Once upon a time, during my senior year of college, my roommates and I threw a good old fashioned vagina party. It was February. We baked cupcakes with anatomically correct vaginas frosted on top. We strung up red and pink streamers twisted together haphazardly like the Valentine’s Day parties of yesteryear. We mixed Bud lite, Vodka, and POG in a bucket and called it pink panty-droppers (‘cause college). And then we invited the entire cast of my alma mater’s production of The Vagina Monologues for some token vagina empowerment love. Miley and Beyonce thundered through our house. We played a seriously competitive game of “Pin the Clit on the Hoo-haa.” Yeah! Vaginas!
I grew up in a household that didn’t talk about down there. Age 9: my sex talk is my mother at the local library’s information desk. “Do you have any books for young women regarding that?”
When we returned home, I lay on the couch and flipped through a stack of books on how to insert a tampon, the havoc puberty rages, and birth. Blood. Everywhere. And not one word from my mom regarding what the hell these apocalyptic library books foretold, no conversation about general femaleness, this is what you’re in for: all. this. blood. I developed a stutter when it came to asking my mom to even buy me pads.
Mom and I definitely never talked about the sex stuff. What I knew of sex back then landed somewhere between coy vampire love on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the shady melodramatic trysts I saw on Jerry Springer, and the paternity tests I laughed at on Maury. This was the twisted and confusing side of daytime television for a tween in the late ‘90s.
So I staggered through my first kiss and couple of bases kind of just going along with whatever the various slobbery boyfriends fumbled to do. As the heavier stuff of hook ups came along, I was wordless. I didn’t know you could tell your partner “Yes, there” or “Not like that” or even “Stop.” I was bookish, modest, and malleable. I had no ownership of who I was or what I wanted. I needed some damn confidence.
Fate would have it that my journey toward self-love, self-expression, and acceptance would begin in “Tampon Tower” –the affectionate nickname for the all-girls’ dorm hall admission stuck me in my first year of college. Stereotypes for the residents of Tampon Tower (see also: Virgin Vault, Period Palace) were ubiquitous. Generally, you were perceived as a conservative Christian toting a purity ring or a blurry-eyed nursing student who was probably in it just for the M.R.S. degree. Sure, those types of young women lived there (And now that I’m older I’m like who the fuck cares). But my roommate had Manic Panic purple hair and I swore like I was breastfed by a sailor. We didn’t fit into the stereotype and we resented the rest of the campus for putting us into such a box.
I don’t know what we all wrote in our entrance essays, but if Tampon Tower was the area code for all the cherub-faced do-gooders, the third floor must’ve been unincorporated Misfit Island. Within the first month, it became apparent that we lived on a wing with the most outspoken, bawdy of first-years. These young women would walk into our room and regale us ‘til late into the night with their sexcapades, like the young heroines of my favorite adventure novels. Romps with cute soldiers through the barracks at the nearby military base. Long distance love affairs. Steamy late night World of Warcraft dating. Sex toys of all flavors at girls-only passion parties…what?! It was fabulous. These young women had the words, they had the power, and they enjoyed it. I wanted to know what I wanted from love and sex like they did.
That first year of college I signed up for The Vagina Monologues and was cast as a moaner. My first step in my self-love journey was literally faking it in the piece “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy.” The clit moan. The machine gun moan. “Coming” in a darkened room in front of strangers? Yeah, you learn a lot about yourself.
From this I found the vocabulary I needed to express what I wanted and where I wanted to go. I became a better-rounded woman in college. Once I accepted my vagina for all of its negatives and positives and began to advocate for it, more of my emotional needs were met.
College is a safe, albeit gated community. While you’re there you are free to be the ambitious idealist you want to be. And then you graduate. The student loans find their way to your parents’ address. You temp up the corporate ladder. You full-time for health care and you come home to re-runs of Real Catty Housewives or Scandal or Broad City. Where is the vagina warrior pinning the clit on the hoo-haa?
Make time. Friend: Pandora some D’Angelo or Alanis Morrisette and remind yourself – you have a hoo-haa! Especially during winter in this gray-as-a-tombstone city, I have to intentionally make time for self-care. From going to a women’s spa (try Olympus Spa in Lynnwood or Lakewood) to eating less sweets, a healthy vagina is a happy vagina. When you first arrive at Olympus women’s spa, prepare yourself if you’ve never been: you’re going to get naked. Real naked. Bare bottom, hair, nipples, shoulders, tattoos, scars, curves. Embrace it. All the other women do. The spa supplies you with a robe and towels for getting to and from the hydrotherapy pools, for inside the heated rooms and for lounging. Indulge in mugwort tea rinses, steam rooms, house-made lotions. You’re encouraged to stay as long as you wish. Free pass on your birthday, too? Bliss.
