Vulva Costume!

Read My Lips [review]

Read My LipsIf you ask me, one of the most awesome things about the Midwest is the The Kinsey Institute. Luckily, I live close enough that I am able to attend the occasional lecture, art exhibit, or book sale. On one of my recent visits, I was browsing the staff publications (the bibliophile in me cannot resist) when I discovered Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick. “What the hell?” I thought, as I broke my self-imposed rule about only buying used books. “Who can ever have too many books about vaginas?” What I didn’t expect was how quickly and easily this book would rank among my favorites!

The Authors

Both Debby Herbenick and Vanessa Schick are prominent scientific researchers at the intersection of public health and sexuality. They share a passion for discovering and dispersing knowledge about female sexual health and pleasure and have both published several very interesting articles in their field. If you’re a nerd like me, you may find these quite enjoyable. However, if reading academic articles is not your idea of a fun night, you’re still in luck. Debby is also very active in the media, writing for Salon and Men’s Health magazine, appearing in a couple of amazing Tedx Talks, and creating websites like My Sex Professor and Make Sex Normal.

The Book

Although it is written by researchers, Read My Lips is for the everyday person — not the academic elite. It’s for the woman curious about her own body, the man who wants to know more about his partner’s genitalia, or the parent who wants to share accurate sexual information with their maturing child. It is for the vagina novice, who was never educated about female sexuality, and the intermediate, armed with the basics but curious about some more nuanced scientific facts. The writing is both accessible and educational. This is something that I consider of upmost importance, because it makes spreading sexual knowledge so much more effective.

Vulva Costume!

If you’ve ever been curious about vaginas and vulvas, Read My Lips is a fantastically varied resource! (For example: Do you know how many vaginal shapes there are? What the coital alignment technique is? Or what horrible thing Lysol, Coca-Cola, and yogurt all have in common?) This book covers the basics of anatomy as well as vulvovaginal health, including a full section on vaginal products such as douches, menstrual products, and even dyes. It offers tips for how to experience sexual pleasure — alone and with a partner. There’s a very brief cultural history of the vagina & vulva, as well as lots of information about female genitalia in contemporary society (changing pubic hairstyles, cosmetic genital surgery, etc). Plus, there are craft ideas…like this giant vulva costume that I’m in love with! You can learn how to make your own here.

The Bottom Line

In our society, we’re not educated about female sexuality except for what is absolutely necessary for reproductive knowledge. We often allow ourselves to be influenced by societal shame and spread silence instead of science. Sexual health practices get glossed over. Pleasure gets ignored. Read My Lips embraces female sexual pleasure and encourages both body-positive and sex-positive thought. For me, it was one step along the way in learning to love my vulva. It is a book that I think everyone should read, whether you have a vagina & vulva or not.


Slut-Shaming: Damaging to Women Everywhere

The first time that I remember being called a “slut,” I was about 10 years old. As an elementary student, I barely understood what the word meant — let alone how it applied to me. A kiss on the cheek was as “sexual” as I had been at that age. I know now that my sexual history had nothing to do with my label. I was an outsider. I preferred the rough & tumble company of the guys to the makeovers & gossip of the girls. I went through a phase of shopping in the boys’ section before coming to terms with my developing body. And I almost always had a boyfriend, although we were little more than best friends who awkwardly hugged in the hallway. In middle school, I embraced the role of the rebel and dated a couple of high school guys. The slut slurs thrived for a few years, but eventually, my purity ring and monogamy put an end to any controversy surrounding me. There were other girls to call a slut; girls who were said to have had an abortion or gotten chlamydia. I was old news.

What is “slut-shaming” and why do we do it?

Slut-shaming is sex-negative behavior that occurs when a person is made to feel shameful or guilty for enjoying sexual activity, participating in sexual activity, or even simply being part of a rumor involving sexual activity.

Many people hold tightly to the misconception that a girl is only called a slut if she “deserves” it, i.e., is sexually promiscuous. It makes people uncomfortable to think about the unrelated & insignificant reasons that slut rumors get started. In reality, these rumors may evolve out of jealousy, anger, peer-pressure, or nothing but plain old meanness. A girl can be targeted for anything, ranging from her appearance (knee-high boots or large breasts) to her real or imagined behavior (public displays of affection or association with certain cliques). Fellow girls often start these rumors in order to feel superior to a girl they dislike. Boys often lie about having sex with a girl simply to prove their manliness. Both genders spread the rumors in order to “fit in” with the crowd while distancing themselves from the girl in question. And adults may ignore the harassment, believing that making an example out of one girl will scare the rest into being chaste. 

What damage does slut-shaming cause? 

Even if someone is willing to accept that virginal girls are sometimes wrongly accused of being “sluts,” they usually lack sympathy for the girl whose rumors are actually true. This displays a fear of female sexuality, viewing it as something that is inherently wrong. It’s a perfect example of the sexual double standard. A promiscuous male is “just being a boy,” “sowing his oats,” or is praised for being a “stud.” But the idea that a woman could consensually engage in the same sexual activity (and enjoy it) makes people want to punish her.

Slut shaming is harmful to all women. It damages one’s confidence. It can cause isolation from peers and lead to depression. It invites sexual harassment, even rape, from boys who consider her “easy.” It may create a negative association with sex that could last a lifetime. And it perpetuates society’s dichotomy of good girl vs. bad girl, based entirely off our sexual purity — not our achievements.

How do we put a stop to slut-shaming?

Being raised with the idea that sex is shameful, I spent many years judging others (mostly females) by the number of people that they had sex with. Even now, I’ll occasionally catch myself trying to make a friend smile by reassuring her that her crush’s booty-call is a “whore.” Being conscious of slut-shaming does not automatically stop the behavior. It takes effort.

Get into the habit of checking yourself before you comment on someone’s sexuality. (Let’s be honest, it’s rarely appropriate.) Call others out on their slut-shaming — whether they’re male or female, teenager or adult. And if you’re looking for more information on the topic, I highly suggest Leora Tanenbaum’s book, Slut! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation.