Tags: body image, female sexual dysfunction, guest post, relationships, sex, vaginismus
Hi! My name (for the purposes of this blog) is Cat, and I’m a guest poster.
I’m hoping to write at least three posts – one about me, my vaginismus, my sexual history, etc.; one about my conservative religious upbringing and how that affected me; one about how I feel about depictions of sex, violence and sexualised violence in popular culture.
So, this first post is all about me.
I have vaginismus. I discovered this almost two years ago, when I first went to bed with a new boyfriend. He has an unusually large penis (as far as I would know with my limited experience, see below), and we had trouble finding a condom large enough to fit him. I think by the time we had found a suitable condom brand and actually got ready to try to have sex, I was freaked out and nervous. And there was pain, and a bit of blood, and both he and I were weirded out and disturbed by the whole thing.
I wasn’t a virgin then, but I only lost my virginity (in terms of penetrative sex) at 27, due to the aforementioned conservative Christian upbringing. Before then I had had boyfriends but had not had full penetrative sex with them. With one I went as far as mutual oral sex, but I never relaxed enough to have an orgasm. Anyway, at 26 I lost my faith, and at 27 I arranged myself a one-weekend stand with a friend, in order to lose my virginity and start exploring the possibility of a sex life. By that point I was really fed up of being a virgin, and wanted to know about what this thing was that everyone goes on about so much.
(I still feel as if I’m missing out, and it’s something I worry about a lot.)
I had almost no idea what to do, since the only depictions of sex I had seen were in tastefully lit and faded out mainstream films. I didn’t know where to put my legs, or how to tilt my hips. Luckily my friend was much more experienced than me, and 10 years older, and he helped me a lot.
The first night, when we tried actual penetration, I had an episode of vaginismus, but didn’t at the time know the name of it or what it was. My friend didn’t make it a big deal, and when we tried again the following night I was a lot more relaxed, and we were successful in having penetrative sex. He’s still the only person I managed that with.
I didn’t get an immediate chance for further experimentation, due to not meeting a suitable man, and anyway my life was significantly derailed at that point by other factors.
[I got a cancer diagnosis, and was effectively out of the dating pool for three or four years.]
The cancer was a big knock to my confidence, with weight gain and a visible scar. My confidence had never been that high to begin with. I’ve never been conventionally attractive, and I am tall and clever and combative and have high standards in possible partners. All of these things narrow the pool of viable men. I also had depressing and humiliating experiences with internet dating.
So anyway, about 5 years after losing my virginity, I lucked out and met my boyfriend. He is also tall and clever and combative and has high standards, and we both feel lucky to have found each other. However, his sexual experience is on a par with mine, and he isn’t in a position to be able to help me through the way my first sexual partner did.
We are still together, almost two years after the episode above, but we still haven’t had penetrative sex. We do a lot of affectionate cuddling and hand holding, but not much else.
I don’t know what changed in between having successful intercourse with the first guy, and being unable to have it with my boyfriend. The only other factor (other than cancer, or the passage of time) I can think of was an extremely traumatic pap smear, which left me in tears.
During those two years since my boyfriend and I got together a lot of other things have happened. We went for a referral to a sexual specialist, and the first one was very good. Then she retired, and the second one was much less sympathetic. My guy was involved in a horribly stressful work situation, which ended up with him suffering significant depression and loss of libido, so he wasn’t really able to work on anything with me. I had some progress with the dilators, but found the whole process difficult and upsetting and lonely, and I found it hard to do without moral support from my boyfriend.
The lack of sex in our relationship really bothered me, but it didn’t bother him so much since he was able to compartmentalise it and ignore it. Meanwhile, his lack of libido left me feeling unattractive – again – and my attempts to get things moving left him feeling pressurised.
More recently, we have done a little experimentation together again, but no significant progress.
That’s all for today. I am writing this partly to interact with other readers of this blog, and partly to get it all straight in my head, and try to deal with some of my own issues. I’m hoping that writing about this, and potentially talking to you all in the comments, will help me move forwards.
Tags: body image, communication, experts, female sexual dysfunction, Feminism, health, hygiene, language, marketing, medicine, surgery, TMI, vaginas, vulvodynia
I like the title of the webpage the product is on. By “Like it,” I mean I’m being completely sarcastic & I don’t like it at all. The title of the webpage itself is “Tight Vagina by Vagina Tightening Cream” but the actual product name is “St.Botanica Lady Secret Serum.” I find the difference in names significant. Somehow I can’t imagine the name “TIGHT VAGINA CREAM” going over too well in test marketing with the target audience.
Renee’s right in condemning this product & the geniuses who invented it. There’s a lot we can say about it and especially how it’s being marketed towards women, which seems to be Renee’s focus.
The marketing strategy, as always, can be summed up briefly as, “See a need, fill a need,” with the ultimate goal of making money, even if that means exploitation. But first, how do you get that need to exist to begin with? For the purposes of this product, you create the need by inventing new problems or by re-framing normal bodily functions into such away as to make a problem exist where really there isn’t one. It’s within the realm of normal for a vagina to have a mild odor, to experience some dryness or some wetness. It’s within the realm of normal for a woman to have shifts in libido in one direction or another, to not orgasm or not have G-Spot orgasms. That’s within the realm of normal, but I recognize that sometimes these things and others (Pain!) really do become extreme to the point where they present genuine problems – and when it reaches that point, I won’t stand in anyone’s way to find relief.
Somehow I doubt that this serum would offer any relief though. Let’s look at the ingredients, since I for one have to be careful about what goes on & in there.
Ingredients: Pueraria Mirifica and tropical herb extracts, Carbopol, Water, Butylene Glycol, Glycerin, Propylene and etc.
Pueraria Mirifica sounds like Ephedra… never heard of it before now, appearantly it’s the answer to all your body needs. It may have a legitimate purpose in some situations but then, so do lots of other alternative remedies. I’m a little wary of the wiki’s edit history as well… I’ll pass for now…
Carbopol sounds just completely awful & like something I don’t want in my vagina… a Thickener, apparently. Is that like gelatin? It may have some use in medicine, but that just makes me even more hesitant to use it over the counter. In my vagina.
Water… is water. It’s in everything so fine whatever… then come some other ingredients that can be potentially irritating but nonetheless are found in typical sexual lubricants already available on the market.
Then “Etc…” …Okay what does “Etc” mean? Something St. Botanica’s doesn’t want to divulge, which means it’s probably something I want to know about. And no I don’t care about the secret formula that’s probably critical to this product’s success as a unique hygiene item. I just want to make sure I’m avoiding as many irritants as possible.
Besides, if you really wanted some of the benefits this serum claims it can give, you’d probably get the similar or better results by 1. Going to a gyno to screen for and treat treat any infection that might be acting up, 2. Talking to that same gyno about prescribing a topical hormonal treatment, if warranted due to a hormonal imbalance, menopause and/or old age, 3. Kegels/pelvic floor exercise 4. Other, cheaper over the counter topicals. I’ve heard tales of other women with vulvodynia who variously use vitamin e oil, olive oil, or emu oil topically to soothe irritation. I’m in the vitamin e oil camp (just don’t use oils with latex condoms or if you know you’re sensitive to them.)
So I’m not too impressed with this product and I don’t believe I’ll ever willingly go within 25 feet of a bottle.
Renee doesn’t sound too happy about it either. She recognizes the potential danger St. Botanica’s could present, and does a good job pointing out how the marketing exploits insecurities women feel about their genitals. Insecurity, exacerbated and often created by the marketers themselves and the culture in which they operate.
sick and tired of being shamed for being born with a vagina. It’s an awesome body part. What else can expand to give life to another human being? What else is capable of producing so much pleasure? What else is so beautiful and intricately crafted? It certainly is no penis; it is a wonder unto itself…
…So on behalf of all of us problematized,vagina bearing beings….St.Botinca keep your noxious spray away from my goddess perfected, beautifully shaped, vagina.
Well, yes. It is tiring to constantly feel like your body has to live up to whatever arbitrary expectations are put in place by culture, especially when such expectations are unrealistic, unreasonable, time wasting & put in place to support the very same culture. These standards don’t benefit the group most effected by them. And yes, it’s very interesting & amazing that the vagina & cervix are capable of expanding to allow a whole new life to pass through.
I’m still learning how to derive pleasure from my vagina though… the first few years of using one resulted in pain and it’s gona be awhile yet before my body completely un-learns that response… And even then, “Completely” may be out of my reach.
Unfortunately, unlike Renee, I am someone who does not have a “Goddess perfected” vagina. Mine is more like a, busted up, sewn-together, patchwork, Six Million Dollar Man vagina…
(I’m probably making it sound much worse than it actually is. It’s really not that bad.)
Of course there IS something wrong with my vagina – I am pretty sure healthy vaginas, vulvas & pelvises do not spend all day itching & burning & sending aching, shooting pain signals all down your (my) leg. That’s not “Common discourse,” it’s just me… I’m used to seeing discussions of these painful, life-disrupting symptoms on my vulvar pain support groups – but discussions like that are a lot less common on general women’s health forums. When such topics do come up, experienced posters often point out, “You may have a problem which genuinely needs treatment.”