If the esthetician sugaring you is the only human face your vagina has seen since summer, I suggest you take a trip down south. It rhymes with “schmasterbate.” It’s good for you. Is your secret drawer a little dusty? Your orgasm a little rusty? Visit the good and colorful folks at Babeland on Capitol Hill. For those who don’t know about this little treasure of the 206, Babeland is not your grandpa’s sex shop. No blacked out windows, no creeping suspicion that you’ve stepped into the pages of Hustler.
The smart and sassy staff at Babeland are happy to offer great insights into the wide variety of female-friendly toys at the shop. Pick up a few samples of various lubes. Ask what’s the deal with anal beads. OR have some fun (and maybe some bubbly) while expanding your skills in one of their workshops. Add to your oral sex toolkit with his or her tricks during a lighthearted lite fare brunch. Meet an expert in a kink you’re interested in trying. Bring a friend or your partner to any one of the array of classes, happy hours, and art walks hosted every month. By keeping the sexy talk reality based and focused on delving into what truly gives you pleasure, Babeland gives you more tools for owning your sexuality. Play, explore, get creative. Accept the sexy part of yourself. If you know what turns you on, your partner will, too.
And if schmasterbating is not your thing, maybe think about what your vagina would love to wear and go buy it a gift. The little things.
Comradery. When I think of all the hours I’ve spent in the last six months cheering on groups of men in spandex as they pulverize each other over pigskin, and compare it to the time I’ve spent cheering on groups of women doing…anything, I cringe. Loving your vagina, I argue, is loving and caring about all vaginas.
“The success of every single vagina is an inspiration for another,” Diane von Furstenberg kind-of said (I replaced “woman” with “vagina.”) Cheering on other vaginas is just as important as cheering on yourself. For example, maybe don’t tear down that female coworker over something purely catty/gossipy. Support the vaginas who are trying to love themselves, go for the gold, and succeed. Even root for those who might dress different than you, or love and fuck different than you.
Lady on lady slut-shaming is highly contagious. We pick it up at bars. We can catch it at the gym, at work, at church. Left untreated, shaming another woman for what she wears and who she kisses can spread to other women. It can become a habit, and one used to deflect inward critiques of your behaviors. Suddenly, there are lengths to the skirts women should wear. There are “acceptable” numbers of partners, of kink, of how-much-lipstick, of how many curves and what to do with them. We teach our daughters that their sexuality should be measured by others’ standards. We teach them that sexual expression should be policed. That women “wearing the wrong things” got them sexually assaulted. That the attacker is justified.
When you uplift others, you expand your perspective and your heart. By loving the v, you accept it for all the colors of its expression – from short skirts to conservative smocks. From zero partners to 100+. You reverse the side effects of slut-shaming and become less judgmental and harsh on yourself. You increase your tolerance and compassionate toward others. And that is contagious, too.
Go. When I talked to my coworker about this piece she asked me, “Where do you go to love your vagina in this city?”
Trick question, she said. “There isn’t such a place.”
Call her a typical 206 cynic, but I think she’s on to something. Where are the women’s centers at? Where are the vagina friendly parts of Seattle? The spa and Babeland can’t be it. I felt like I needed a reminder of the young vagina warrior I once was. So this past December I auditioned and was cast in Shoreline Community College’s production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues. The act of reciting another vagina’s experience engages my heart in a way that deepens my compassion and sense of self-worth. I get to hang out with performers who I might have never, ever met otherwise. And we talk about some risqué real shit. It reminds me of those wonderful glory days holed up in Tampon Tower with the other misfits.
Loving your vagina is a journey of self-love and acceptance in every shade. For me, it began with learning how to say “Yes” and how to say “No.” It’s different for each and every vagina. You don’t have to throw a vagina party, but you should totally try it once.
This much I know: the more you protect and care for the most intimate part of yourself, the more confidence and happiness will come to you. That’s a pretty decent goal for 2015. Oh yeah, and schmasturbate.