Jul 17 2005

The Vagina Dialogue

Actual size. I’ve seen’em twice as big. And, god help us all, they fucking fly.

In case you were wondering whether there is any downside to living in South Austin, I bring you Periplaneta fuliginosa, the giant flying Smokybrown Cockroach of Zilkerland. Now, as the director of the Twisty Center for Urban Varmint Research, you know that I am loath to cast aspersions on any innocent life form, even one that squirts out about a pint of disgusting brown liquid when you step on it, but there are limits. Once one of these bad boys dive-bombs you as you lounge in your lime green recliner trying to watch Battlestar Galactica, it’s on, baby!

Meanwhile, from the I-Swear-This-Is-The-Last-Post-On-This-Topic [At Least For A While] Department, my patriarchy-blaming post about designer vaginectomies recently got a little attention on the music-related listserv I subscribe to. I was pretty bewildered by the following exchange between a couple of pedigreed male rock musicians (after reading this you may surmise that they are drummers, but you will be wrong):

A:  I can’t say with any authority what constitutes a good-looking one, but I can say that I’ve seen some bad ones.

B:  I’m with you on that one, A. I couldn’t for the life of me describe a good-looking one, but I do know one when I see one!

That’s right. They are discussing human vulvae.

I realize that every outward aspect of a woman’s body is up for grabs, physically, culturally, and politically, but until now I had imagined that our internal tissues had somehow escaped the soul-sucking scrutiny of the arbiters of hotness. Clearly this is because it has never occurred to me in a million years to think of any given vulva as an object separate from the woman who (theoretically) possesses it. In fact, I regard this region as manifesting neither hotness nor unhotness. Like a kneecap or an eyelid, a vulva is just there, value-neutral, transcendent of petty looksist concerns, secreting its secretions in secret and no big whoop.

But obviously dudes, who spend all their waking hours trying to figure out how to get up in one, are uniquely qualified to assess and evaluate, according to some standard that they themselves cannot articulate but which I suspect has more than a little to do with a lifetime of mandatory exposure to Hustler, the aesthetic properties of female genital tissue.

So now I am extremely curious to know what constitutes a “bad one.” Is it covered with purulent boils? Equipped with rotating knives? Does it verbally abuse the dudeliness of its male observers? Or is it merely lacking in dewy, just-picked pinkness? Because, as Cafesiren pointed out in a recent comment, “any man who has access to a vagina of any kind, no matter what it looks like, oughtn’t be complaining.”


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  1. Steph

    Women who don’t put out for these guys have ugly vulva.

  2. mk

    Male genetalia come in quite a range appearance-wise as well – do they have similar cosmetic procedures to “fix” equipment that is, perhaps, bent to one side, or disproportionate? I imagine there are standards beyond size for the “model” penis as seen in porn as well. The male gay community has been known for having higher standards of attractiveness in pornographic material; be interesting to know if there are known standards for a “photo-worthy” penis and if so what they are.

  3. Chris

    There are photo standards for penises. There are various penis-shape fetishes. But penises are on the outside.

    I’ve never really thought about the attractiveness of a vulva.

    Oh, and those bigass flying cockroaches are common here in southeast Austin, too.

  4. Kate

    In p0rn they heavily photoshop all female genitalia (at least they do in this country) to make it smoother, reduce the size of the lips, and take out any colour changes. (I once worked for a company that put out a p0rn magazine and was exposed quite heavily to the stuff for some time, even though my job was enitely non-porn related. It’s so banal and boring that after a while seeing it stops becoming about women and becomes akin to seeing shop dummies posed in a lewd fashion — I guess this sub-humanising effect is part of the point.)

    So in porn there is no actual real perfect female genitalia, there is only genitalia before the airbrushing tool is applied — and after. Just like the hips, the thighs, the waist, the skin, the breasts, the teeth, the hair… everything about women’s images in magazines and on much TV is completely made over by a desktop operator in front of a Mac. Even when these women have already been made over by a plastic surgeon.

    I need to go and scrub my brain out now.

  5. Twisty

    I read in a recent issue of Bitch magazine about a documentary about a California barber who considers himself a “booty man.” He has about a gazillion photos of glossy airbrushed butts all over the walls of his shop. When the filmmaker tells him that the butts aren’t “real,” that they’ve all been airbrushed, he doesn’t believe her. So she takes him to an airbrush studio, where he sees the befores and afters, and eventually she gets him to concede that fake butts are not, perhaps, all that. What I’m getting at is that there appear to be people who believe porn, who don’t understand the extent of the fakery. But how is that even possible?

  6. deja pseu

    Regarding those cucarachas, that’s a big’un, but you should see the fellers in Costa Rica. The biggest one I saw there was about three inches long, but I was told they get even bigger. Keep your small dogs on a leash!

