We can all agree that education around women’s bodies is lacking; for a lot of us, we aren’t taught anything past penis and vaginas. Today we’re talking to Jo Corrall about all things vulva – including anatomy, vaginal discharge, female pleasure, and more! This was a super informative episode and I think we’re really going to learn a lot together!
In this episode we talked about the vulva – what it’s made up of, how it often gets mistaken for the vagina, and even the strange names we often call it! Learning our anatomy can seem really intimidating, but it actually helps us to empower ourselves. When we go to the doctor (a task that can already seem hard, hello anxiety!), we need to be able to be as accurate as possible about what’s going on with us, and learning the inner workings of vulvas is going to help us achieve that. We also talked about something that we don’t really like to talk about: discharge. This topic is one that can make us feel really uncomfortable, but it’s something that is totally normal. Jo truly knows so much about helping us to feel empowered in our bodies, and to learn all about our vulvas. After the episode, make sure to head over to UM Club Facebook page where we’ll be discussing our conversation with Jo!
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Founded in 2016 by, Jo Corrall, This is a Vulva is a sex education and vulva diversity campaign with the aim of stemming the rise in people wanting labiaplasty.
In This Episode We Talk About
00:02 – Who is Jo?
05:58 – The anatomy of vulvas.
12:45 – Vulva checks and what that means.
17:05 – Discharge and how normal it actually is (spoiler: very).
31:35 – Teaching our kids proper terms for genitalia.
37:26 – How to start becoming comfortable with your vulva.
41:37 – Where to find Jo!
Watch the Video
Listen to the Audio
Read the Full Conversation
Hello and welcome to another episode inside the Unapologetic Moms Club. I’m your host Jannine MacKinnon, and I’m so excited to be here today with Jo Corrall from This is a Vulva to talk about all things vulvas.
So, Let’s just jump right in it and hear a little bit about who you are, what your mission is, and why you love educating women about vulvas.
Absolutely. So yeah, hi, everybody, I’m Jo. I set up a campaign called This is a Vulva I think in 2016, I was thinking before we started recording, I should really remember when I actually started this project. But it happened after I went to a big event we have in the UK, but they’re all over the world now, it’s called Women of the World and it’s a big feminist festival. And I saw a talk and it was all about how we just don’t know very much about vulvas, we don’t see them anywhere. If you ever see graffiti, it’s always a dick and balls, just graffiti on tables on walls and whatever. You just never see vulvas anywhere at all.
So it sort of started off as a tiny bit of a joke to sort of try to put more vulvas out on the internet. But it really quickly evolved into something a lot more serious. So I started finding out information like nine year olds in the UK were asking for labiaplasty on the NHS; labiaplasty is when you have plastic surgery to alter the look and the shape of your vulva. And nine year – I mean, when I was nine, I was still playing in the garden, like making mud pies and talking to imaginary friends, I was absolutely no way thinking about what my genitalia looked like.
There’s also other statistics. So at the time, we were at a five year low for attending smear tests, which when people were asked why you’re not attending, they would say things like, “oh, I’m just really embarrassed about how I look” or “I think I smell bad” or “I look wrong-” wrong was the word that was used quite a lot. And obviously, there’s no such thing as wrong when it comes to genitalia. And if you do think that you have a strong smell, then there might actually be something wrong, in which case going and speaking to a doctor would be super helpful.
But people have such an embedded shame around the genitals that the idea of anybody going anywhere near them was just too much for them. And smear tests are so important. They help prevent cervical cancer. So for people to not be attending a smear test because they’re worried about how their genitals looked just broke my heart basically.
So I thought what I need to do is do more education around vulvas. First of all getting people to understand what a vulva is and isn’t. Most people would refer to it as the vagina. But the vagina is the inside, it’s a muscular tube, it’s where you would put tampons, menstrual cups, fingers, sex toys, penises. The vulva is everything on the outside, so anything that you can see, anything that touches your underwear, that’s the vulva.
So starting out with quite simple information like that, information that so many people don’t know because our sex education around the world is so poor. And then trying to tackle why people think their vulvas look “wrong.” And it’s often when people have larger labia or asymmetrical labia. And this is all absolutely normal.