That Renee asks “What else is capable of producing so much pleasure?” without mentioning the capacity for pain may also be worth pointing out here. Shit, mine’s not working. Does that mean I’ll never be able to experience what you have? What else, indeed.
My point here being, while I agree with Renee’s assessment of this product and the way it is and others just like it are marketed to women, and I frequently agree with or at least appreciate her analysis of other women’s issues,
I’m still left feeling alienated by some of her language, too.
Which I know was never Renee’s intent at all.
Which makes it all the more unfortunate.
My vagina, vulva, what have you, is not perfect. It never was. It is never going to be. I don’t feel that way about mine. Instead, I want be content to live with my flawed, refurb post-vestibulectomy vulva, crafted not by a goddess as though woven from precious silk, but modified by a mere mortal man.
Alas, perhaps this modification in and of itself was enough to take away whatever divine spark my vulva supposedly had when it was still whole… even if being whole meant it was also On Fire.
My vagina really does have issues. I’m sick of feeling ashamed & left out for actually owning one of those “Pesky,” “problematic” vaginas she’s talking about, complete with symptoms strong enough to interfere with my life. And I’m tired of feeling like I am “Doing it wrong” for wanting to, trying to treat these problems.
(And, on a lighter note, I am going to be so sick of spambots in a few days when I still get spam comments latching onto this post for actually using some of the same words they like to use.)
Tags: body image, experts, fashion, Feminism, feminism friday, FSD, media, pornography, sex, Sexuality
There was an interesting, quick video posted on the Betty Dodson & Carlin Ross website today. In this video, Ross & Dodson make a few points on their views of pornography.
“They seem nice,” is the first thing that came to mind when I watched the video… Which is probably the understatement of the year. I feel comfortable saying that Dodson is an expert in human female sexuality. I’m surprised that her wiki page isn’t very long but I’m familiar with some of her other work anyway – her name pops up all the time in books & discussions about sexuality. Plus her name is on that pelvic exercise bar I’ve been eyeing for a few months…
Carlin Ross is someone new to me that I’ll have to keep an eye on.
Dodson isn’t entirely free of critique herself. She places a very strong emphasis on clitoral orgasm as the end-all beat-all orgasm experience. I like Anne Sprinkle’s counter argument that you can have orgasmic experiences in other ways besides that, as described in her book (p 245, 246). I like it partly because it’s more freeing if you can not experience a clitoral orgasm.
I’ve seen what that can be like
Some of the points that Dodson & Ross make in their video include:
For the most part, using porn is probably harmless. Worst case scenario is, you have an orgasm and then go about your daily business.
They did not address arguments about how pornography is produced & whether it furthers stereotypes of women. They did not address how porn can be abused & used as an abuse. They didn’t talk about addiction to porn. I think part of the reason they do not address these larger issues is,
They want to make sexuality more enjoyable for people, women in particular, and that’s hard to do when you make people feel guilty for using porn. Or whatever other kinky activity it is you’re into. These are pretty advanced arguments – perhaps Dodson & Carlin will address them another time, if they haven’t already.
Porn isn’t a good yardstick to use to measure yourself against. It’s not healthy to compare yourself to a porn star.
I know I will certainly never Measure Up. My body doesn’t look like that – and that’s okay. There’s a lot of things sexually they can do that are far out of my reach. “How are you doing that??? Why can’t I do that?”
I am trying to be okay with that. Ideally I won’t have to be…
Fashion magazines, which are more socially acceptable than porn, aren’t good to compare yourself against either. In both of these areas, the women have often been modified in one way or another. Breast & other body augmentation, sometimes body modification in the way of piercings and such, diets, lots of makeup, and when all else fails, Photoshop (or possibly video editing software, in the case of porn.)
Porn – and here I’m getting the impression that they’re referring to mainstream porn – isn’t a good substitute for sexual education.
If you’re looking for technique & details – they’re right. You’re probably not going to learn a lot from watching a porn video. It’s been edited to make the events happen faster & look more interesting. The bodies shown are probably unrealistic to strive for. The camera angles may not be positioned well to show what’s actually going on.
This is especially the case with hentai. Lol… hentai is almost never accurate. “What? How does that even work? That’s not how it works!” That’s a bad place to look for sex advice! Or any kind of advice, for that matter.
But I feel like Dodson & Ross. made a contradiction when they talk about the “New Porn” being sex education in and of itself. Didn’t you just say porn isn’t educational? Which is why I feel they’re referring to mainstream porn. Thier porn of choice is probably best described as Alternative.
I get what they’re trying to say though. A glance through the video selection at GoodVibes & BabeLand reveal many instructional DVDs promising to explain in great detail how to perform one or more sexual activities.
It’s a good question… is it still Pornography if its intent is sexual education? Or is it just… sex education? (Why didn’t they teach us that way in high school?) What if it’s an instructional video that’s all censored & demonstrates on, say a piece of fruit rather than another person? What if it’s a sex education video that’s totally hot?
I think it’s a hybrid, in that case. Being both things at once. Is it possible to do both?
We should be able to find out for sure shortly – Dodson & Ross leave off assuring the viewers that they’ll have some of their “New Porn” available soon.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. Of course Dodson & Ross are making a point to bring New Porn to the forefront, since that is what they are looking to sell. But on the other hand, if it delivers what it promises, then that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. Still, I’m a little concerned that their New Porn will become just another product to tune out. Now if they are referring to “New Porn” as a whole entire genre encompassing porn produced by other folks – I would feel more comfortable like that.
Welp. At least it may offer one more way to explore your sexuality. For those who feel inhibited about watching porn, this type might feel more comfortable since it’s marketed differently.
Tags: body image, clothes, fashion, FSD, health, interstitial cystitis, objectification, pain, Sexuality, vulvodynia, winter
What do you wear when your pelvis, bladder, and/or vulva hurts?
It’s winter in the northern hemisphere, and that means it’s dark and cold. We distract ourselves from the dark with major holidays and lights, at least until the shortest day of the year. We fight the cold with heaters & warm clothes. You might ask yourself in the morning, “What am I going to wear?” Every winter, there are some women who are faced with this question, only with a painful twist.
“What am I going to wear to keep warm when I can’t wear pants?”
I’m a lucky woman. I have the option & ability to wear a lot of different kinds of clothing (at least, for now.) I appreciate this.
I can wear basic, breathable underwear.
I can wear comfortable shorts, pants & jeans.
Sometimes I can even wear thongs for a few hours.
I can wear pretty, fancy lingerie when I want to feel sexy – just for a little while.
But I’m not that lucky. There’s still some clothes I avoid.
I can’t wear tight pants. A tight pair of jeans can be a stiff, constricting sweatbox for the pelvic pain patient. The crotch of jeans can rub up against your crotch and cause irritation. Or the seam can rub against a delicate clitoris – and not in a pleasant way! This was the case for me when I was experiencing peak pelvic pain days. It was quite the opposite of pleasure. I have had to sell, donate, and throw out many pairs of jeans that were, maybe never totally comfortable, but, tolerable once in the days gone by.
I can’t wear long underwear. The last time I tried to wear long underwear underneath a pair of regular work pants, I just so happened to experience a major months-long pelvic pain flare. I can’t be certain that there was a direct cause-effect relationship there… maybe it was just bad luck & bad timing. But I’m not going to risk it. Bad luck charm, right there. Bad juju.
Stockings and tights are likewise out of the picture for me, for the reasons listed above. Indeed, avoiding tight clothes is usually one of the first & “Easiest” tips given to women with pelvic pain.
Not being able to wear long underwear or stockings means I needed to find a “Go-around” to keep my legs warm during these cold winter months. Something to go underneath my pants that will still allow me some freedom of movement – and breathability for my vulva.
So I wear thigh-high stockings and/or thigh-high socks.
In my experience, thigh high socks are harder to find than thigh-high stockings in retail stores. However, the selection of thigh-high stockings is usually pretty limited. At three of the department stores I frequent, thigh high stockings made up a relatively small percent of available hosery compared to regular tights & support hose. I’m not always able to find the color/size combination want. Sometimes the color does matter, since I usually wear stockings with skirts for work.
Thigh high stockings are also seen more than regular pantyhose in lingere catalogs & websites. There’s something sexual about them… maybe it is the way they accentuate the legs, maybe it’s culture, maybe it is a combination of the two.
But thigh high socks are harder for me to find – at least, when I search for them in person.
In my quest for thigh-high socks, I walked into a socks outlet store a few weeks ago. There were no thigh highs available. I could either go with Knee-Highs or I could buy Men’s Socks, knowing that men’s sizes are larger than women’s, and if I bought a large man-sock it probably would come up to about my thigh. I decided to hold off & see what else I could scrounge up.
So I started looking for thigh high socks online.
I never realized thigh-high socks & stockings were considered such a fetish item until I started looking for them.
As of today, the first result on Google for “Thigh high socks” takes me to American Apparel’s selection. Their description says “We’ve taken our sporty socks thigh high for a sexier look.” …So, what, are regular socks… not sexy, then?
Well, I suppose feeling sexy is a nice side effect of wearing thigh high socks, but that wasn’t my main motivation for buying them. I need something practical & warm. Something that will allow me freedom of movement without being too constricting around the vulva.