  7. Lauren

    Re: penis shape
    I dated a guy whose blue-veined swayback throbber swayed to the right at a 90 degree angle. Made things uncomfortable at times, but whatever.

    As for vaginas? You said it best. They spend all their time trying to get up in one then criticize the hell out of it? My pussy doesn’t gallavant all over town while I’m in bed, insult strangers or throw things at old people. It doesn’t deserve criticism. That’s horseshit.

    * Bonus points for catching the Strangers With Candy reference.

  8. Twisty

    Stupid Twisty, I missed the Strangers With Candy reference. As penance I’ll have to ditch work and watch every episode in a marathon tomorrow. You have to take your lumps as a spinster aunt.

    And Deja Pseu, as a critterologist, I am repulsed by, yet strangely drawn to, your description of the Costa Rican mega-roaches. I would sorely love to lay my (gloved) hands on one. Although I’m sure it would terrify my dog Zippy, even though she is the size of a small pony.

  9. PZ Myers

    Vulvas are most definitely external genitalia, and all the parts are embryologically homologous to the penis and scrotum. Don’t confuse them with internal tissues.

    I agree with the rest: every healthy vulva is lovely, and I don’t quite get the strange obsession with the just-so cosmetic appearance of genitalia, and hacking it up to meet a bizarre standard of beauty dictated by some porn-warped geek is nothing but mutilation.

  10. alphabitch

    I tried in Costa Rica to photograph one of those lovely critters. Alas, they move too quickly & I only had a point & shoot type camera on me at the time. I remember taking one with my cousin’s hand in the photo for scale, and it’s pretty impressive, but it was blurry and by no means the largest one we saw. Every morning they were in the shower, in the kitchen, in the coffeepot, and at night you could see them skitter all over the street.

    Here in North Carolina they only get to be about the size of a smallish Basset hound. But faster. And twitchier. Much as I share your love of all critters, Twisty, I gotta say that these unnerve me. I have confronted a couple of them who I felt certain intended to kill me. I always give them the opportunity to leave via the door, but I have ended up more than once trapped in a corner hurling shoes hoping to encourage one of these monsters to leave the premises.

    Oh, and there was one who was up on the picture railing that encircled the ceiling of my study one night, and it walked around and around and around for hours, fast. Staring down at me the whole time.

  11. Twisty

    Vulvas are most definitely external genitalia, and all the parts are embryologically homologous to the penis and scrotum. Don’t confuse them with internal tissues.

    Good point, PZ Myers. As a person who slept through Bio 105 not once, but twice, and then blazed on to decimate all snoozing records in 106, I appreciate the distinction and don’t dispute that the evolutionary origin of the tissues in question have points in common with the male package. I am content to let the biologists work this stuff out on the cellular level (although I don’t think it would kill science in general if someone were to strap it down and administer a fresh infusion of feminist perspective).

    Of course I argue not as a biologist, but as a patriarchy-blamer with a vulva. My position qualifies me to assert–chafe though it may at the scientific mind– that said vulva’s interiosity, while not, perhaps, as profound as that of, say, a liver, may nevertheless be said, both psychologically and philosophically, and for purposes of human social behavior, to present to a significantly greater degree than the corresponding dudeware.

  12. anon

    I think you mean “vagina” not “vulva.”

  13. Ron Sullivan

    Visual Aids Dep’t bulletin: In the late ’60s-early’70s, someone made a movie, Near the Big Chakra, that was just a compendium of shots of various real women’s vulvae. Enlightening, to those who haven’t seen lots of them except in porn. A similar film, Dick if I recall correctly, was made a bit later, and was also pretty educational. Maybe it’s still possible to rent them in really specialized or eclectic shops, I don’t know.

    Also, I had one of those Aha! moments years back, seeing a side-by-side set of pix of human fetal genital development. I bet PZ knows where to find one of those; I found it in some med text I was leafing through in an idle moment on night shift.

    Now I’m going to sit here a minute and admire that last sentence in your reply to PZ above.

  14. Jim McCulloch

    One curious thing about these big Austin cockroaches is that for reasons obscure to me, they sometimes decide to fly around at night. I don’t really have a problem with this, unless they do it after having gotten into my bedroom. Having an agitated cockroach land scrabbling around on your face is a bad way to wake up in the dark. Fortunately, I have not had this happen lately.

  15. Amanda

    I read a sex advice column once where a man asked about “fixing” his slightly crooked penis. The doctor pointedly answered that they only do it if it’s too crooked to stick in anything. Other than that, they were amazed one would stick a knife anywhere near tender genital tissue if not to fix the function.

    The problem is that too many people think women’s form is our function.

  16. Twisty

    …too many people think women’s form is our function.

