Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Every Vulva Is Different

December 19th, 2009 by Elizabeth Kissling

Guest Post by Therese Shechter, filmmaker (Trixie Films)

Alert: Links are Not Safe for Work
Photo of woman wearing only underpants, superimposed with words, "Jede Vulva ist Anders" (Deutsch for "every vulva is different")German teen magazine Bravo, known for it’s explicit information on sexuality and sexual health has done it again with their feature: Vulva-Galerie: Schau, welche Unterschiede es gibt! which according to my Google translator means”Vulva Gallery: Look, what are the differences?”

The text says: The vulva is the externally visible part of the vagina. Do you want to finally know what it looks like on other girls? We show you the variations! If you click on Hier siehst du, welche Vulva-Variationen es gibt! (Here are the vulva variations!), you get a gallery of photographs of female genitals, photographed from the front. Some are pierced, some are hairy, some are shaved, some have larger labia…but unfortunately, they’re all white and none of the women seem to be on the larger side.

That’s too bad, because the underlying message is a good one: Stop comparing your ladyparts to women in mainstream porn. This is what we look like when we’re not being seen through the male gaze. Every vulva is different and special in its own way. Again, I wish there had been some diversity in race and size. Is Germany really such a homogeneous society? I don’t think so. The photo series ends with a more explicit photo of the inner vulva, complete with labels.

Not only would this never fly in the US, it reminds me of an interview we did with CosmoGirl! editor Susan Schulz who told us about an illustration of a vulva they commissioned in order to acquaint their readers with their own ladyparts. The title was ‘Vulva Love’ and it was done in a fun folksy way and totally non-pervy. Susan told us they got more hate mail from parents about that item than anything else they ever ran. The illustrator didn’t even want their name on the piece. I’ve searched online for the image but can’t find it, so I’ll post it and our interview with Susan in when I’m back in the USA.

By the way, the Bravo vulva item is part of a regular feature called Dr. Sommer which includes topics for teen boys and girls like vaginal health, penile pain, “Are You Really Ready for Sex?” and “Love School”(if you are ready, I guess). My knowledge of the German language is now exhausted, but if anyone wants to translate other items, please leave it in the comments!

Cross-posted at The American Virgin.

8 responses to “Every Vulva Is Different”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Therese Shechter, re:Cycling. re:Cycling said: New post at re:Cycling – Every Vulva Is Different […]

  2. Chris Bobel says:

    Good find, Therese (and thanks for the great post!)

    And did you know that the German for LABIA literally translates into English as SHAMELIPS? Ugh.

    And I thought VAGINA, meaning SHEATH for the SWORD was bad!!!!

  3. Therese says:

    Really, Chris? Yikes! What’s the German word for SHAMELIPS – and why does that make me laugh as I type it?

    I’m going to do a follow-up on my blog with some more translations of Dr. Sommers’ articles, courtesy of a wonderful German contributor. I’ll have to mention those SHAMELIPS!

  4. UnFit says:

    Ah, too bad I’m only finding this now. It’s probably toolate to provide any more translations…
    Just by the way, in the title to the vulva-gallery it’s not a question as in “look, what are the differences” but mor like, “look at all the variations there are!”

    The German word for SHAMELIPS is Schamlippen – a word I have a rally hard time uttering, even though I’ve had mine pierced and all. It just sounds horrible. Schamhaare for pubic hair and Schamhügel for the pubic mound are not much better.
    It’s funny, I think at this point in history Germans are much less ashamed of their genitals than a lot of other cultures, but our language suggests otherwise.

    And I agree with the Therese’s criticism: the whole thing is certainly well-intentioned, but it also has a few issues that seem symptomatic to me about German sexual culture.
    Bravo has a regular feature about “my first time” for example, and while it certainly contributes to teens being less anxious about sex, it promotes condom use and birth control and leaves no doubts about premarital sex being the norm, it’s also crammed with stereotypes.
    The couples have always been dating for several months – on the rare occasion that they have sex after a shorter period of dating, the girl regrets it afterwards. Same goes for the boy always having to be very tender and careful while usually being the one who initiates sex. And more often than not, the first time (which is always the first time heterosexual penetrative sex) is painful for the girl.

    And so on and so forth.

    On the one hand, this society is incredibly open and up-front about sex.
    On the other hand, that makes it just another arena for norming and mainstreaming.

  5. Therese says:

    Thanks for the additional perspective UnFit! I haven’t done the follow-up yet, so I’d love to include your comments as well.

  6. UnFit says:

    Oh, cool.
    I’ll happily help with more translations, too. :)

  7. Laura Wershler says:

    Re: cosmogirl and “Susan told us they got more hate mail from parents about that item than anything else they ever ran. The illustrator didn’t even want their name on the piece. I’ve searched online for the image but can’t find it, so I’ll post it and our interview with Susan in when I’m back in the USA.”

    I definitley want to know more about this story so look forward to your next post with the photo and interview. Reminds of the story about Seventeen being pulled off the shelf in Albertson’s grocery stories because the 2 or 4 page information/health story they did on the vulva was considered objectionable.

  8. Therese says:

    The vulva follow-up is posting tomorrow and the interview with Susan Schulz will be up next week. You can link to the blog by clicking on my name, above. Thanks for your interest!!

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