Vaginas are magical. These self-cleaning, elastic, muscular life and love canals that can give amazing amounts of pleasure to their owners and others are sophisticated in both design and function. But with great complexity comes the great potential for system hiccups.
The common umbrella term for many hiccups is “Vulvovaginitis” and describes any irritation of the vulva or vaginal areas. Often the irritation comes in the form of painful swelling or itching caused by an external factor irritating sensitive mucous membranes. (Ever gotten something in your eye, be it infection or irritant? Same idea. ) Many cases of vulvovaginitis occur because of an imbalance of naturally occurring bacteria and yeasts and sometimes parasites or viruses.
But don’t fret! These are easy to remedy. Here’s a handy guide to the more common causes:
I don’t know if you can help me, but maybe you know somebody who can.
I am 34 years old and unable to have a penetrative, penis-induced orgasm. I have been having clitoral orgasms since I was 18. Just about anybody can make me orgasm with their finger or mouth. I can also come if I touch my own clitoris during penetration. But nobody has been able to make me come from penetration alone.
I have two amazing male partners right now, one of almost three years, and the other of almost one year. Both of them are open to helping me and trying different things, but so far unsuccessfully.
I know that I have trust issues. I know that I don’t fully trust either one of my partners and am not sure I am emotionally able to fully trust any man.
I don’t know what other emotional blocks I may have.
Please let me know if you have any recommendations for me.
Thank you! Blocked Vagina
Dear Blocked Vagina,
Thanks for writing to me about this; your question is a very common one among women.
First there were just orgasms. Then Freud came along and declared female orgasms fell into either the immature clitoral or mature vaginal category. And thus began this century’s strange preoccupation with women attaining every orgasm type, like kids collecting baseball cards.
Already had clitoral? Experienced the remote lands of vaginal? Well move onto the mystical G-Spot orgasm. Or perhaps you’re skilled enough for the big, bad blended orgasm. Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten there; Cosmo will give you enough advice to keep trying.
In reality, the only true type of orgasm is the hypothalamic orgasm. That little section in our brains releases a delicious orgasmic chemical cocktail in our brains with enough pleasurable stimulation.
When it comes to female orgasms we focus on the area being stimulated, hence all the different categories and “types” of orgasm. And it isn’t just women’s magazines devoting discourse to this idea. In my early sex education training days, several professionals repeatedly taught me that a clitoral orgasm is different than a vaginal orgasm. Even Planned Parenthood gives primacy to the theory of distinct orgasms:
“Although some researchers believe there is just one type of female orgasm, others believe that stimulation of these two parts of the genitals can cause different types of orgasm. During a clitoral orgasm, the vagina becomes longer, and it causes a pocket to be formed beneath the uterus. During a vaginal orgasm, the uterus drops lower and shortens the vagina. Stimulation of both the vagina and clitoris can cause a blended orgasm, the third type of orgasm. All these orgasms may feel different from each other.”
On one hand, it’s not illogical to categorize orgasms by stimulation source. But the idea behind the categorization is that some orgasms are superior to others, an idea that drives Cosmo sales every month. Read their article and achieve sexual enlightenment by finding your G-Spot.
Feminist writer Anne Koedt argued against this hierarchy of female orgasm way back in 1970’s “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm“, pointing out that the vagina contains far fewer nerve endings and any importance placed on vaginal stimulation served straight men more than it did women. In Koedt’s construction of female sexuality, the clitoris is the puppet master:
Although there are many areas for sexual arousal, there is only one area for sexual climax; that area is the clitoris. All orgasms are extensions of sensation from this area.
Weirdly, Koedt’s argument towards clitoral orgasm centrality operates within the very Freudian paradigm she railed against. We have orgasms from nerve ending stimulation. Though nerve endings exist abundantly in the clitoral structure (about 8,000) nerve endings exist everywhere else on the body. Substituting the clitoris for the vagina does nothing but rearrange the sexual stimulation hierarchy and ignore that nerve endings exist in the vagina. For some, those nerve endings feel amazing when stimulated.
When I present sex ed lectures, my favorite question to ask participants is: “What are the two largest sexual organs?”
The answer? Brain and Skin. Stimulating skin sends signals to the brain, which processes the sensations and releases the appropriate neurotransmitters. That’s an orgasm. No clits, vaginas or G-spots to define it. If you’re still feeling unsure or confused about the social construction of orgasm vs. the physical realities, I recommend reading Heather Corinna’s With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body.
Tune in tomorrow for suggestions on how to have an orgasm!
The David Nolan Gallery in New York teamed up with Francis M. Naumann Fine Art to present “The Visual Vagina”, a vulva-focused art exhibition. The art is provoking and were I in New York, I’d be giddy to check it out. (Seriously, they have a vulva yurt. The real vulva yurt is image #18 in this NSFW gallery.)