Still. It’s a bit disconcerting to me to see Disembodied legs over and over again on sock-selling sites. But I suppose by definition, “Thigh high” socks requires that an entire – and often feminine – leg be shown. Maybe the photographer just ran out of room, or showing the rest of the outfit would take away from the main product of interest. And how can you know what the thigh highs look like if they are covered by pants?
(But then if we need to know what they look like, why not just show the socks spread out but not on a model, like a t-shirt that isn’t being worn?)
And my goodness, there certainly are a lot of sites that pop up within the first page of Google’s results showing women wearing thigh highs – and just their underwear or a schoolgirl lingerie costume. I even see one website aptly named “Thighhighsocks.com” – and it’s porn. Truly rule 34 in action.
I had no idea that thigh high socks were so sexualized until I started looking for them. I was not looking for socks to make me feel sexy. No one sees my thigh high socks underneath my pants. I just need something to keep my legs warm – without smothering my vulva.
That so many of these socks look and, in fact, are flimsy, is a real problem for me. The flimsier, thinner material must stretch better, and so look more appealing sexually… but then I sometimes have to wind up layering one regular sock over the thigh-highs, to keep my feet warm. Wouldn’t it be easier to just make the sock thicker & warmer? I can find knee-high wool socks, but I’m having a harder time finding thigh-high wool ones.
But I remain grateful. I am trying to remember to not take the health I have for granted.
But sometimes, when I’m upset and tired of looking for warm winter clothes that fit, I get frustrated. Truly, the fashion industry overlooks a wide variety of body types. In its rigid refusal to better accommodate more body types, some women feel forced to modify their own bodies to fit in with what’s “Normal.” When that doesn’t work, women may feel inadequate. This can lead to pretty extreme and sometimes self-destructive behavior. But that’s a discussion for another day.
I know women with pelvic pain who can wear nothing but skirts. Or, they need to wear skirts during peak pain time. This may not be so much of a problem in the spring, summer, or fall, when the tempeartures are more reasonable. I like wearing skirts on warm days in summer too. But even on those nice weather days, having to wear or not wear one thing or another, is just another reminder of the body’s limitations.
But right now, it’s winter. It’s January. I live on the Eastern seaboard. It gets cold here. This week we have temperatures ranging from a low of zero to a high of 20 or 30 degrees (Fahrenheit.) It snows.
Wearing a skirt can’t be comfortable when it’s that cold out.
This is something I am not personally familiar with. I have not had to wear skirts in the winter. But I step outside in my thigh-high socks covered by pants covered by boots, and a heavy coat on… and I’m still freezing within moments.
I don’t know about it personally – but I recognize that having to wear skirts due to pelvic pain must be a real struggle, based on the discussion I see about it online. One such vulvodynia & interstitial cystitis patient spoke out about it here. There are many others; some of the Living with Vulvar Pain blogs I have linked to on the sidebar of this page include posts just about clothing & vulvar pain.
Seeing women wearing skirts in the winter is a rare sight for me. I don’t expect to see skirts in the winter, except perhaps at parties or for a night out on the town.
Yet I have seen it.
When I see the long denim or suede skirts on women when the temperature is below freezing, I wonder… “Does she have it? Does she know? Do I know her? Is it just coincidence? Maybe I’m just over thinking things again.”
I got to know one of these women. In college, I went to class with a woman who wore long heavy skirts to class every day. We were in a women’s health class together. She was a busy, working mother. We did a project together. As I got to know her, I learned that she had had a hysterectomy. She learned that I had vulvodynia. She never came out & said that she had pelvic pain too – but I suspect that she may have, based on her interest in my interest in pelvic pain. I once highlighted a passage discussing post-menopausal women who experienced tearing of the vulvar tissues during intercourse and she pointed it out. I said, “You don’t have to be in menopause to experience that… :(” and she agreed, “No, you certainly don’t…”
I wonder… did she know? She never said anything directly but…
One of the other women wearing a skirt in winter was about my age, maybe even younger. I saw her a few weeks ago at a doctor’s office. It was December, and late at night. I didn’t speak to this woman, as I was leaving. But I saw what she was wearing.
It may be worth noting here that this doctor’s specialty is in treating pelvic pain patients…
…which is the reason I was there – mostly to address the residual vaginismus moreso than the vestibulitis. The treatment works on both, for me.
So I wonder… I wonder if she knew, too.
I can only imagine how hard that must be.
Tags: body image, Feminism, feminism friday, FSD, health, pornography, pubic hair, Sexuality, shaving, vulvas, vulvodynia
Pubic hair periodically comes up within feminist circles. Discussions about it fall in & out of favor.
Well, recently, a Salon.com article titled “Is Bush Back?” made some waves. Once again discussions about pubic hair & feminism are contemporary.
