Vulvas and Vaginas

Meet the clitoris.

Most people have no idea what the clitoris really looks like. Not out of intentional ignorance, but simply because we are never taught.

The part of the clitoris that's visible from the outside of the body is relatively small compared to the structures inside.

The part that you can see is mostly what's called the glans of the clitoris, which is homologous to the glans of the penis. This means that they both come from the same original embryonic tissue (see previous post from last week).

The glans tends to be the most sensitive part of the clitoris, although research (and lots of anecdotal evidence) shows that stimulation of the interior part of the clitoris through pressure from penetration of the vagina and even the rectum can also provide intense pleasure. This type of stimulation can result in what's known as g-spot orgasms.

On average, clitorises are about 25mm long, 5mm wide, and protrude between 3mm-10mm from the body. Keep in mind, though, that these are averages - there are clitorises that are smaller and larger, and that's completely ok.

Given that the clitoris is the only part of the body in either males or females that's sole purpose is to provide pleasure, it's surprising that most people have no idea what it really looks like. In France, that's about to change.

From The Guardian:

clitoris sex sexuality women | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy Vancouver | Squarespace Blogging
This is a 3D model of a clitoris – and the start of a sexual revolution
by Minna Salami
It looks like a tulip emoji, but this anatomically accurate clitoris will aid education and debunk myths that have repressed women’s sexuality for centuries.
This month, pupils across France will be able to use the first full-size anatomical model of a clitoris in their sex education classes. Considering all the technological, medical and scientific achievements humans have made, this seems to have taken a long time. The distribution of this model has been possible due to 3D printing technology; but even three-dimensional MRI scans, which previously produced the most accurate representations of the clitoris, only became available in 2009.
But it was worth the wait. The truth is, you might struggle to gain pleasure from a tool you don’t even know you have. In 2016, women finally know without speculation what the whole of their sexual organ looks like; and for many it won’t be quite what they imagined.
You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? Is the clitoris not the “small, sensitive, erectile part of the female genitals at the anterior end of the vulva”, as Oxford Dictionaries defines it? And isn’t the real issue simply whether it brings a woman sexual gratification?
Well, decide for yourself. The popular opinion seems to be that the 3D printed clitoris resembles a wishbone. To my eyes, it also (fittingly) resembles a fleur-de-lys, or, to use a more contemporary example, a tulip emoji.
But the important thing is that it debunks myths that have repressed female sexuality for centuries.

Read the rest here: link.

And some more 3D images so that you can better see the structures:

clitoris women sex 3D | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy Vancouver | Squarespace Blogging
clitoris women sex | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy Vancouver | Squarespace Blogging


Homologous genital structures, explained.

In the early stages of development, male and female embryos are almost indistinguishable. Over the first few weeks of pregnancy, the gonads (what will eventually become the ovaries or testes) start to develop and differentiate (i.e., become different).

After about the seventh week, the male gonads begin to produce male sex hormone (a relation of testosterone), which causes the genital tissues in males to become masculinized. Female development continues without the presence of male sex hormone.

Because the female and male genitals come from the same original embryonic tissue, and differentiation is simply the result of the presence of male sex hormone, much of the male and female genital anatomy can be traced back to a shared origin. The parts of the anatomy that come from the shared original embryonic tissue are called homologous structures. For example, the glans of the penis is homologous to the glans of the clitoris (they come from the same original embryonic tissue).

This video does a great job of explaining the concept:

Is there such thing as 'normal' or 'typical' labia/vulva?

In short, no.

Genital shame/anxiety is a growing problem. This, in part, is due to the fact that most people don't get the opportunity to see a wide variety of genitals, and therefore presume that there is one specific way in which they should look.

Inner and outer labia, like most other body parts, vary widely. They range in size, symmetry, shape, colour, etc. There is no such thing as a universally ideal or typical labia.

Several user-content blogs have popped up, intended to showcase the massive diversity in appearance of the vulva. Presumably, the hope is that by publishing these sorts of images, that people who see them will feel less dissatisfaction/shame about their genitals. The following are two examples of these types of blogs. Click on the images below to visit the sites (NSFW). The questions, comments, and replies are all interesting to read, too.

Learn more about the second blog here..


Female orgasm.

female orgasm pleasure libido | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy | Blogging on Squarespace

For anyone interested in female orgasms, this is the most scientifically accurate and comprehensive piece that I've encountered in the main-stream media. It's very good.

The topics that it addresses, include:

  • vaginal versus clitoral orgasms
  • the low-down on the g-spot
  • regions of the brain that are responsible for orgasm
  • multiple orgasms
  • orgasm and penis/sex toy size

From the BBC:

The Mystery of the Female Orgasm
From the existence of the G-spot to the origin of multiple orgasms, female sexuality once mystified scientists. But as Linda Geddes discovers, radical experiments are finally revealing some answers.
by Linda Geddes
On my washing machine, there is a lock. To activate it, you must hold down the start button for a particular length of time at just the right intensity; too soft and nothing happens, too hard and the machine beeps angrily at you. Once you’ve mastered the technique, it’s easy; the lights switch on, things start moving and the cycle ultimately climaxes in a shuddering whirling crescendo of noise. Finally, an entangled heap of damp but refreshed clothes tumbles out at the other end. But for the uninitiated, it’s a perplexing mystery.
Consider now the female orgasm. JD Salinger once wrote that “a woman’s body is like a violin; it takes a terrific musician to play it right”. Pressed or caressed the right way, a woman can be transported to such ecstasy, that for a few seconds, the rest of the world ceases to exist.  But get it wrong and pain, frustration, or dull nothingness can ensue. It’s a stark contrast to a man’s experience; so long as they can get an erection, a few minutes of vigorous stimulation generally results in ejaculation.
Why are orgasms so intensely pleasurable? How come women can experience multiple orgasms? And does the fabled G-spot even exist? These are some of the most enduring mysteries of medicine. “We are able to go to the moon, but we do not understand enough about our own bodies,” says Emmanuele Jannini at the University of Rome Tor Vergata – one of those who has spent his career trying to unravel it. Recent years have seen a flurry of studies by these real-life Masters of Sex, and they are finally getting some answers.

Read the rest here: link.

Vice documentary: Reversing Female Circumcision - The Cut That Heals.

I've posted about female genital mutilation (FGM)/cutting several times in the past. Check the links for a description of the procedures and the rationals behind them (link, link, and link).

This recent documentary by Vice follows the story of a Somali woman who pursues surgery to restore her sexual functioning, which she lost when she underwent FGM. Check it out.

Animation of MtF sex reassignment (corrective) surgery.

Passed along by Afrooz (thanks!).

While many people have heard of sex reassignment/corrective surgery (i.e., surgically changing someone's genitals to match their experienced sex), most have no idea of what the surgery involves. It's a tricky process, and one that is constantly being refined to produce more optimal results for the patient in terms of both appearance and functioning.

Surgery typically follows after sex hormone therapy has begun. Sex hormones are required for the person's lifetime. For someone who transitions physiologically from male to female, female sex hormones are necessary as the body does not produce its own, even after surgery (i.e., we're not at a point where ovaries, which are the primary source of female sex hormones, can be transplanted).

The video below depicts the surgical procedure required for transition from male to female. Keep in mind that it was produced in 2009, and there have been major advancements since. Nonetheless, it gives you a good idea of how complicated the procedure can be.

What Google searches tell us about peoples' sex lives.

Google makes all of its search data publicly available. According to Google, 100 billion searches are done each month. That means a lot of data. And because sex is something that is searched often, there is a treasure trove of sex-related search data for the taking. 

This piece in the New York Times by economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz digs deep into the Google search data to tell us about our anxieties and the states of our relationships. There are a couple of nifty infographics that summarize his findings. The piece is worth a read - it's fun and informative.

From the New York Times

Searching for Sex
ARE you confused by sex? I certainly am.
One of the many reasons sex is puzzling is that we lack reliable data. People lie to friends, lovers, doctors, surveys and themselves.
Three years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, I began to write about how new data, particularly Google searches, could give us fresh insights into socially sensitive topics. Since then, many people have asked me to write about sex.
I was wary because I wanted to do more research. Now I’m finally ready to report. Call it everything you always wanted to know about sex, but didn’t have the data to ask.
Let’s start with the basics. How much sex are we having? Traditional surveys are no good at answering this question.
I analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a classic source. Heterosexual men 18 and over say that they average 63 sex acts per year, using a condom in 23 percent of them. This adds up to more than 1.6 billion heterosexual condom uses per year.

And one of the infographics: 

Google sex searches marriage sexual behavior | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy | Blogging on Squarespace

Read the rest here: link.


TEDx talk on female genital cutting.

Female genital cutting (FGC), otherwise known as female genital mutilation or female genital circumcision, is the ritual removal of part or all of the vulva. It's practiced in regions of Africa and the Middle East, even though it's illegal in most countries. It tends to be most common in areas of greater gender inequality, where women have no options but to be married. The procedure is required to be eligible for marriage and is considered a rite of passage.

The theory behind FGC is that women will be overcome with desire and will have sex before marriage if their genitals are left intact. FGC is intended to maintain their purity by removing any structures that could bring them sexual pleasure, thus reducing temptation.

FGC is usually done around puberty, and in some places at much younger ages. Usually female village elders will do the procedure, and rarely ever is it performed in sanitary and safe conditions (by western surgical standards).

Gena (thanks!) passed along this TEDx clip of a talk by a woman struggling with her cultural roots as an immigrant growing up in Australia, in relation to her beliefs about FGC. Check it out. 

For more posts on FGC click here, here, and here.

Herbal womb detox pearls: Not a very good idea.


Another product that will leave you scratching your head.

There is no science to back this product up. It has a hint of the old vaginas are yucky and need cleaning vibe that has caused so much harm in the past.

Vaginas are largely self-cleaning, and messing with the delicate flora that live symbiotically within can cause infections and other problems.

My favourite quote in the article linked below, from Dr. Jen Gunter, a gynaecologist:

"Your uterus isn’t tired or depressed or dirty and your vagina has not misplaced its chakra. 
They want no real help from you unless there is something wrong and they will tell you there is something wrong by bleeding profusely or itching or cramping badly or producing an odour."

From the Independent UK:

Women putting herb balls in vagina to 'detox their wombs' have been warned of dangers
US firm claims its small 'holistic' herb packages 'aid to correct' endometriosis
Women are being warned about the dangers of a “womb detox” product after health experts said it could cause irritation and even toxic shock syndrome.
US firm called Embrace Pangaea is selling “Herbal Womb Detox Pearls” online, claiming the products "aids to correct" conditions such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts and thrush.
The pearls - small balls of perfumed herbs - are sold in one or two-month packages, with packages on sale for between $85 (£59) and $480 (£335).
Another package - claims to promote “vaginal tightening”, which it says works by “tightening the womb” so the “vaginal canal will shrink”.
The company says the herb pearls are designed to "cleanse the womb and return it to a balance state" by flushing out "toxins".
In a blogpost, the company said the pearls could be issued in the same way natural solutions like oranges and lemons can be used to counteract a cold.
But a sexual health expert insisted that not only were the “pearls” ineffective, but they could be dangerous.

Read the whole piece here: link.

You can check out the product homepage here: link.

And the blog post by Dr. Gunter here: link.


The Bodyimage Project.

Passed along by Afrooz (thanks!), via Dodson and Ross.

Projects like this are not new, and that's a good thing. Over the last several years, a few have sprung up. Their express purpose is to provide some balance to the highly produced and processed (i.e., digitally manipulated) photos of models and celebrities that you see in the media. These projects are fundamentally about diversity, and how diversity is good.

The Bodyimage Project by Marshall Bradford is still in its development phase. Given its early success, he's committed to something much larger, which will be coming down the pipeline in the near future. For the time being, however, he's posted some photos through his Facebook account.

From the description:

Image is everything. If you don't look like the media tells you to you will never make it in the world. Forget about finding love and happiness. That's what the pretty people get.
Or that's what we are told. I don't really feel that way. As a photographer in Las Vegas I have shot my share of high polish perfect modeling photos and I'm not saying I won't shoot stuff like that in the future. I am also an artist and to that end I have the need to try new things with my art.
My thought with this project I wanted to show what we really look like. I wanted to photograph people simply being themselves and being proud of that. People should love how they look and love themselves first. No matter the way you look you should remember that your happiness comes from within. That's the goal of this work. To allow the subjects own beauty to show. I have learned a lot starting this project and I'm excited to see where it leads me to.

