Recently, on my currently-defunct-because-I’m-too-busy-for-that-right-now sex advice blog, a young woman wrote in to let me know that she was avoiding sexual activity (and feeling insecure when she was engaging in it) because of her negative feelings about her vulva and vagina.
“I look down there, [and it] really prohibits me. Was it this way for you, too? And if so, how did you overcome it? I really want to learn to love it. I’m just not sure which steps to take.”
It was then that I realized a sort of how-to guide was in order.
Because, hell, it’s not like I came out of the womb thinking I had the coolest, most awesome genitals in the universe (although now I realize that I totally do).
And it certainly didn’t help that the entire world – through the media, social myths, and my parents looking bashful and uncomfortable any time I ever had a question about what was between my legs – convinced me over the years that my vagina was gross, dirty, and ugly.
That shit stays with you.
But that’s the thing about self-image and cultivating positive, awesome body-love – you have to work at it.
And the first step toward working at it is recognizing that you’ve been taught lies by society, and then committing yourself to unlearning that nonsense and filling yourself with respect and admiration instead.
So if you find yourself in the position of hating your vulva or if you know a young person who might, here are some suggestions to get you started.
1. Educate Yourself
Research what different parts of it are called, what their functions are, how they can be related to sexual pleasure. Understand what it is you’re working with.
I don’t think that anyone can learn about the female reproductive system and not be completely in awe by how fascinating it is.
And if you’ve got one, then learning about it and being amazed by it can help you respect it.
2. Educate Yourself Some More
Become comfortable with the fact that your vagina is probably not very different from the next person’s, as far as function goes.
And then appreciate it for what it does.
Because seriously, vaginas are cool.
3. Read Some Stuff
A lot of feminists and sex researchers alike have written fascinating resources about the vagina and why it’s so awesome.
Start with Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. And if you’re feeling daring, move on to Inga Muscio’s Cunt.
But be forewarned that it’s pretty radical at times, so take it with a grain of salt.
4. Look At Other Vulvas
The only time we’re ever exposed to what they’re “supposed” to look and act like is when we watch porn.
And that’s a horrible representation of what real life is. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – you wouldn’t compare your face to that of a movie star’s, so you shouldn’t compare your vulva to that of a porn star’s.
Check out the wide variety. It might help you gain an understanding of and appreciation for however your own vulva looks.
5. Remind Yourself That Everything Your Vagina Does Is Okay
When we talk about how annoying periods are or how disgusting discharge is or how disturbed we are by the squish-squish noise that lubricated vaginas make during sex, then we’re just contributing to this bullshit culture that says that vaginas are gross.
My vagina is cool.
And it does what it’s supposed to do.
And sometimes it’s kind of weird, and I’m like, “Vagina, what are you doing?”
Train yourself to think critically every time that you have a negative thought about your vagina.
Ask yourself why you think that. And then remind yourself that your body isn’t gross for existing in its natural state.
Really. Do it.
Is there anything in the world better at getting you to love the power and beauty of your genitals than having an orgasm?
Just by touching this one part of your body, you can experience explosive, mind-blowing pleasure. How cool is that?
Learn to love it. Follow its advice. Touch it the way it wants, needs, craves to be touched. Build that bond.
Let your mind and your body appreciate one another.
(I know it sounds like some hippy shit, but I’m serious.)
7. Look At It
Look at it.
Buy a hand mirror. Spread ’em. And take a look.
That is cool.
Stop thinking of all of the folds and tunnels and crevices as gross, and start thinking of them as fascinating, like there’s a friggin’ treasure in there.
Move your labia around. Look inside.
Masturbate with the mirror (uh—I mean looking into the mirror, not penetrating yourself with the mirror—unless you want to do that; then go ahead).
Watch yourself get wet. Watch your fingers explore and penetrate.
And don’t for a second think about it negatively. Don’t let yourself.
Think about how awesome and powerful and beautiful it is.
And keep exposing yourself to it until you’ve convinced yourself that it’s great.
Because it is.
Self-love is a journey. But I can promise you this.
Once you’ve got it, you’ll know that you could never live without it.
And you’ll learn that the love and admiration that you have your body should be replicated in how your partners feel about your body.
Because if you think your vagina is awesome, then you’ll never stand for anyone who doesn’t think it’s awesome.
Melissa A. Fabello is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism, a feminist blogger and vlogger, as well as an online peer sex educator, based out of Philadelphia. Along with Everyday Feminism, Melissa also currently works with Miss Representation, Adios Barbie, and Laci Green’s Sex+ community. She is a second-year graduate student, working on an M.Ed. in Human Sexuality. She can be reached on Twitter @fyeahmfabello.