In the second season of Orange is the New Black (which I’m only three episodes into, so I will keep content spoilers to a minimum out of mutual interest), an extended argument springs up among inmates over whether women pee out of their vaginae. Some insist that they do. Some have always thought that, but are less sure. Some, including the higher educated main character, Piper, knew there were separate holes but didn’t know much else. It’s trans woman Sophia who has to explain to her fellow inmates the various parts of their vulvae. She’s very informed on this, having done her own research as part of her transition process and wanting to get a beautiful vulva of her own. With a diagram, she points out in front of rows of curious women what they have never learned, nor explored themselves with the help of a mirror. The labia, the vagina, the urethra, the clitoris, the clitoral hood – grown women didn’t know what was what.
I was passingly aware of these things, though not from thorough research or much formal education in anatomy. I can’t tell you when I learned them, because I started learning the basics of procreation at home 25 years ago, and a bit more sex and anatomical education sprinkled into some curricula 15-20 years ago. Having these female body parts has certainly helped me piece together fragmented facts, which most characters in OITNB should have been able to do as well. Maybe it’s the fanatics against thorough sex education that make it different for these American characters. Maybe for some it’s a lack of educational opportunities as part of the package of poverty linked to why they’re in prison. Maybe for others it’s shaming of women’s sexuality and bodily functions that keeps otherwise bright women ignorant of their nether region. In any case, this has to stop.
Women, with vulvae and all the other bits that accompany it: explore things a bit more. Don’t be afraid to look down when you’re on the toilet and observe a slight trajectory of urine streaming from a spot not quite at the very bottom. Maybe (and I’m getting quite graphic here) take a look between those legs when you’re menstruating and there’s a string of bloody goop, or goopy blood if you prefer, hanging down yet you’re peeing from a different spot. Know where your clitoris is and what’s around it. Take a mirror and examine what your body looks like – and wonder, after looking at it, why a pretty face matters so much to heterosexual men when their end goal is such a messy arrangement of flesh.
We own our vulvae. The prudishness comes from a long history of sexually repressive patriarchy that thinks sex education should only be three words long (“Don’t do it”), or sexually oppressive patriarchy that says the only time a woman should pay attention to their genitalia is when she’s grooming it for the enjoyment of a man. We should get to know the place, in ways pertaining to not only sex, but health, hygiene, and simple anatomy.
Trans women like Sophia in OITNB need to go through a much harder process to learn about the vulva, yet they can often know more from having to do research. We cisgender women can take it for granted, and remain ignorant to our own bodies. Everybody is better off knowing where the female urethra lies, between the clitoris and vagina, as part of the most glorious feature of human anatomy.