Go check out the project and photos here: link (you need to be on Facebook; also, Facebook doesn't allow photos of genitals and breasts, thus the silly edits)

OMGYes: New project and program to turbo boost female sexual pleasure.

This project and web-based service appears to be really promising.

It's a collaboration between some entrepreneurs and researchers at Indiana University (home of the Kinsey Institute).

OMGYes looks to be a slick, engaging, and richly informative educational tool. Its purpose is to increase women's sexual pleasure through a series of online videos and interactive experiences. Subscribers (and their partners) learn diverse skills and techniques, which are based on research and the experiences of the OMGYes women.

The most interesting part of the program looks to be the interactive video and touchpad manual stimulation component. Subscribers learn how to stimulate the various OMGYes women's genitals using the trackpad; the OMGYes software (and OMGYes women) provides real-time feedback.

Here's the intro video:

Dr. Stephen Snyder, a sex therapist in New York, wrote a piece published by Huffington Post, about his experiences test-driving the interactive learning tools.

"Yeah, that's it! Mmmm . . . that's GOOD!"
My computer is talking to me, whispering words of encouragement as I trace big circles with my finger on my trackpad. My cursor grazes over the vulva of the woman lying before me onscreen. 
Her name is Amber. Amber likes a circular stroke on the upper right corner of her vulva next to her clitoris. 
I've just finished watching a video where she demonstrates the technique on herself. And now the program has loaded an "interactive" module, for me to try it on her. 
Tentatively, not knowing quite what to expect, I click "Begin." 
Amber's vulva, freshly shaved and beautifully lit, appears on the screen. A delicate white arrow traces a circle in the exact spot where I'm supposed to start. Hesitating at first, I press the trackpad, and a cursor appears on Amber's vulva. As we approach Amber's clitoris the image morphs a bit, and her clitoral hood stretches towards my cursor. 
We are suddenly connected -- her vulva and my finger.

Check it out the full article here: link.

It's also worth visiting the OMGYes website, even if you aren't interested in becoming a subscriber. There are a bunch of videos (NSFW) and demonstrations of the interactive tool, as well as some basic resources. Link.

Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno.

I've posted about Isabella Rossellini' Green Porno series previously, but it's worth a repost.

Growing up, I became acquainted with Isabella Rossellini, an actress, through two David Lynch films, Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet (I was a huge David Lynch fan as a kid). She is widely regarded worldwide as an exceptional actress.

Having achieved world domination as an actress, she turned her sights to various philanthropic conservation causes and a related pet project called Green Porno.

The series, which aired on the Sundance Channel, featured Ms. Rossellini and other actors dressed up as creatures and having sex. It was intended to be both educational and fun. You can read more about it here: link.

Here are a sample of the shorts:

Accidental vulva art.

Passed along by someone in the comments section (thanks!).

Apparently this was part of a grade school art project called "Candlelight." Via Reddit and The Frisky. A particularly poignant comment from the Reddit thread:

“I think it’s great to let the students know that each individual can have their own unique ‘candlelight’ and that mine doesn’t necessarily look like that other girl’s. Still, it gets everyone hot just the same.”

Jessica Biel and WomanCare Global team up for funny sex ed videos.

In response to the mostly piss-poor sex education in the states, Jessica Biel, Joy Bryant, and Whitney Cummings teamed up with WomanCare Global (a nonprofit women's sexual health service provider) and Funny or Die to produce a series of educational comedy clips that address some misconceptions related to sex. The clips have received a lot of attention, and for good reason.

From an article in Slate:

Today, Biel and WomanCare Global, an international nonprofit that works to improve access to products such as contraception and menstrual cups, released a series of videos on Funny or Die called “If You Don’t Tell Them, Then Who Will?” Named to encourage parents and other informed adults to speak honestly with the kids in their lives about reproductive health, the three clips feature Biel kibitzing with fellow actresses Joy Bryant and Whitney Cummings about hetero sex, birth control, dudes, and periods in someone’s kitchen.
The three women cite some messed-up ideas of how female bodies work—e.g., if a condom gets stuck in your vagina, it cannot travel up and out your mouth, contrary to the anatomical fantasies of one Idaho lawmaker—which work as straw men for on-screen text to bat down. “We thought the best way to encourage women to get educated and start the conversation around our bodies was to make it comically clear that people like me, and other non-experts, should not be the source for this information,” said Biel in a statement.