So, there was a survey done and about 73% of labia, the inner labia, you can see it protrudes out of the outer labia. So an outie rather than innie. But the majority of people, if you ask them, would think that most vulvas are the other way around, that you can’t see anything hanging out. It’s all very smooth and flat. But it’s the complete opposite, and we think this because we only see vulvas in mainstream porn, or if they’ve been – a lot of those might have had labiaplasty. Or if you see them in magazines, they’ve often been photoshopped in the same way that bodies and faces have been. So we’ve got this completely warped view on what they should look like.
I didn’t even think about that, photoshopping labias – wow.
Yeah, so if you ever see things like bikinis or underwear being sold, the crotch will be photoshopped to look smooth. Which normally if you’re wearing pants, you might have a bulge for pubic hair, your clitoris, your labia – all those things will create lumps and bumps. But they smooth it out like a Barbie doll. And it’s just giving us very unrealistic expectations of what we should look like.
So that is what This is a Vulva is all about. It’s all about education around the vulva, but also in celebration of the vulva. It’s a fantastic part of our bodies. And whilst I think that self love is difficult and it’s sometimes another stick that women are beating over the head with of like, “you must love yourself” when actually, that’s really hard to do. Sometimes just self acceptance is a big enough step in itself.
So for people to understand their bodies, not be ashamed or embarrassed of them, and just seeing them as another normal part of themselves that they just don’t need to be ashamed of. That’s a long winded way of telling you exactly what This is a Vulva is all about.
I love that. And it aligns so much with everything we do here at Unapologetic Motherhood, is through having these conversations about all of these topics so that we can normalize things, normalize each other’s experiences, and be validated through the similarities. And then learn different things to help us in our journey, whatever that may be.
Absolutely, yeah, well it sounds like we’ve got very aligned values then.
Yes. So let’s just dig right into it with the full anatomy of vulvas.
Sure. So if you can picture a vulva, at the top you’ve got the like the kind of fatty mound on the top – if you’re looking directly at a body full on, so you’ve got the bellybutton facing towards you, the lowest bit that you can see will be like a fatty mound or have hair covering it, that’s your mons pubis, or like your pubic mound, and it’s that shape, it’s that kind of fatty mound for a reason. It’s to help protect your genitals, it’s there to help – if you ever like walk into a chair, for example, it’s to stop you from hitting your genitalia full on.
So we have a protection guys don’t have!
We do, we have protection! It’s like a nice little cushion just there so that you don’t hurt yourself. And then if you’re imagining a view of a vulva sort of between the legs at the top, you’ve got the clitoris.
And what a lot of people think about the clitoris is that it’s almost like a little button that’s just at the top. But actually, on average, the clitoris is around a third of the length of the entirety of the vulva. If you think from top to bottom, a good third of that could be the clitoris. And so it’s not just this little button or little circle that you draw at the top of the vulva. It’s very much an integral part of the vulva. And the clitoris itself extends – two thirds more of it is underneath that you can’t see, it extends right down, it reaches into the top of your thighs and wraps around the vaginal opening and that’s why the clitoris is just so amazing. There’s so much underneath that we don’t see that can give us lots of lovely sensations.
So around the clitoris, you’ve got the outer labia or the labia majora. I don’t really like the term labia majora because it makes it sound like you’ve got labia majora and maybe a minora, so major, big, minora, small. And that’s where we have the same idea coming from that the inner labia should be small, and should not be seen. So I prefer outer and inner labia.
So the outer labia, they’re the ones that hair grows, and inner labia are hairless, and they’re much more delicate skin. Inside that you’ve got what is the vestibule, which I think is just such a great term. I didn’t realize that my vulva had a vestibule, it’s like a waiting area for the vagina. I just think it’s a really nice little term.
And then within the vestibule you have the urethra, which is where you pee from, and it’s a really tiny hole and it can be really hard to see on yourself. You’ll also have the vaginal opening, which is the beginning of the vagina. And often what you’re seeing on drawings is the clitoris, the urethra, and the vaginal opening, very neatly spaced apart, like quite equally spaced. And obviously on a human body, that’s not how it goes. The urethra can be anywhere within the vestibule and in a fair number of cases, it can actually be just inside the vagina as well. So the urethra could be anywhere within.
Yeah. And it’s really good to know where your urethra is because the amount of times that we have to go into like peeing in a bottle at the doctor’s trying to work out where on earth you’re going to pee from, you get a couple drops on your hands – if you can know where your urethra is it will save you a whole lot of hassle when you go to the doctor’s.
