looks.
I asked people what they thought when they first saw their vulvas, and some reflect these beauty standards. Others, though, are refreshingly body-positive. Here are the thoughts that went through 10 cis women's minds when they saw what was between their legs for the first time.
"The first people to see my vagina (besides my parents) were various boys throughout my teenage years who are long gone from my life. Crazy, I know. I was offering a part of my body I wasn't fully aware of. I heard the term 'cute' a lot from these boys, so I assumed everything was A-OK down there. Then, my first, much more experienced, boyfriend named her Melody and I kind of just went with it, still not knowing exactly how she looked. In college, I bought my first dildo (beautiful light pink glass) but still didn't have that true mirror experience. A proper introduction was made when I kept getting yeast infections and wanted to see for myself what the hell was making me so uncomfortable. She was cute! Adorable even. Besides the obvious, she was beautifully pink and proportionate. After I stopped consuming so much beer and cheese, the infections cleared, and I had a new relationship to honor. I wrote poems, drew pictures, and listened to my vagina. I read books, spoke to spiritual healers, and ate cleaner. It was a transformative experience, one I wish I'd had sooner." "The first time I properly saw my vulva, I was a 25-year-old single mother. I was an adult who had had sex, birthed a child, but never truly had the gumption to sit down and get thoroughly acquainted with her vulva (blame the Catholic upbringing). I took the initiative to see my vulva after a "lecture" in my dorm room from one of my roommates on the disservice women pay their nether regions. Even though her lecture was motivated by a need to educate women on the dangers of un-diagnosed/misdiagnosed STIs and STDs, and I was perfectly healthy having recently had a check up, I was propelled to take a hard look at myself and question my aversion to knowing my vulva and vagina intimately. So, I took a mirror, propped up, and watched my vulva for a couple of minutes. My first thoughts were: interesting body part, black labia, one slightly bigger than the other, not pretty. I thought for such an important and reportedly sexy organ, it looked quite ordinary. Then, I felt shame, like I was a voyeur privy to a private lap dance. I have since gotten over that feeling. I am thoroughly acquainted with my vulva, so much so that I would know it if I lost and have to identify it in a line up." "It's not supposed to look like that!" "I was very young, so the first words out of my mouth were 'it's like a little bald mouse!'" "Nothing in particular. I just saw it as a part of my nether regions and natural!" "What the f*ck, there's something wrong down there." "I have never seen my vulva, is that weird? It's definitely weird." "I honestly thought wow, that is so beautiful!" "Huh, I hope that's what it's supposed to look like."
So, it looks like our feelings about our privates can range from positive to negative to neutral. And my personal hope is that once we spread more body-positive messages, there'll be fewer negative ones.