A brief summary of the article is, the author was told about “Shave the Date,” a tongue-in-cheek personal celebration for now-President Bush’s departure from Washington. The author points out that this isn’t as Hip & Cool as it may first sound – pubic hair is making a comeback. Barenaked vulvas were popular in pornography & in society in the last two decades.
(I know I could walk into any of several local salons and get a bikini or a brazillian wax right now if I wanted to – although if I felt so inclined, I’d probably be choosy about which one to patronize! But it’s right up there, on the menu.)
But lately more hair is sneaking in. It’s more socially acceptable to have a bit of a hairy bush.
I found it rather interesting that the author pointed out a connection between economics & shaving patterns. She suggests that women groom more during boom economic times and less during recessions, such as the one the globe is feeling right now. Intuitively, it makes sense. When the economy is booming, people have more cash to spend on luxury goods & services, including beauty treatments. During downtimes, those luxury treatments are the first to go. On television and in comic strips, I’ve heard jokes about families resorting to cutting their own hair. On the sitcoms, this can end in hilarious disaster.
Perhaps some of this regrowth is in direct response to feminist analysis of pubic hair.
I don’t know if most feminists feel this way or if it’s just a vocal minority, but the loudest voices that ring most clearly in my ears are the ones that say “Never shave, trim, or shape your pubic hair, because doing so is a symptom of the patriarchy. You’re only doing it because the patriarchy tells you to. You only want to look that way because porn stars do it. You want to look that way because men like childish, immature looking women. Real women wear pubic hair.”
Unfortunately, once again I find myself feeling alienated by these most vocal feminists. I never really like feeling like my choice is never my own, even when I am fully aware of the repercussions of whatever choice it is I am making. That’s how I feel when it comes to feminism & pubic hair though – we must constantly question our choices. We can never be certain that we fully know ourselves, because of our socialization & gender roles.
It’s a real bummer if you ask me. If I don’t shave my pubes, then on the one hand I may have to defend this choice against macho men who have been socialized & conditioned to believe that a shaven vulva is inherently better than an unshaven one. (In practice, my own boyfriend does not seem to hold this belief – or if he does, he’s smart enough to keep it to himself!) But on the other hand, if I do shave, then I have to defend this decision against vocal feminists who tell me I am feeding the patriarchy by bowing to the peer pressure.
However, I also once again find myself in a unique position to point out a few shortcomings of arguements about pubic hair.
My answers are probably unusual. The most common responses re: shaving probably do fit the bill nicely for most people. Other feminists have done a good job of addressing the most common concerns re: to shave or not to shave, for example we have one vocal radical’s points and another newbie-friendly blog presents a couple of different points of view on the matter.
But I am constantly reminded…
I am not most people.
I’m actually one of the lucky ones. Most of you readers are probably lucky ones, too, and don’t even realize it. I actually have the option to manage my pubic hair.
On one of the support groups I’m a member of, some women have written that their pubic hair, in and of itself, causes a lot of grief & there isn’t much to be done about it. Some women with vulvodynia have vulvar pain so bad that they describe not being able to allow anything to touch thier pubic hair. Even warm water in the shower can’t fall directly onto the mons. Swimming is out of the question, due to the chemicals in a pool. Not that swimming in the ocean would be much better. Some women can’t tolerate the force of water pushing the hairs around.
It really does happen.
My heart goes out to these women. Shaving, waxing, trimming, and sometimes even wearing pants, isn’t even an option for them. I can’t take the vulvar health I do have for granted.
Yet, for others, managing pubic hair can actually be a way to manage vulvar discomfort. Everyone is different – it’s possible to have vulvodynia & feel a little better, either physically or emotionally or both, with minimal pubic hair.
I can go either way. I can leave it in place or I can manage it. In practice, I do go both ways.
I am so grateful to be able to go either way.
At this point, I can’t remember the motivations I had when I first started shaving my beaver, about age 15. I believe it was something along the lines of “Let’s try something new & see if I like it.” I found that I actually did like the rewards, so I maintained for awhile. It wasn’t really comfortable or pleasant. I have a lot of pubic hair so it took a long time. Looking back, perhaps the uncomfortable burning sensation I experienced when some of the supposedly bikini-safe shaving gel dribbled into my vestibule, should have been taken as a big fat warning sign of times to come. I wonder if it’s like that for everyone. How would I know?
I only had crappy disposable razors for a long time. Then I became aware of better, more long-lasting, more comfortable razors that felt less scrapey on the skin. Now you can get razors marketed for women that have 4 & 5 blades at once. I wonder if some of the push towards barenaked vulvas in porn & photography came from having better tools become available, which required less swipes of the razor. One swipe did the work of two or more.