Interesting, very good point. Because yeah, I’ve been in that bathroom office, it is not a clean situation.
Yeah! And then underneath that you’ve got the perineum, which is a small bit of skin between the bottom of the vulva and the anus, and that’s something that you have on both sexes. So that’s kind of the whole anatomy of the vulva.
But if you go to my Instagram page, which is just @ThisIsAVulva, I’ve got loads of drawings and paintings and nice diagrams of what vulvas looked like that. My issue has always been that diagrams can be great and can be quite informative, but never show you what an actual human body looks like. And the difference between vulvas is just ginormous, in the same way that one person’s face is completely different from another person’s face. Vulvas are exactly the same.
View this post on Instagram
And you’re not doing much looking at those either. It’s that scared “ugh!”
Yeah. “Oh, my God, look away.” So it’s really interesting to get people’s reactions to actually seeing vulvas in real life. It also just means that when you look at yours, you’re much more likely to think, “oh, okay, I kind of understand how they differ and how they’re similar.” Whereas with the diagram, they’re often so splayed open as well – which, again, if you’re just to look between your legs, that’s not what vulvas look like.
I’ve obviously taken loads of photos of my vulva for different projects over the years. And it looks pretty different in each picture, it just very much depends on how my labia is sitting that day, how far my legs are open, what the pubic hair situation is like. It really can change on a day-to-day basis. I think it’s really important actually to understand what your vulva looks like. And I encourage people to do monthly checks of their vulva. So I have a free email that you can sign up to and I just send you an email the first day of the month, just to remind you to check your vulva. I explain how to do it and what you’re looking for.
And the reason I think this is so important is because it gives us a bit more ownership over our own bodies. If we know what’s normal for us, then we know if something has gone wrong. So if there’s a rash, or a new mole, or a mole has changed size or colour, or there’s a little tear, or there’s a change in the colour of your vulva – you can then go to the doctor quite confidently and say, “this wasn’t here last month, can you have a look and see if anything is wrong?” Which is then just super helpful. Because if you look at your vulva once, and it’s itchy, and there’s a lump, and you’ve no idea if that lump was there before or not, it’s really hard to then know whether there could be something that needs to be looked into or not. So I think it’s really important to understand your body, what it looks like and how it changes as well.
Yeah, that’s such a good point. And up until going to your website, I had never heard of vulva checks before.
I frequently hear about breast checks for breast cancer. But you never hear about vulva checks. So we’ll do some links to your email for that. But what is kind of part of the process you recommend people going through when doing these vulva checks? AndI’m going to bend down just to shoo my dog, because I can hear him snoring on this recording, just so you know that’s what I’m doing right now.
So vulva checks, they’re really quite simple. It should only really take five minutes. And depending on sort of how your body works, and what sort of positions you feel comfortable in, there’s lots of different ways of doing it. So ideally, you need a mirror, which is the easiest way. And you can either lie back on your bed with your legs apart and look between your legs with a mirror. Or you can also squat over a mirror, which only really works if you’ve got good thigh muscles, which I do not. So I do no squatting, I’m lying on the bed.
Yeah, watch your area for falling over.
Yeah absolutely. Or if you’ve got like a mirror that goes down to the floor, you can kind of sit back on the back of your bum, or lie on your back with your legs up and having a look in the mirror that way. Even sitting on a chair, and you can kind of shuffle right forward and have a look that way.
If any of those don’t really work for you, you can use your cameras to take pictures, but it’s easier to sort of look at it in real life, so to speak. And all you’re doing is just having a look and having a feel around to check that there’s no sore patches, there’s no itchiness, there’s nothing. There’s no lumps or bumps or tears or new moles, or if the skin has changed colour slightly or if it’s gone a bit scaly or dry. Any changes in colour.
And also looking at discharge as well, has your discharge changed recently? Is it thicker? Does it have a different smell? Is there any blood in it, like what colour is it? Are you getting a lot more than you normally do? Are you getting a lot less than you normally do? Any of those sorts of things, any of those changes.
And you know, our bodies go through fluctuations all the time. So any of these things, they don’t all necessarily mean “oh my god, there’s something to really worry about.” But it’s just good to keep an eye on it, because sometimes a lot of STIs or STDs, they have quite subtle symptoms, a lot of them have no symptoms at all. So it’s really looking out for little changes.