    I should slap this up at the top of the index page and retire. But I’m too much of a loudmouth.

  17. PZ Myers

    I hate to argue with someone who actually has a vulva on this matter, but doesn’t focusing on the interiosity actually distract from all the fun and interesting bits on the surface? Vulvas and vaginas are different.

    As for embryological images, here’s one.

  18. Twisty

    I see what you’re saying, PZ, but for me, claiming vulval interiosity is, in addition to an excuse to work my newest fake word into a sentence, merely a poetical way to reassert possession of yet another female body part that appears to have been coopted by the Heterosexual Porn Society. What I mean is, if you’re not a hooker, your vulva spends way more time in the service of functions that are totally unrelated to gettin’ it on. Just now, for example, mine went to the grocery store, and in a few minutes it’s gonna walk the dog.

  19. michelle b.

    I’m going to regret this, but I’ve long been curious: how do they acquire detailed visuals on embryonic anatomy? I’m guessing (hoping) from very early miscarriages/abortions and not, you know, poking around while the stuff is still inside.

    On the vulva debate: technically there’s the clitoral structures, and the outer labia, and the vagina. No vulva. Do guys have a pulva? Vulva’s an inprecise, catch-all for female genitalia which seems to change in meaning depending on who’s talking [dictionaries can’t even agree]. But I suspect those two brilliant thinkers up there are the type who refer to any and all parts of a woman’s genitals simply as “vagina” so it matters not. We’re known for our empty spaces, not our sexual organs.

  20. sassycat

    I live in Florida. I hear you on the roaches. Or, the euphemistic “palmetto bug”–we get ’em as big as a deck of cards, I swear.

    As for the vulva debate (what a transition), I have a few friends (or friends of friends) who have had “vaginal augmentation” and it makes me ill. Because, let’s be honest, the purpose is to make it look “prettier” ie: like a prepubescent girl’s genitalia. And while it is often portrayed as something older women do to “tighten things up,” the only people I know who have done it (or at least, the ones who admit to it), did it in their 20s.
    One girl got it done because her boyfriend told her that she looked “like roast beef down there.”

  21. Lauren

    Sassycat, I had a gay friend growing up who used to turn his Arby’s roast beef sandwiches on their side and scream “VULVA!”

    Needless to say, I can’t eat one without thinking of him and wanting to kick him around for being girlybits-phobic.

  22. Ledasmom

    Indeed, giant bugs to female genitalia – an interesting juxtaposition, making for a few double-takes. Along which lines, may I hope that Alphabitch’s comment above does in fact refer to the bugs?
    Although the vulva, as opposed to the vagina proper, is technically exterior, much of it is not visible to the casual observer even if the woman is nude. I’m not sure there’s another body part that possesses this quality of being at the same time revealed and concealed – perhaps the interior of the nostrils or the ear. Not an attractive comparison.
    I’ve got to say that any gentleman with whom I was intimately involved who, on being within close enough visual range of my intimate parts to determine their attractiveness or otherwise, actually wasted time doing so, would not be there for long.
    I have, by the way, an embryology textbook that technically belongs to a friend (I have not lost it; therefore it may at any time be returned; therefore I am only borrowing, not filching it) containing many quite amazing pictures of embryos plus pictures of every birth defect imaginable. An interesting book, though not for the pregnant.

  23. BritGirlSF

    “One girl got it done because her boyfriend told her that she looked “like roast beef down there.”
    I would think that the only possible response to this revelation would be “dump him”.
    Oh, and Twisty, I’m assuming that the musical morons quoted above are now permanently removed from your Christmas card list, yes? Those quotes reminded me why I stopped hanging out with musicians.

  24. Twisty

    Actually, BritGirl, one of them is a former bandmate and a friend. I’ve had a hell of a time convincing him that patriarchy even exists, and I’m not sure he believes it even now. I may not approve of his politics, but as a songwriter he’s helluva tough, so it all evens out.

  25. /b

    Ugly vulva is an oxymoron…

  26. Finn

    I’m coming in on this a bit late (jeeziz it takes years to catch up on all the blogs I like (and some I don’t)), so please forgive the lack of timeliness.

    I’m one of the non-drummers from the vagina dialogue. I would submit that we meant no ill will toward the rest of the female body or soul when describing vaginas that were more or less attractive. It would be akin to having a discussion about noses, or eyes, or any other part of the anatomy that one might find attractive.

    The conversation is taken somewhat out of context, as if we just up and started talking about pretty pussies. We didn’t. Someone posted an article about vaginal augmentation and we chimed in with supposition about why one might do such a thing. Personally, I would never recommend it to anyone. But, I can understand why it happens; for the same reason I understand hair replacement for guys with the same hairline as me.

