Kelly over at Studio30 Plus thinks I have some sort of vaginal obsession. She writes me messages like, “Oh, you’ll like new member X. They wrote about vaginas.” Yeah, yeah, Kelly, ha ha. Whatever. But after she mentioned it (and continued to do so), I realized it was kinda true. Ihave been writing about vaginas a lot lately.
Which is weird, because I can barely even say the word “vagina.” (I’m even a little iffy on “angina,” though rest assured, if there were a medical emergency, I’d probably manage to choke it out.*) I’m not alone in this. Even Eve Ensler, Little Miss Vagina Monologues, said: “Doesn’t matter how many times you say it, it never sounds like a word you want to say.”
True that. However, I think I am going through some sort of vaginal consciousness raising which, I know, sounds completely horrible, like it would involve attending meetings, holding hands with caftan-clad strangers, and answering dreadful questions like “What is your vaginal song?”
But you see, vaginas don’t just exist as they are–well, I mean, they do–but they’re also subject to the Prevailing Attitudes of the Day. In the 19th century, for example, girls who learned how to masturbate were considered to have a medical problem. Writes Ensler: “Often they were ‘treated’ or ‘corrected’ by amputation or cautery of the clitoris or ‘miniature chastity belts,’ sewing the vaginal lips together to put the clitoris out of reach.’” Which, I imagine, certainly did the trick.
It was only a few hundred years ago that the existence of the clitoris was still a matter of serious scientific debate. And even today, we’re still sort of iffy on some pretty major issues such as the G-spot’s validity, what the hell a woman’s ejaculate is, and whether or not there are different types of orgasm. Science, it seems, doesn’t quite know what to make of female sexuality, and by association, vaginas.
So, yes, vaginas are mysterious and hard to figure out. But guess what?That’s what so good about them. What fun would it be if you solved it all at once?
I think that’s why the Prevailing Attitudes of the Day re: vaginas and the stupid bleaching and plastic surgery are bothering me so much. Because all of those things are about making the vagina chaste-looking and less, well, womanly. Like a beginner vagina that doesn’t know anything. The lips of a vagina that has birthed babies and been well fucked are lush and flushed and swollen. They are not tiny and pink and virginal. They are full and open and just…so ripe.
I started thinking of them as being ripe, like a rose in full bloom, after reading this passage from Michael Pollan’s Into the Rose Garden on roses and female sexuality. (Yes, I said “like a rose in full bloom.” And yes, I know I sound like I’m talking about singing your vaginal song and all that, but hear me out.) In the piece, Pollan writes about his Maiden’s Blush rose, also known as Cuisse de Nymphe Emue which means “the thigh of an aroused nymph.”
Maiden’s Blush…seems to press her sexuality on us. Her petals are more loosely arrayed than Madame Hardy’s; less done up, almost unbuttoned. They are larger, too, and they flush with the palest flesh pink toward the center, which itself is elusive, concealed in their innumerable folds. The blush of this maiden is not in the face only. Could I be imagining things?
No, Maiden’s Blush is certainly not the old lady I expected when I planted roses. And though Maiden’s Blush bears an especially provocative bloom, every one of the old roses I planted, and all I’ve since seen and smelled, have been deeply sensuous in a way I wasn’t prepared for. Compared with the chaste buds and modest scent of the modern roses, these old ones give freely of themselves. They flower all at once, in a single, climactic week. Their blooms look best fully opened, when their form is most intricate; explicit, yet still so deeply enfolded on themselves as to imply a certain inward mystery….More than most floral scents, the fragrance of these roses is impossible to get hold of or describe “it seems to short-circuit conscious thought, to travel in a straight line from nostril to brain stem.” Inhale deeply the perfume of a Bourbon rose and then try to separate out what is scent, what is memory, what is emotion; you cannot pull apart the threads that form this . . . this what?…
If the allure of old roses is in the frank sensuality of their blooms, then what are we to make of the development and eventual triumph of the modern hybrid tea? Maybe the Victorian middle class simply couldn’t deal with the rose’s sexuality. Perhaps what really happened in 1867 was a monumental act of horticultural repression. By transforming the ideal of rose beauty from the fully opened bloom to the bud, the Victorians took a womanly flower and turned her into a virgin, “a celebrated beauty when poised on the verge of opening, but quickly fallen after that.”
Deeply sensuous? Frank sensuality? Short-circuiting conscious thought? Oh, Michael Pollan, this is why I love you so! (Oh, also for your excellent points on monocultures, sustainable farming techniques, and whatnot.)
But I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our bodies? Will we keep trying to bio-engineer chaste-appearing closed-up girl vaginas, forever “poised on the verge of opening,” while foolishly missing out on the best damn part–the extreme fuckability and lush sexuality of a woman in full bloom?
*This is a lie. Instead of “angina,” I would say “chest pains.”
This post originally appeared on the lovely Jill Hamilton’s In Bed With Married Women. Get over there and read up!