My boyfriend recently commented to me, after I’d been discussing how awful it was that people still couldn’t talk about their sex organs, that I didn’t need to make it my personal life mission to normalise talking about genitalia. Well, I thought, maybe I do. This post may not earn me friends, but here it goes.
I’ve never really bought by the idea that there is anything that you ‘shouldn’t’ discuss in front of other people. The time I got told off by my mother for mentioning periods in front of my brother when I was 9 or 10 sticks strongly in my memory – why should I have been made to feel ashamed of being a girl? Why should this thing be private from my brothers? As a teenager I don’t doubt I enjoyed the shock factor I would get for being happy to talk about anything, and have always had a reputation for being blunt, but as time went on I recognised how positive my breaching embarrassing topics brought to other people.
For example, I was a keen rower at university, but a strange thing started to happen: I was losing my butt skin. Just on the edge of my bum crack where the cheeks separate I was getting what looked like friction burns, and they got pretty nasty. I had no shame in discussing this and the senior men used to joke about me being the novice who lost her bum skin – however so many girls confided in me that they had struggled through the same problem! They gave me advice on things they had tried, or took my advice on what I had done, but only ever one on one. Even those people were surprised to hear about mine – they had all just assumed that they were the only person with this problem – when in fact to me it seems pretty common!
In general I really do think this is true – whenever i broach a subject to friends or otherwise when I have had a problem I haven’t encountered before, I too often find someone saying oh I had that problem but I have never talked about it with anyone. Or more than one people in a group of friends thinking that they have been the only one experiencing something when it turns out actually quite a few of them are.
I’m sure most of us have heard of the girl who committed suicide after starting her first period as she didn’t know what it was – the girl whose death was the reason the Samaritans charity was started, to give people who have no one else to talk to a place to ring. This is the kind of story that makes me strongly believe there should not be a single taboo subject that we can talk about. And I don’t just mean online, I mean in actual real life. I want to be able to list body parts: arms, legs, nose, belly button, armpits, penis, back, shoulders, vulva, etc without anyone frowning, shhh-ing, or really any different reaction at all when I mention one body part compared to another.
I don’t doubt that freedom to discuss anything online, the availability of chatrooms and online support groups is a wonderful wonderful thing, something that provides so many people with the support, solace and comfort that they are unable to find elsewhere. But I wonder, does it in some ways enable us to continue to ignore these issues in person? Is it like the fact that the Republic of Ireland have been getting away with illegalising abortion for so long because women can just come over to the UK to get them done? If women had been dying from backstreet abortions (which I am extremely glad that they aren’t) then I don’t doubt pressure and scrutiny would have been put on them long ago. Perhaps I’m wrong, it’s only a thought.
I recently found out that in weight watchers you call being on your period your ‘star week’. I’m tempted to go to a meeting just so I can shout PERIOD whenever someone says ‘star week’. I will resist this temptation just as I resisted throwing tampons in the general direction of a couple in my extended friendship group where the girl isn’t allowed to mention periods to her husband. How is this still happening???
I recently learnt, whilst reading Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski that the word ‘Pudendum’, which is still used to refer to the female external genitalia, comes from the latin ‘pudere’, to be ashamed. Female genitals were just your shameful parts, and shouldn’t be shown, whereas men could proudly display theirs.
I was recently reminded of this when I was visiting Munich. In the English Garden, there is a nudist area on the banks of a stream, you can swim and sunbathe much like a beach – further down, past a seemingly arbitrary line there was a similar area where there were more clothes being worn. Bizarrely, it seemed to me, there were no naked women. There were plenty of men, strolling around listening to their iPods, sunbathing legs akimbo, and swimming. However every single woman had briefs on. I struggle to get my head round this. I’m sure individually they would all say that they just don’t really want to. They probably don’t feel like that decision has been influenced by society but I am sceptical of this. I was tempted to strip off just to prove a point that we could do it to, however, after watching the head shakes and barely stifled laughter when people noticed a naked man who had wandered out of the nude beach into the clothed area, I could quite pluck up the courage.
I also have a lot of thoughts on porn laws and the rise of ‘vagino-plastys’ but I think that may take an entire blog post of its own. For now I will leave you with this bizarre string of consciousness, I just wanted to pass on my feelings that no one should be ashamed to talk about anything. And there is nothing wrong with nakedness.
I hope that the world is moving in the right direction! It probably is 🙂