But lots of things like vulva cancer, for example, which there isn’t a lot of around, but you can spot it, you can see things changing in advance. And because a vulva is between your legs, rather than penises which are kind of on the front of your body so you can see them a lot easier, and are a lot more aware if something has changed.
It is quite unusual for most of us to have looked at our own vulvas. So it’s quite hard to recognize changes when they happen. It’s only if you feel pain or itchiness that you think “I want to have a look.” But actually, there are some symptoms that can proceed that, so colour changes, for example, which are really important to get to know. And it should only really take five minutes, you’re just kind of touching, feeling around. And that’s it really, it doesn’t take very long, it doesn’t need to be scary. It’s the same way as when you are checking your breasts. Once you get into a habit of doing it, it’s quite simple. But yeah, it’s definitely something that people don’t do.
Yeah, and something you can easily do like right after you hop out of the shower, before you start getting ready, just have a good check to really be on top of your health.
Absolutely, definitely. Because what I found a lot of people have said is that their partner has noticed things before they’ve noticed, because if you think about it, if you’ve got a partner that is going down on you, they’re seeing what you don’t see. And they’re seeing it a lot more often. And they will say sometimes, “oh, there’s like a rash here,” or “it’s changed colour, changed shape, and there’s a lump.” If you’ve got a partner that will do the checks for you, fantastic. And if you can evolve that into some orgasms and some sex, even better. But we need to be doing these things on our own terms, too.
So being proactive about it.
Now, I would love to circle back to discharge. That’s another thing that really gravitated me towards your account to begin with, was when you did your big discharge gallery. And I know as a young girl, I was not taught whatsoever about discharge. And I remember being, I don’t know, 13 or 14, and my mom – and nothing against her, she just also didn’t have the education either – asked me if I was like cleaning properly, because she noticed how there would be a bit of staining in my underwear. And so that was outside of her experience. So she was just trying to help me.
But then I had a lot of shame around discharge, kind of going forward, and noticing some discolouration in underwear and hiding that and being quiet about it. And so along with everything we’ve been talking about and having these conversations and normalizing these things. Let’s get into discharge, what is the normal range? What’s its function? When does it happen? Let’s hear it all.
Well, just to say, I had the exact same thing when I was growing up, I didn’t know what it was. My mom again, for no fault of her own, didn’t really talk to me about that. It wasn’t mentioned in sex education. Friends were absolutely not talking about it. It was only in my late 20s that I remember bringing discharge up really nervously, thinking “no one has ever talked about this. And we’re a group of feminist women that talk about a lot of stuff. And yet we did not talk about discharge.” Then you bring it up and everyone’s like, “oh my god, me too. I’ve got loads of it. Isn’t it annoying? Oh my god, we could have talked about this years ago, we would have been a lot less self-conscious.”
So yeah, discharge is your vaginas way of cleaning itself. So you should never ever ever stick anything up inside your vagina to clean it. You don’t need to put water or soap or – I’ve seen things like brushes and exfoliating wipes and – oh, it’s awful. No, you do not need that, your vagina cleans itself and it’s using discharge or sometimes it’s called cervical mucus. It’s produced both by the cervix, which is at the top of the vagina, or through the vaginal walls as well.
And it essentially kind of picks up any germs, anything that’s in there that shouldn’t be in there, any residue from sex or anything like that. And it just then comes out. It comes out through your vagina and it’s in your pants, or underwear, as you say over there.
And it’s super normal. It’s a really good indicator of health but also fertility as well. So your discharge will change throughout the month. Sometimes it’s creamier, sometimes it’s drier and stickier. Sometimes it’s more runny. Sometimes it’s more see through than white. Sometimes it can be pink or red or brown if it’s sort of at the beginning or the end of your period, because it’s got a bit of blood in it, but not enough to be quite red, but it can change.
And the brown is where the blood has – so your vagina is a little bit acidic, so discharge is a bit acidic too. And if you put acid with blood, it turns it brown. So that’s why you might have brown discharge. And the acidity of the discharge is what also would stain your pants. So it doesn’t stain everybody’s pants, I’ve got a friend who her pants are all completely stained because of discharge. Whereas mine, it seems to like eat holes in the fabric, so it doesn’t stain it. But I’ve got little tiny holes in my pants where it’s like eating through the cotton.