People well schooled in genital anatomy are none-too-happy with naming a vulva-centered exhibition “The Visible Vagina.” Why? A vagina is technically an invisible potential space while the vulva is the outside bits.
Marina Galperina at Animal New York did a write-up about the exhibition a couple weeks ago and some commenters got a little upset about the title.
One was teasing:
Man, talk about false advertising. All I see here are vulvas.
Another felt a bit stronger about proper terminology:
Enough already! Unless you’re using a SPECULUM, it’s the VULVA you’re seeing. The vagina is a tube. And it’s inside.
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art and David Nolan Gallery, shame on your[sic] for proliferating this!
So Francis Naumann stepped in to defend the title:
I’m getting tired of people trying to correct the title. Of course we know the difference between the vagina and vulva (so do most kids who take sex education courses in high school), but the rapport that the show shares with Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” would have been lost. Although anatomically inaccurate, they two words have been used interchangably[sic]. All proceeds from the sale of the catalogue will go to Ensler’s not-for-profit organization, V-Day, which is devoted to preventing abuse to girls and women worldwide. All of this information is provided in the catalogue, as well as in our press release.
Fair enough Mr. Naumann, though as someone working with youth I can assure you that most teens look at me weird when I say vulva. Not really a well-known term. Also, since the show paired up with Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, I get why vagina is used.
But I suspect another reason: far less people would see the “Visible Vulva” because the term is either foreign or steeped in the feminist sexual politics of its advocates. People know what a vagina is. Not everyone knows what a vulva is.
I don’t blame them for using status quo terminology. You can’t communicate with a person if you don’t speak their language. But if art is something to provoke our critical minds and to challenge our reality, why is there no mention of vulvas on the website press release? What I would advocate is setting up a prominent info piece in the gallery that explains the difference between the two and why the distinction is important.
Aside from that, I am tickled pink that so many people are screaming “Vulva!” in response to this art show. Only referring to the hot spot between a woman’s legs as a vagina privileges penetrative sex and renders the clit, the Almighty Pleasure Button, invisible. The clit is very important. Respect the Clit. Command the Clit.
I love eavesdropping. I am a nosy observer of human nature and adore catching the conversations people think no-one hears.
I overheard a tampon crisis in a university bathroom last week. At first listen I thought the poor girl had dropped her last tampon on the grimy bathroom floor so I started to search through my bag. (While still eavesdropping. I’m awful.)
“The whole thing?,” asked her friend outside the door.
“No!,” said the hidden stall girl. “The applicator! I don’t have the applicator to put it in! It’s on the ground. Iiiiick.”
I quietly dropped the OB tampon back in my bag.
Her friend became exasperated. “If you still have the tampon, just use your fingers.”
“EEEEWWW! Omhigod, no! I don’t want to put my fingers in there! Ugh, whatever, I’ll just fold up some toilet paper.”
The conversation baffled me. I hoped she didn’t want to stick her fingers in her vagina because they were dirty. I know that’s not why. She would have washed her hands and then dealt with it instead of shrieking in panic.
The applicator-less girl feared her own vulva and vadge. *facepalm* Ladies, aren’t we over this? No? No, no I guess not.
From the youngest of ages the land between our legs (Bonny Banks of Lochlabia?) is stigmatized. Dirty, dirty thing that, later in life, will ooze potentially embarrassing blood and possibly get you pregnant. The first time you have sex will probably hurt and whatever you have down there smells. Like itself. Gross. The only pictures you ever see are symmetrical, sterilized versions of the hair-covered, asymmetrical fleshy folds between your thighs.
The one redeeming quality is the clitoris, but only sexy lady magazines tell you that in passing reference to a new sex position to use. With your male partner sticking his ween inside your gross dirty place, possibly the only thing it’s good for aside from baby delivery.
No wonder that girl didn’t want to touch her own body part. Seems icky.
But it’s not. Our collective hyperfocus on the vulva and vagina as a hygiene issue and birth canal, respectively, leaves out the potential for pleasure.
Imagine a world where we tell girls about clitoral erections. Imagine a world where we discuss the pleasure that can throb between your legs, the heady rush of orgasm chemicals and how anyone can do this themselves with one (or two) hands.
This is not a world that we need to fill with Vulva Merchandise: charm bracelets, plush pillows, necklaces, paintings. I see no need to make merchandise out of any human body part. That’s just weird. And, no, the first step is not checking it out in a mirror. The first step should be touching your vulva. Touch it, really. I’m sure it’s all kinds of warm and slick and soft.
But we do need to stop freaking out about periods. Understand the pleasure potential of our entire bodies, including the vulva and vaginal walls.
Maybe we can start by pointing out that vulva (outside) and vagina (inside) are two different things.