One of my deepest joys is creating the space for women to connect with their vulvas. Women may start from a range of different feelings – they may feel their vulvas are strange and foreign lands visited more by partners and doctors than they do, they may feel ambivalent towards their vulvas, they may even loath them.
I am so passionate about this as I hated my vulva. Browsing through Cosmopolitan magazine at the age of 29 I saw an advert for labia surgery. I had never heard of it before but it gave me hope. In an emotionally abusive relationship as a teenager, my then-partner would call my vulva names and look at her in disgust. Then later in childbirth, one of my labia was cut and left me with one labia that was shorter than the other. I thought I was deformed. Knowing part of me would do something as drastic as to have part of my labia cut off was a defining moment. I knew I had to do something about how I felt as this shameful secret was affecting my whole life and this led me on a healing quest.
At my first women’s workshop, we looked at each others vulvas from a place of love and curiosity. Seeing other women’s vulvas and appreciating that our vulvas are as different as our faces was such a relief. I knew then I was just fine and literally skipped out of that workshop with a smile that lasted for days!
This led to years of research and study and now a decade of supporting women to love their vulvas. I have worked with 100s of women on this and it one of the most fulfilling and beautiful parts of my work.
Feeling negatively about your vulva undoubtedly impacts how you feel sexually and your enjoyment of sex and it also impacts the rest of your life. There is a saying ‘how you are in anything is how you are in everything’ and these feelings ripple out into the rest of your life affecting how you love yourself and your confidence.
One of my favourite books about the diversity of vulvas and your sexual potential is The Sexual Practices of Quodoushka by Amara Charles. In the Quodoushka tradition, women are each categorised into nine different genital anatomy types, each with different characteristics (there is a categorisation for males too). It is not a rigid system of classification and as Amara highlights in the book, with practice, you can cultivate any of the sexual abilities from the other genital anatomy types, and there is no perfect match for genital anatomy types.
The vulvas we see in pornography are usually of one anatomy type. Women with petite and neat labia and usually shaven. Just like the highly unrealistic images we see of how women’s bodies ‘should’ look, pornography creates unhealthy expectations of how a women’s vulva ‘should’ look. Women compare themselves to these vulvas, and then feel inadequate, lacking or ugly. And until recently there was little else to compare your vulva to however in the last few years there is a growing range of wonderful projects, photographers and artists showcasing the wonderful diversity of our vulvas.
Amara lists the variety of characteristics to be considered to determine which anatomy type you are. These include:
- Distance between clitoris and vaginal opening
- Shape or size of the clitoral hood
- Size of inner lips
- Depth and width of vaginal canal
- Location of G-spot area
- Amount of lubrication
- Typical time to reach orgasm
- Preferred types of stimulation
- Your natural style of orgasm
- Preferred intercourse position
Wow!!! When I first heard these differences I was amazed and it felt liberating to understand how truly unique we all are and it set me on a quest to deeply listen to and observe my own body, to notice what I was doing because I thought that was how sex ‘should’ be and to discover what was truly natural for me and this is an inquiry that has never stopped as I am always changing, growing and learning.
I explore this with my clients and there is often a sense of relief. I regularly see women who think that they ‘should’ be good at and enjoy everything and thus creating a lot of pressure to be and act in a way that is not natural to them. They begin to get curious about what they truly enjoy and what feels good. You don’t need to know the genital anatomy types, this is an invitation to get to know your body and your pleasure as that is your best teacher.
As you start to deeply get to know your vulva, it’s like cultivating a friendship – it takes time, attention and curiosity, and as you find more connection and love for your vulva, you find more love for your self.
And, you can take this into intimacy with partners. When you bring the qualities of curiosity and openness to your intimate partners you can learn and explore together, as
Amara Charles says:
“Taking the time to find out about your partner’s anatomy type gives you a way to explore the kinds of pressure, speed, and timing she [or he] likes best. You will also gain a better sense of when to change your touch and timing if something doesn’t work for her [or him]. Remember, however, that there are no fixed formulas, and that you must always pay close attention to what she [or he] wants in any given moment. The best way to increase your sensitivity and skill as a lover is to be curious, ask questions, get feedback and stay open for change.“