Read the rest here.

Check out WomanCare Global here.

And the videos:

Art: The Great Wall of Vagina.

I've posted about this project previously (link), but it's come up again - two students passed along a link to a recent article in Cosmopolitan.

From Cosmopolitan:

McCartney says the vagina has become something that companies have begun shaming people for so they can make money off of them by telling the they need to have surgery to make it look better, saying, "I do believe that cosmetic surgery is a fairly unnecessary procedure, it's a psychological problem. There's a whole industry base set up to persuade women they're defective and to give them an answer." He says he gets letters almost daily from women wanting to volunteer or who have told him that his artwork has helped with the anxiety they had surrounding the appearance of their vaginas.


His hope is that the project will help women of all ages (which is something that is desperately needed), since he says, "every generation is going to go through the same anxieties, every girl is going to think, 'Oh my god, what's wrong with me'." 

And his artist statement:

For this, my latest major sculpture, I cast, over the course of 5 years, the vaginas (well the vulva area in fact) of hundreds of volunteers. The Great Wall of Vagina is an exploration of women's relationships with their genitals. When I assembled the first panel of 40 casts in summer 2008, I stepped back disappointed. I realised the sculpture would need to be much bigger to have the impact I wanted. From this original piece (called Design A Vagina) has grown an epic sculpture. The final piece now has 400 casts arranged in 10 panels of 40.
"Why did I do it and what's it all about?" I hear you ask. Well, it became clear to me whilst working on a not dissimilar piece for a sex museum that many women have anxiety about their genital appearance. It appalled me that our society has created yet one more way to make women feel bad about themselves. I decided that I was uniquely placed to do something about it.
The sculpture comments on the trend for surgery to create the 'perfect' vagina. This modern day equivalent of female genital mutilation is a bizarre practice which suggests that one is better than another. Taste in nothing is universal and any desire for 'homogyny' could be very misguided. 400 casts arranged in this manner is in no way pornographic, as it might have been if photographs had been used. One is able to stare without shame but in wonder and amazement at this exposé of human variety. For the first time for many women they will be able to see their own genitals in relation to other women's. In doing so they may dispel many misconceptions they may have been carrying about what women look like 'down there'. The sculpture is serene and intricate and it works on many levels.




Female genital cutting/mutilation.

Female genital cutting/mutilation (FGC/M) is the ritual removal of part or all of the vulva, practiced in several countries in Africa and a handful in the Middle East. It's considered a right of passage and necessary if a woman wants to be married. Places where it is practiced are characterized by extreme gender inequality, and if a woman is unable to marry, she has no value.

FGM/C is done based on the belief that women's purity and modesty can only be guaranteed through these types of procedures. The procedure is most often done by village elders with rudimentary tools in unhygienic conditions with no anesthetic. Because of this, it's very painful, and it can result in a variety of medical complications and problems, including infection and death.

The United Nations considers FGM/C a violation of human rights, and the World Health Organization, among other agencies, calls it "female genital mutilation," and warns of its impact on health and functioning. Many of the countries where FGM/C is practiced have made it illegal, but the law is rarely enforced.

Some have been critical of the West's approach to FGM/C, claiming that it's another example of cultural imperialism and ethnocentrism. I've posted about this before, with video clips of women talking about their experiences (link).

The recent article linked below provides a very good overview of FGM/C. It's a good, but quite critical, read if you're interested in finding out more.

From the World Economic Forum:

10 Things To Know About Female Genital Mutilation
“The time has come for us to eradicate this bad practice and protect the rights of girls and women in our country,” said Somalia’s minister for women’s affairs at a conference earlier this month. The bad practice she was referring to was female genital mutilation – procedures that intentionally alter or cause harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
The World Health Organization categorizes the procedure into four types: they range from the partial or complete removal of the clitoris to a procedure where the genitalia is sewn closed (which over 60% of women in Somalia are forced to undergo).
Although, as a UNICEF survey found, many people draw on cultural, social and religious justifications for the practice, it has been recognized as a human rights violation since 1993. And yet still, 3 million girls and women are at risk every year. Here are 10 more facts about a practice almost all nations have committed to wiping out.

Read the rest here.