Unfortunately over time, the discomfort I had with shaving gels increased. It might’ve been the vestibulitis acting up, or it might’ve been simple annoyance. There’s no use denying that managing pubic hair requires time & care.
Last year, I picked out a nice electric razor. I can’t shave with a regular razor & foamy gels anymore. I don’t want to risk getting the irritating shaving gels in my vagina. That means by extension, hair dissolvers like Nair are out of the question, too.
But with this new electric razor, I can shave my mons if I want to – among other things. I really enjoy working with it. I can use it outside of the shower, which means I don’t have to rely on gels to act as a buffer. It does not seem to cause me any pain in & of itself.
Electric razors can be a bit of a trick to find. They aren’t marketed towards women so much as men, and when I was shopping around for the perfect razor, most of the advice I heard was you get what you pay for.
Often, when I don’t feel like shaving, I still prefer to trim my pubic hair with a pair of safety scissors.
I’ve seen the question raised, “Why would you want to take sharp objects to your vulva just to get rid of a few hairs?”
A good question, indeed…Except that, I had vulvar surgery. The doctor already took a scalpel to my vulva.
It doesn’t really get much sharper then that.
An electric razor or a small pair of safety scissors by my own hand, is pretty unintimidating after that.
Been there, done that. Wrote the blog.
It may be worth noting here, that when I had my surgery, after I was put under but before things got started, I had to be shaved. I was instructed to not shave for a few weeks prior to surgery, in order to let the hair grow and also make sure there were no ingrown hairs that could become infected.
Not all of my pubic hair was removed, just the ones that were in the way of my vestibule. I am not sure if hygiene had anything to do with the surgeon’s decision to shave me, but I’m sure it made things easier to see.
I am certainly not afraid to look at my vulva. This surgery I had wasn’t cosmetic in nature. My vulva wasn’t ugly before and it’s not ugly now – although I do like the way this one looks better, because of what it means to me. It does look different – now when I look at my vestibule, I do not see so much redness & sorrow.
I like to check on my vulva at least 2x a day, mostly out of habit. I like to check in on it to make sure everything is within the range of normal. Discharge, odor, color, amount of smegma buildup, level of irritation – all must be within an acceptable range for me. If something falls out of range, I worry. Is it a warning sign of pending infection?
I do not know what will happen if I develop a vaginal infection from now on. I fear I may relapse or have a flare-up. I don’t know if my checking habit will be able to prevent infection from happening, or if it will let me get early treatment. But I take comfort knowing that I am trying to baby it & keep it happy. I’m trying.
I have enough pubic hair so that it does get in my way when I need to check my vulva. So having minimal pubic hair makes things easier to see. More light gets through to my vestibule, I have less hair to push & pull out of the way. It is less obscured.
I’ve had some issues with my pubic hairs in an of themselves causing me some discomfort.
Once in high school, I had an awful, painful experience with clitoral pain. It came on suddenly & I had to run funny for the cramped ladies room stall.
I was practically in tears in discomfort, hunched over the toilet and digging around my vulva trying to figure out what was wrong. It took me several minutes to find & remedy the problem.
It was a pubic hair.
It had gotten stuck under my clitoral hood.
I wasn’t shaving at that time. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t – in this particular instance, I was letting it grow out for awhile longer. I had a whole bush going.
And a hair still got stuck in my clitoral hood.
And it was poking me and scraping me.
It was a trick to pull it out. Who designed these ladies room stalls? I had a hand mirror that I used, but there wasn’t much light to see what I was doing.
I felt immediately better after I got it loose, but I was somewhat irritated for the rest of the day.
This has happened a couple of times, whether I’ve shaved or not. I have a few hairs in an unfortunate position. They like curling up in such a manner that they pokes my clitoral hood if I let them grow long enough. When I do shave or trim I must be careful to rinse off well.
But since it happens whether or not I’ve managed my bush, pubic hair under hood seems to be a case of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
A counter argument that sometimes comes up, in favor of managing pubic hair, is that it makes having your period more comfortable, thanks to less mess.
When I’m menstruating, I still can’t use a tampon, so I can’t just plug it up & go about my merry way, mess-free. I freak out when I try to insert a tampon (even though I can use dilators fairly comfortably,) so it’s not really practical to tell me to use a diva cup or sea sponge.
So, I still use pads. I’m actually in the minority at this point – most women use tampons.
Tampons and pubic hair get pretty messy on the peak flow days.
One vocal feminist answer to pubic hair getting tangled by blood is, “WIPE. Deal with it!”
Which most of the time, probably for most women, is perfectly fine & effective.
However, in my experience, wiping does not get all that blood off. There’s still a residue of brown crust to deal with later. The menstrual blood itself is somewhat irritating to my vulva, as is this residue. It’s not terrible but it’s enough to notice.
