[An edit of this article was also published in Ciao newspaper, July 12 2013]
When the police visited the 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina in Redfern a couple of weeks ago they also suggested that we should be keeping minors out of the gallery.
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 isnâ€™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 peopleâ€™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 â€œsex positiveâ€ 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 â€œWrite your own vagina messageâ€ box:
â€œâ€¦ 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 itâ€™s life giving abilities & to make sure sheâ€™s empowered! â€¦â€