So discharge is different, again, each body is different, but there are kind of certain patterns that it will follow. So if your discharge ever has a really foul, strong smell to it, is ever quite chunky, or if it’s yellow, or green, or orange, there are times when you’ve got to go to a doctor and see if this could be something something amiss. And even kind of like gray and watery, that can be a sign of certain infections as well.
But otherwise, discharge is a totally normal occurrence. And some people have loads of it. And some people have barely any, and it changes throughout not just your menstrual cycle, but throughout your life. So as you go through puberty, as you go through pregnancy, it changes. A lot of my friends have had babies, and I’m sure people listening here would have noticed it would have been a lot more and a lot more watery. And then yeah, postpartum it’s different again, as you go through the menopause, it’s different again. And your discharge will kind of get less and less as you grow older.
But yes, some people I know that wake up in the morning, and it’ll be like once they stand up, it will be sort of dripping out and dribbling down their legs. And it’s a lot more than what other people have. I have a friend whose sister, I was at a hen party with her, she was wearing just leggings and a top. And I was like “I can’t even see the underwear that you’re wearing.” And she was like, “oh, I’m not wearing any underwear.” And she was wearing khaki coloured leggings. And I was like, “but if you’re not wearing any pants, then what’s happening to your discharge, like how, like surely everyone will be able to see it through your leggings,” and she goes “I just just don’t really get any.” And I remember thinking, “ah, I’m so jealous, you bitch. I have so much.”
So when I was younger, I used to kind of stuff my pants with toilet roll, I always felt damp. It makes you feel quite self conscious. So I was always very nervous about taking my pants off in front of friends or partners, didn’t want you to see at the end of the day, it would be crusty or it would be like white.
And because no one spoke about it, I just assumed nobody else really had it or had it as much. And then I realized, having spoken to people about discharge, it really lets people think, “oh, okay, it’s normal, I don’t have to be so worried about it.” I thought, “you know, I’m putting all these photos of vulvas out there. But actually, the other thing that we’re worried about is discharge. So if I can actually get people to see what discharge looks like from person to person, hopefully we’ll all realize a bit of a younger age, oh, it’s fine. This is fine, this is what my pants look like at the end of the day, that’s fine.”
So I asked my followers to send in photos of their pants at the end of the day with varying amounts of discharge. There was no qualification for it, it was just a case of “if it’s healthy discharge, I want to see it.” And I had quite a lot of people sending pictures of their pants to me. So I made it into a Gallery on my website, to encourage people to have a look and to realize that whatever their pants look like at the end of the day, it’s normal, it’s very, very likely to be normal, whether it’s completely soaking or barely there.
And from the feedback that I’ve had, it really has helped a lot of people realize just how normal discharge is. I’ve even had one woman who was in her 50s, who messaged to say like, “thank you so much. I always sort of knew it was normal. But I always assumed that I was a bit abnormal. And now in my 50s, having seen all these pictures, I’ve realized that actually it’s just – there is nothing different about my discharge than anybody else’s.” And I just thought, “oh, fantastic.” That is exactly what I wanted to hear, let’s just give people a bit of a peace of mind about something that society has shown us to be so ashamed of, or like we’re dirty.
And vulvas and vaginas just forever have been seen as something dirty, something that needs to be controlled. Something that you need to buy special washes to make it smell like flowers, and we have to do all this stuff to make people be attracted to us and want to be near our vaginas and this whole bullshit. That’s just not what bodies are like.
And what annoys me the most is that you don’t see the same for penises. You don’t have testicle washes. You don’t have penis scrubs. I mean, you can get vulva masks, like a face mask that you put on your face, not like a COVID mask, like a beauty mask – you can get them for vulvas now. It’s unnecessary and it’s dangerous, because it’s introducing so many more chemicals and things to your vulva, which you just don’t need. And it’s such a gentle balance down there that you really need to not be disrupting it with all these products that are so unnecessary.
And what’s worse is they’re adding the fuel to the fire that vulvas and vaginas are dirty and need to be changed and whitened and tightened and brightened. So that somebody might find this attractive. Absolute nonsense, it drives me mad. And young people today having to see all these products that are up for sale to make their genitals better. I just – it’s awful to be being told, to be being seen. You go to a supermarket and you see all these washes to make your vulva smell like pineapple in the flowers, and whatever. You just think, “oh my god, it’s a vulva. It needs to smell like a vulva. That’s fine.” Just breaks my heart. So that’s me having another rant about it.
