The new coffee table book Vulva 101 in which 101 external female genitals of all shapes, sizes and colours are lovingly documented by Canadian photographer Hylton Coxwell. (Supplied)
Sexy Typewriter, Special to QMI Agency
Feb 1, 2012
, Last Updated: 1:10 PM ET
Despite its vaguely stodgy academic title, the new coffee table book Vulva 101 (vulva101.com) is nothing less than a valentine to vulvas everywhere.
Within its pages, 101 external female genitals of all shapes, sizes and colours are lovingly documented by Canadian photographer, Hylton Coxwell.
Coxwell was inspired to begin photographing vulvas because he was uncomfortable with society’s near-Victorian mindset vis-a-vis female genitalia.
“I noticed the shame and embarrassment women have regarding their vulvas,” says Coxwell. “Many would say the word ‘penis’ in casual conversation, but would hesitate to say vulva or clitoris, often using childish terms or ‘down there’ instead. When I asked them why they didn’t feel comfortable even mentioning the words for their own body parts, the answer was usually a long thoughtful pause and then ‘I don’t know why. It just seems wrong to say it.'”
As a child, I was not taught the proper words for my genitals. I’m impressed by the mothering skills of my good friend, a new mother, who taught her baby daughter the word “vagina” as soon as she became aware of that part of her body. Mother and daughter alike use the word unflinchingly, just as they use the words “nose,” “ear,” “mouth,” “eyes” and “elbows.”
It feels almost as though there has been a Disneyfication of female genitalia in pop culture. When we aren’t pretending that they don’t exist, we refer to our genitals as “ladybits” or — very unfortunately — “vajayjays” (thanks but no thanks, Oprah).
Why is the proper terminology verboten? Did you cringe when you initially read the word “vulva” in this article? Did you absentmindedly wonder if a newspaper should even print such a word? Why are we hesitant or reluctant to use words that simply correlate to parts of ourselves?
Some women attach feelings of shame and inadequacy to their vulvas. What Coxwell garnered from conversations with women was that many felt that there was something actually wrong with that part of their body.
“(Some women felt) their lips were too big or too small or too dark. Frequently, they didn’t know specifically what was wrong, but they had a general sense that they weren’t normal.”
Coxwell was thus inspired to put together a book that celebrated the vulva, using images of more than 100 women of all ages, body types and ethnic backgrounds in an effort to help normalize the conversation and give women insights into what constitutes a “normal” vulva.
The diversity within its pages is astonishing and beautiful. Any woman who feels that her vulva is ugly, strange-looking or unappealing in any way should flip through its pages.
“It seems crazy that it’s 2012, and there still are women who haven’t looked at their own genitals in the mirror,” says sex educator and author Tristan Taormino (puckerup.com). “I’m thinking back to Betty Dodson’s body sex workshops in the ’70s “¦ the very first thing is take off your pants and look in the mirror and really get up close and personal with your vulva. Betty’s work continues to this day because we still haven’t gotten to a place where we are ready to accept all of our differences and really embrace what we look like and not try to change it or compare it to something else.”
Says Taormino, “The more we look at these pictures and see the diversity, the more we can come to terms with our own bodies.”
And when people fully come to terms with and embrace their bodies, better and more satisfying sex will surely follow.
Coxwell’s hope for Vulva 101 is that it “helps people — both men and women — realize all vulvas are uniquely beautiful, and they shouldn’t be a source of shame or embarrassment.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com