[An edit of this article was also published in Ciao newspaper, July 12 2013]
Then, after 101 Vagina was selected to be part of a group exhibition as part of the Sydney Fringe, the venue refused to allow the images to be shown, saying that they want the venue to be “family friendly”. So I censored the images with QR codes that lead people to various vagina censorship related articles.
Why? Why should children not see, talk about, hear different words for, draw and reflect on vaginas? Are vaginas bad? Are penises bad? Mine isn’t, is yours?
The younger the children are, the more recently they have themselves just emerged from a vagina, after having been conceived through one. But in spite of this there seems to be a cultural fear around children and anything sex related coming within proximity of each other.
Of course, children should be protected from sexual predators, but somehow, the valid and important concerns about sexual abuse have resulted in sex being given a blanket label, bad. The act that led to their existence is labeled bad. What are the two most forbidden words in the English language? Fuck and cunt.
How unfortunate! They should be words of celebration, exuberance, joy, pleasure, freedom & love.
Our culture is severely hobbled by sexual repression and suppression. The worst manifestation of this is sexual abuse and though it may not be the only cause, I believe we will never rid culture of sexual abuse without first dealing with the sexual repression and suppression which underpin it.
Guilt and shame does not arise naturally in us as children, it is taught to us by adults, whether directly or indirectly, through judgement and fear. It is adults who teach children that their bodies are to be hidden, not to touch themselves and not to say certain words. This means that it is up to us, the adults, to reverse this trend.
One of the best ways to reverse guilt and shame is through open discussion and direct engagement. A child who has had open, honest and respectful discussions about their bodies and sexuality is far less likely to end up with feelings of shame and guilt about their own. It also means they will be less likely to fall victim to externally imposed shame from various media or abusive comments.
Imagine if, instead of learning about sex through porn, children were from infancy taught to respect their own and other people’s bodies; that they are the masters of their own; that no part of it is shameful; that pleasure is a birthright, and that sex can be a beautiful act of bonding, joy and pleasure?
Fortunately there is a growing and international “sex positive” movement which is working to remove the negative stigma around bodies and sexuality and the 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina are proudly part of that movement.
Breaking taboos can be creative fun and no one needs to get hurt in the process. In fact, years of hurt can begin to be undone in the process.
Here is an excerpt from one of the messages written and deposited in the “Write your own vagina message” box:
“… I was thrilled to bring my 3 yr old daughter along, and set her on the path for having pride of her vagina, her self, her future pleasure, her body and it’s life giving abilities & to make sure she’s empowered! …”
“As many women, I’m sure.. When the vagina is mentioned I go to a place of personal embarrassment and insecurity.
I feel I need to share this with you all.. not just to tell a story but to free myself from it. I hate..Capital HATE my vagina. But her and I we have an agreement….
When I was a young girl I was sexually abused on a number of occasions by a female babysitter. I do not share this to shock or upset anyone but simply to help one understand where my vaginal hatred comes from. From this sad experience I began to see my self as dirty and unclean.
Later when I started developing and my labia grew, I felt disgusted with these large shrivelled prune like flaps and how inconveniently uncomfortable they were. In my mind I associated them with being dirty. That’s all it looked like to me… An unclean mess.
Once I began my teen years, the early sexual encounters where less than encouraging.
I realize now it was mainly inexperience that caused the lewd and less than flattering remarks. But try being a teenage girl with all the other insecurities to boot and being told you taste weird.
So anyway the first brilliant encounter came from the least expected of sources and accounts for a rather intense fetish I have these days..A Complete NERD.
He played warhammer and got good grades, wrote poetry ,and hung out with a bunch of other sniggering nerds.. But my GOD… Get this boy alone in the bedroom and you’ve never met someone so keen to please, learn and worship a woman.
So from then on there was only one other insult to my downstairs and that was another instance of abuse. But the damage was already done.. It would take countless amounts of praise and tender love from quite a few broken hearts to even get the hate under control.
Now to present day and I have had another hit to my self esteem. I’m 27 yrs old and have recently under gone a double mastectomy. That’s right the one part of my body I was please with has been lopped off due to a very very early cancer scare.. I took no chances. But my self esteem is still wallowing down the bottom of the well somewhere.
So to present day…. I was just sitting in the bath tub trying to think of what I’d say. What I could tell people that would be inspiring as that’s what people want to hear right.
Well thinking this I began to think over the good, the wonderful and the down right amazing things about my vagina.
And you know what??? There’s plenty to tell you. I am a lucky owner of a vagina capable of multiple earth shaking orgasms. I am the owner of what will hopefully bring a new life into this world. I am the owner of a beautiful pink clam, a soft warm palace, a pussy, a pleasure temple. I have not been told in the past 10 years of my life anything bad about her. She is always complimented on how good she tastes and feels. I was so focused on the negative and afraid of what to tell people that I hadn’t thought of all the good I’ve been told and realized now ..that the bad was only my perception..
So this is what I wanted to share.. Only us as women have the power to make ourselves feel good or bad about our vagina. But next time you feel bad…Remember men don’t give birth to new life.. Vaginas are Mother Earth and All her glory…(as annoying as periods may be !)”