But with bringing in that comment you had from the 50 year-old woman, that shows the power of having these conversations. That woman – I’m sure there’s many out there like her – went decades of having the self-consciousness, having these different thoughts. And so we’re definitely going to be linking that discharge gallery and of course your Instagram for everyone to check out. And I encourage everyone to bookmark that discharge gallery so when your daughters are at the age that it seems right, please show it to them, so they can start right from the beginning knowing the normal range, and that all these differences are okay, and there’s no need to be self conscious.
And then with the wanting vulvas to be more attractive, too, it just goes along with, we need to find people who are attracted to us as human beings, and they’re not going to give a shit about what our vulva looks like. Right?
Absolutely not. Yeah, exactly. So yeah,it’s getting the next generation to understand that they just really don’t need to worry about those things. And I think if we can talk about sex and our bodies in a much more neutral, ideally positive, but neutral is a great place to start, way, I think that will really help. And I think language is really key for this. So I was explaining earlier the difference between vagina and vulva. And I know still lots of people I know who know me, know the work I do, know that a vulva is a vulva and a vagina is a vagina, will still use the word vagina to mean vulva. And it seems to come from this kind of embarrassment to use the word.
And what I found is that – I always ask people, “what did you call your genitals when you were younger?” And we have all of these words that are just nonsense, silly words. And they’re all like, “foo-foo, Mini, Lady garden, downstairs.” Some of them are quite funny, so I’ve heard “the Gruffalo” or like “the rude triangle.” So some of them make me laugh. And I don’t have a problem with people choosing to use any of those words, as long as they do know what the correct terminology is. And not just for the Volvo in general, but for all the individual bits and pieces. So the labia, the clitoris. So that if they do need to go speak to a doctor, they can accurately know what they’re talking about.
But also, if you’re with a partner, you want to tell them what to do. If you’ve got no words for that, then it’s impossible for you to tell somebody else what you like or what you want them to do. What I find is that most of the words can be split either into like, nonsense words that we’ve just made up that mean absolutely nothing, or words that are quite girly or like nature based. So things about flowers and gardens. And people use Mary, for example, as well in the UK, sometimes. Words are just very delicate and feminine.
And then you have words that are quite like either violent or pornographic or sexual depending on how you feel about the word. So, for example, like cunt or pussy or gash, like those sorts of words that for some people, they make them cringe, and some people find them really empowering. And some of them people like in certain sexual situations but not in other situations. And it just feels like we’re creating all these different ways of skirting around just saying what it is.
And we don’t get embarrassed about talking about elbows or ears or eyelashes. The vulva is another part of the body, and if we can’t talk about it, you’re implicitly giving the message to young people “it’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. We don’t talk about it.” And then if they’ve got any questions, or god forbid anything bad happens, and they meet nasty people that do nasty things, then they haven’t got the language to be able to talk about it. And then that’s a whole nother issue. That’s just so awful. And I really do think that it’s important to teach young people what the correct terminology is.
And I know it’s – I’ve spoken to so many parents, and it’s been so difficult for all of them, even though they start off with the best intentions of wanting to talk about vulvas and penises. They get embarrassed because we, as a society, we’ve taught people it’s embarrassing to use these words, it’s embarrassing to talk about these things, and it’s a subject to be ashamed of. And I don’t have children, so I can’t speak for parents. And I know, it must be difficult. But I really would like to say, if we can try and use the correct terminology, I think it’s going to be so helpful. And it’s going to just start kids off thinking “what, it’s just a part of my body. There’s nothing to be ashamed about here. And if I’ve got questions about it, I can ask questions about it.” And I think that’s a really healthy starting place for talking about bodies and sex and consent, which I just think is absolutely crucial for the rest of their lives.
I completely agree. My kids are now two-and-a-half and four, I have a boy and a girl. They both know right from the start, just as you mentioned to me, those body parts are the same as elbows or arms. And so we go through there’s vulva and vagina, which right now my two-and-a-half year-old is very interested in, and I’m teaching her the difference of the areas because she used to say bum for the full thing. But I know vulva, and like she had heard vagina too, which we’ve used. And if she says vagina, I’m like, “no, no, that’s inside, your vulva is what’s out front.” And having those conversations.