    But, if you’ve read this far you deserve at least some explanation about what might constitue a pretty vs. ugly vag. As I said before, I can’t necessarily quantify what makes a good one, but a bad one might possess any number of off-putting characteristics.

    I’ll leave most to your roast-beef inspired imaginations (see previous post). I would submit the following as potential deal-breakers ‘down there’ written in malespeak, just to keep it light:

    – an untended garden
    – a pair of twinkies
    – Dizzy Gillespie’s lips

    Thank you, and let the flames begin.

  27. Twisty

    Ha, Joe Finn! I was wondering if you’d ever discover that I’d mercilessly quoted you for patriarchy-blaming fun!

  28. Terry C.

    Equipped with rotating knives?

    Priceless use of a Monty Python line. I think John Cleese would be impressed.

  29. Camille

    Is your dog Zippy named after the comic strip or.. just names Zippy? Sorry, im a person of the curious sort.

  30. Virago

    I can’t imagine anyone looking at my vulva and deciding if it’s ugly or not. The thought never even entered my mind. On the other hand, no guy has ever complained about it so it must be okay. Seriously, any guy that has a problem with it will be shown the door because I could give two shits about what it looks like. That said, I really don’t think the average guy cares at least not in my experience.

  31. katarina

    “There appear to be people who believe porn, who don’t understand the extent of the fakery”, said Twisty.

    God help me, I used to sleep with them.
    One of them, who used to be very sensitive about his own appearance, took to being very nasty about mine, especially my genitals and pubic hair.
    Not wanting to stoop to like behaviour, I said: “The reason you think like that is that you’ve seen about 1000 times more airbrushed porno images than you have real, naked women, so you have very unrealistic ideas about how they look.”
    I couldn’t believe how upset he was.

  32. Laura

    Hi Twisty, I know I’m a bit late to the boat, but the “roast beef” comment reminded me of all the disgusting comparisons Dan Savage has made over the years between normal, living human female genitalia and raw, mutilated dead animal flesh.
    Of course, he uses these analogies to justify his hatred of women — because, y’know, why would any self-respecting man want to stick his beautiful, glorious joywand into such a crumpled meatsock when he could instead jam it into a nice, tight, apparently un-ugly human male anus? That line of reasoning also saves such a man from having to interact with the *hysterical, non-libidinous, hung-up* group of nonhuman individuals known as ‘women’, which if I were an optimist I would say was better for us.

    I blame the patriarchy, but I hate Dan Savage.

    Not to detract from Dan Savage-hating, but relating to posts upthread, what words do you think we should use to refer to our (female) genitals? I’ve felt “vagina” was a meaningless catch-all term (not to mention that it means “sheath for a sword”) and it would seem that “vulva” is too.
    The book _Cunt: A Declaration of Independence_ taught me a lot about respecting my female body and made a lot of interesting points about the usage of the word “cunt”, but for obvious reasons I’m not exactly sure how I feel about using that one either.

    Twisty, if you ever blog about that topic (or have blogged about that in the past but I just haven’t found it in the archives yet), I would be very interested in reading your analysis and the resulting discourse about it.

    This is my first post, and I am going to take great delight in hitting the “Blame” button. Thanks Twisty!

    – Laura

  33. PandanCat

    Ooh! Conversation revived? Can I just say that a lad who had never seen girly bits in a non-porn setting put me off men for a number of years? He wanted me to shave, and when I retorted that I wasn’t a pre-pubescent girl or a porn star, he coyly suggested that I could be his porn star. Ugh. Ugh. Thank you, girly bits, for not complying with his boy bits when I was too inexperienced and softhearted to refuse his overtures!

    And cockroaches! (Ha ha, what a pun!) I had a particularly shiny and vivacious one interrupt my class a few weeks ago. There I was, explaining the joys of subtraction when the biggest girl in the class leaped onto her chair and started screaming. “Teacher! Cockroach! Cockroach!” the boys shouted as they looked on in fascination and horror. Anything creepy and/or crawly makes me nauseous, but I ended up chasing the darn thing around the room, trying to keep it out of the kids’ backpacks. Finally, the sulky, ill-tempered co-teacher just jabbed a finger at the broom and dustpan. Moaning with disgust, I swept it into the pan, got one of the more levelheaded kids to open the door and threw it into the garbage can.

    (Incidentally, that same level-headed kid, who is the smallest girl in the class, today expressed her eagerness to squash any future cockroaches. I’ll take her up on the offer.)

  34. the anti-fascist

    What’s really funny is the supreme court definition of pornography matches your “know it when I see it” quotes of the beautiful vulva:

    “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that. [Emphasis added.] ”

    — Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio 378 U.S. 184 (1964), regarding possible obscenity in The Lovers.

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