And if you are so sensitive to touch that even soft toilet papers feel like sandpaper on your vulva, “Just wipe it” isn’t very good advice.
I don’t feel comfortable using disposable moist towelettes or baby wipes on my vulva either, because I don’t want the ingredients (usually including some combination of alcohol and/or fragrance,) going near it.
Personally, I prefer to, minimize the hair that gets tangled in the first place, by trimming… and then address the rest by Rinsing.
I live in the US, so bidets are a rarity. I have never in my life encountered one.
So in order to rinse the blood off, I have to use a few cups of warm water, or have a nice sitz bath, or take a shower.
Cups are in short supply in all the pubic bathrooms I’ve ever used.
I’d be embarrassed to lug my big ol’ sitz bath basin around in public (although I DID do it once – related to the surgery, again.)
And I can shower once a day or thereabouts, but doing more then that takes extra time & isn’t practical.
So even my favored approach to removing menstrual blood, the rinse, isn’t perfect. 8+ hours a day while I’m at work, rinsing is a bit of a trick. Theoretically it’s still possible.
I’ve heard tales of women sneaking mini squirt bottles into the rest rooms with them, if thier purses are big enough or if their pain is bad enough. When I hear these tales though, it’s probably not just the blood that’s irritating, but also the urine itself…
When you have to take a squirt bottle into the restroom with you, it’s usually because you don’t want to have to take a squirt bottle into the restroom with you. Sometimes I take a water bottle around town with me so I can drink when I’m thirsty. I’m reluctant to use the same water bottle to rinse off my vulva. I’m a little squicked out by the fact taht the bottle has my mouth germs on it. And once I run out of water, if I need to refill it in public, I’d have to leave the stall I’m in, fill up at the sink, and then go back into the bathroom.
So with regards to the clots of menstrual blood getting tangled in my pubic hair… for me it makes more sense to me to just, not let that happen in the first place. Or to minimize it as much as possible.
There is one other, somewhat more unusual but completely practical application of managing pubic hair.
And that is…
…Having a lot of pubic hair makes getting accurate readings on biofeedback machines a little harder.
…Biofeedback, in case you didn’t know, is another perfectly legitimate treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction, including but not limited to vaginismus, and sometimes for vulvodynia, bladder control, etc.
When you have a lot of pubic hair the machines will still give a decent reading. They still work. However, according to my physical therapist, having a lot of pubic hair where the electrodes need to go, might influence the readings. It makes sense – are the sticky electrodes attached to your vulvar & anal skin, or to your vulvar & anal hair? If it’s the hair, they might wiggle around with your every movement.
Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who has enough pubic hair so that it influences the biofeedback machine. Not enough to make biofeedback worthless, but it’s causing some interference.
For example, this was the case at my most recent biofeedback session. I let my pubic hair grow out somewhat, thinking I could still get away with it. But during therapy, my readings were getting screwed up. There is no way my tensile strength is THAT high for THAT short a length of time (a fraction of a second) and there is no way my relax state is that uneven. My readings, when the electrodes are properly applied, are usually much more stable then that! I’d been keeping up my exercises at home, so I can’t say I slacked off & got weak. It’s not supposed to look that jagged!
I reached down & felt the electrodes. They were partly stuck to me and partly stuck to my pubic hair. Which is a real bummer because the therapist tried very hard to get the electordes to stick properly. It just kind of worked out that way this time.
Having all that pubic hair makes removing the sticky electrodes a little uncomfortable too – tug, tug, pull, pull… Oops one pubic hair just broke off me now. So much for letting it grow out = no ingrown hairs…
Of course, someone confronted with this anecdote may, in a great huff, tell me,”Well then just shave off the hair that’s in the way & leave the rest alone!” Or perhaps, “Deal with the slightly inaccurate biofeedback readings!” Or, perhaps the worst thing you could possibly say to me would be “Oh but that’s so rare, it’s so weird, that doesn’t happen to anybody ever.”
Meh, I like the way this looks & feels better. I already started managing it in one area, may as well finish the rest of the job. That way I can see how the skin is holding up on my mons too. And yeah the biofeedback readings are still okay, but I’m so curious now to see if we can make them look more level without the hair in the way. And please don’t say that last thing to me. FSD is not as uncommon as you may like to think, and biofeedback can be a non-invasive treatment option for some forms of it, among other things. It makes me feel like I don’t matter when you say things like that.
I will never tell you whether to manage your pubic hair or not. I will never tell you what is the best choice for you, because only the individual can make that decision. I will never take that choice away from anyone, and I would very much appreciate it if no one took that choice away from me, either, in the name of the greater good.
After all – I’m know how lucky I am to have that choice.
Don’t forget about that.