So we’ve done an episode with Rosalia from Consent Parenting, and we walk through a lot of that too, because it’s really important to normalize it and not have that shame around it, and be able to identify those icky feelings and icky situations. So you can go and ask for help and feel comfortable talking about those things with the safe adult. So it’s very important to be able to identify those things.
Absolutely. Can I ask, were you comfortable using those words before you had children? Or was it something that you kind of almost had to think consciously “okay, I want to make sure I use these words with my children, therefore, I’m going to start using them myself.” What were the words that you used before?
Well, I was never one to kind of name it anything odd. I was taught vagina. And so that’s what I had used. But as we had discussed before we hopped onto recording. Up until probably the last few years, I don’t even think I knew when I was pregnant. It was since having kids and doing more conversations and research that I actually learned what a vulva is. I always just thought of it as vagina. And so in learning that difference and having the conversations around consent parenting and child sex abuse, that’s where I became more empowered and more knowledgeable about vulva compared to just vagina.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, like I was saying to you before, it’s so common, I meet so many people that don’t know the difference. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of, we just simply weren’t taught about it. Most peoples’ sex education is just rubbish, if you’ve had it at all. And we shouldn’t be ashamed of what we don’t know. And if you don’t know something, it’s because you haven’t been taught it. And I think it’s often people are kind of embarrassed to say they didn’t know the difference. But I mean, I knew the difference, but when I started This is a Vulva, it was actually called This is a Vagina, because I thought people will know what vagina is, therefore they’re going to understand it. If I go in from the beginning with This is a Vulva, people are going to be like, “what are you talking about?” I mean, I was on a date once with somebody who said to me, “why do you keep talking about cars?” He thought I was talking about Volvo’s. And I was like, “no! I haven’t been talking about Volvo’s! Vulvas, fannies, you know!”
That’s too funny!
Anyway, it didn’t go anywhere, obviously.
But yeah, it’s important to be able to identify and know these parts of our body, take control of our health, and be empowered in our sexuality as well with all of that, because our vulvas can be magical things as well and give us some great pleasure too, which should be celebrated and not shamed.
Absolutely, absolutely. And actually what has been so lovely about doing all of this is – I have had messages in the past. I mean, I get messages from people all over the world. Most of them asking questions about “am I normal? Am I Normal? Is this normal?” To which the answer is almost always “yep, totally normal.” But what’s been really lovely is people who have gotten in touch saying, “thank you so much for sharing all this stuff on Instagram. Like since following you, I’ve realized that my body is totally normal. And it’s made me relaxed with my partner.” And one woman was telling me how she can now let her partner go down on her and she’s relaxed enough to have orgasms. And I just thought, “oh, my God, I’m just sitting in bed in my pants, posting pictures of vulvas on Instagram, and it’s giving you orgasms.” Like, that’s amazing. I don’t even know you, but I’ve helped you have orgasms. Like, what a thing to say? It’s amazing.
So yeah, and I think that is the case, is once you’ve understood your body, and you kind of remove some of that shame about it, you can be a lot more relaxed. And you know, I’m not saying that you’re going to suddenly fall in love with your body and be walking around without any clothes on all the time. But if you can just feel a bit more comfortable and just know that, you know, “my body is normal. And people aren’t – I’m not going to take my pants off and people aren’t going to be like, Oh, my God, what is that? What have you got!?” It’s going to be like, “oh, yeah, great, I want to get in there,” then I think it’s just going to help people feel a lot more confident, hopefully, and relax and enjoy sex a lot more.
And I think that’s so key. Because sex can be such a lovely, lovely experience. But it’s so hard to enjoy it when you’re in your head thinking about how you look or how you smell or how you taste. And soon as your brain goes there, that’s it. For me anyway, that’s it, there’s no way I’m having an orgasm, I’ve just, I’ve gone. And that’s such a shame because it can be such a joyful experience. And it’s ruined by the little voice in our head that’s been fueled from society telling us constantly that women are dirty, women are shameful.
And actually, to that point, I try and make sure that all of my content is very inclusive. And obviously, I know that it’s not just women that have vulvas and vaginas. And not all women have vulvas and vaginas. So I do try really hard to make sure that all my language is inclusive of that. I’m aware I just said women. So I wanted to say that and apologize for what I just said, because that wasn’t quite correct.
Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And I appreciate how you work so hard at that. And I do as well, and we do slip up, but we just keep trying and working on it and being as inclusive as we can.
So I’m winding up, say for someone who is very not familiar with their vulva. What are things we can do? We did check on the monthly checks, but how can we be more educated about our vulva, and being more connected to it, to feel more confident and empowered.
So to learn more about it, I mean obviously I’m going to say follow me on Instagram and find out more about it. There’s so many fantastic sex and body positive Instagram accounts out there teaching what we didn’t get taught in school. And I think the first thing to say is, don’t be ashamed that you don’t know, don’t be embarrassed that you don’t know. And if you feel like you don’t know something, go out and try and learn it. There are places online. Yeah, my Instagram account, especially, will have lots of information. If you ever have any specific questions, just message me and I can point you in the right direction, to a previous post or some learning somewhere else on the internet, some other education. We should always try and keep learning; not knowing something, it shouldn’t hold you back from trying to learn about something, and never be embarrassed that you don’t know because it’s not our fault.
In terms of getting to kind of know and enjoy your vulva more, I’d say it’s just a very slow, gentle journey. I think people often sort of want to go in and feel self-love, and that can just scare you off, I think. I think it’s very much a case of have a look but have a look at your vulva in a bit, when you’ve got a positive frame of mind, when you’re relaxed, you’ve got an evening to yourself, you’re feeling quite good about yourself. If you’re having a negative day, having a look at your vulva and trying to understand what’s happening down there is never going to work. So when you’re feeling in a good mood, have a little look and explore.
Masturbation and solo sex is a fantastic way of kind of getting to know your body, getting to know what you like, what you enjoy and what you don’t like. And that’s really helpful for your your sex life in general. And your sex life can be with yourself, mine mostly is at the moment, so that’s fine, sex doesn’t have to include another partner all the time.
But yeah, having a look and just getting to know what it looks like, getting to know what you enjoy. And I mean, I like to spend quite a lot of time naked, and it can be quite scary for some people, but I find it quite freeing. And what I have found, which is maybe a step too far for most people, and I live on my own, so this is easier. But naked yoga, I just feel like doing stretches and like having your vulva out there, I just find it really liberating. There’s not very many occasions where your vulva is unclothed, there’s always something on, you’re always wearing underwear, you’re always wearing trousers or leggings or whatever. And it’s just – it can be really nice to just let it out, let it free, and sort of just enjoy the different feelings.
But don’t kind of go rushing in thinking, “I’m going to love her today,” because that’s probably unlikely to happen. It’s a nice slow process in the same way that it is with learning to love or accept any other part of your body. It’s about kind of accepting, but also, I really would say, find other vulvas to look at, whether it’s artwork, or whether it’s photographs. And you’ll start to realize that there are so many different types of vulvas. And no matter what yours looks like, it is still beautiful, it is still normal, there will still be people out there that want to get their face right in it like this. There is no such thing as an abnormal vulva, there is no such thing as an ugly vulva. They’re all so different, and all just perfectly normal.
Absolutely, I love it. What a great note to end that thought on. I was just going to say with going through that journey and exploration. It’s normal for it to feel really weird and awkward. And say you’re going in to try some self love and masturbation. You don’t need to go in with a goal of having an orgasm. It can just be exploratory with yourself, getting to know yourself and what feels good. And there doesn’t need to be a mission tied to it. And just exploring that curiosity, both in that sense and through, like you said, looking at different vulvas and things like that. So I know we have mentioned it, but just again, where can everyone find you?
So on Instagram, I’m at @ThisIsAVulva, and I have a website, which is ThisIsAVulva.com. And on there, you’ll find a link to sign up for the free monthly check emails, and also the discharge gallery is on there as well. And lots of other stuff as well that you can find out what I’m doing and more information. So please do follow me and get in touch if you have any questions. It is literally just me behind the little phone screen. It’s not some big company, it will just be me and I will do my best to answer any questions that you have.
Perfect. We’ll have all that linked. And thank you to everyone listening here, joining in on this conversation. And thank you so much, Jo, for taking the time to chat with us, and share your knowledge.
Thank you so much for having me, thank you.
Thanks for listening this week! If you want to chat about this episode with me and other moms, check out the exclusive UM Club Facebook page! Thanks again, and we’ll see you next week!