They’ve been with us for longer than any of our friends, but most of us can’t name them all. So why aren’t we intimate with our intimates?
If you’re confused about ‘what’s what’ down there, you’re not alone.
60% of women can’t label all parts of the vulva, and one third say they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about gynaecological symptoms with a doctor, much less getting spread-eagle in front of one of them.
Our bodies come with us everywhere but, as women, we have a uniquely complicated relationship with them. We grew up watching boys and men explore their bodies through masturbation in any number of pop culture references (American Pie, anyone?), but you’d be hard pressed to find a similar reference to female exploration of the body in the last generation. It’s little wonder that women feel comparatively less ownership over their pleasure and health than their male counterparts.
Thankfully, the 21st century has welcomed a slow but steady shake-up of the status quo. 2021 brought Sex, Love & Goop to our Netflix screens, with a bold MO to “help couples learn how to enhance their relationships through more pleasurable sex and deeper intimacy.” In one episode, lesbian couple Camille and Shandra are encouraged to examine their vulvas, ostensibly for the first time and in another, an intimacy coach has them stand in front of full-length mirrors to challenge the ingrained body shame that has inhibited them from freedom in sexual expression.
Over on our own platform, Fiona Burgess’ musings on masturbation saw the highest engagement of any moode Instagram post. Having finally indulged her self-pleasure curiosity in her 30s, Fiona described this recent discovery as “the most natural, beautiful, liberating act of self-love … it has re-connected me with my body, it’s made me appreciate and learn to accept/love my body in a totally new way.”
So it was positive to see Sex and the City spin-off ‘And Just Like That’ cop its fair share of public backlash this year, when protagonist Carrie Bradshaw, a would-be modern sex icon, couldn’t seem to get her tongue around the topic of masturbation.
Sex educator Kenneth Play’s commentary seemed to sum up the sentiment best: “While the sex-positive movement has pushed inclusivity and enthusiastic consent forward, we’re still cumulatively decades away from folks feeling no shame for their desires.”
Sexologist Jasmine Zahner agrees, and says a lack of understanding about our own anatomy is often at the root of these issues.
“Understanding your anatomy and how it all works is the first step in enhancing your sexual pleasure,” she says. “(But) I’m not surprised so many people are confused. Most of the sex ed that many of us received growing up was poor, to say the least.
“Sex ed needs to focus on pleasure, not just reproduction.”
Cultural norms, societal expectations and inadequate education. They’re ingredients that make up a problematic, though very real, recipe for women’s discomfort and judgement in their own bodies. And pleasure is not the only area impacted by this lack of intimacy with our intimates. Without proper understanding of and appreciation for our own bodies, we might find ourselves mindlessly handing the reins to our reproductive health over to health professionals, leaving little to no room for personal agency and advocacy.
So, who’s who in your lady part zoo? And what’s all this chatter about vulvas vs. vaginas? While we can’t make up for a lifetime of anatomical illiteracy, we can help with starting to pull the blinkers off. With the information we’ve collated for you below, we can help you to identify what’s what. Afterall, to have knowledge of our bodies is to be empowered, and don’t we all want to know how we work? Read on…
Ovaries: as your primary reproductive organs, these oval-shaped glands produce oocytes (immature eggs) and several important hormones, including the female sex hormones progesterone and oestrogen.
Uterine (fallopian) tube: one of two tubes whose main job is to transport oocytes from the ovaries to the uterus. If fertilisation of an egg is going to occur, it will usually do it here.
Uterus: a hollow organ in which a fertilised egg implants for the development of a fetus during pregnancy. When implantation does not occur, the lining of the uterus sheds during menstruation.
Cervix: a “neck” of tissue connecting the uterus to the vaginal canal. It dilates during labour.
Vagina: NOT, as shoddy sex ed would have you think, the part of your intimates that you can see on the outside. Rather, the tube connecting the cervix to the vulva (read on) - where any insertion occurs, such as a penis during sexual intercourse, fingers, female condoms, sex toys, tampons and menstrual cups. During penis-vagina sex, ejaculate is deposited in the vagina, allowing sperm to enter the uterus via the cervix.
Vulva: Often referred to as the vagina, the vulva is actually all of the external parts of the female genitalia. Including the clitoris, outer and inner labia and urethra.
But reading about your intimates above, verse getting intimate with your intimates are two different beasts.
To truly unleash the power of understanding your own body, Zahner suggests getting physical.
“Dig out that hand-held mirror and start exploring,” she says. “Referencing an anatomy image at the same time will help you to get an understanding of everything going on down there and help you to become more comfortable with your own genitalia.
The more comfortable you become with it, the more you’ll start to love it.”