A man walks down the street and sees a friend, who asks him, “Are you feeling okay? You sure look bad.”
The man answers, “I feel good.”
A few blocks later the man runs into another friend, who tells him he’s not looking very good. So even though the man is feeling good, he goes to his doctor.
“You don’t look so good,” says his doctor, “what are your symptoms?”
“That’s just it,” says the man. “Everyone tells me I look bad, but I feel good.”
His doctor examines him. Puzzled, the doctor thumbs through a large medical book on his desk while muttering to himself, “Looks good—feels good, no that’s not it. Looks good—feels bad, that’s not it either. Looks bad—feels bad, still not it. Wait...here it is...looks bad—feels good.”
The doctor turns to the man with this diagnosis, “According to this, you’re a vagina!“
Iterations of this particular joke have been going around forever. I first heard it circa 1982. Something like 20 years later I watched Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues on HBO. In it a woman says she found her vagina so ugly that looking at it made her sick. She “pitied anyone who had to go down there [and] began to pretend there was something else between my legs.” Eventually she lost “all memory of having a vagina [so that] whenever a man was inside me, I pictured him inside a mink-lined muffler or a Chinese bowl.”
Next the woman describes how she “came to love” her vagina. It didn’t happen in a candle-lit bathtub as she soaked in soothing bath salts and listened to Enya playing in the background while she...ahem...“loved herself.” Instead, it happened when she met a bland man named Bob who wore bland clothes, ate bland food, and “didn’t share his inner feelings [and] wasn’t very funny or articulate or mysterious.” Bob, though, was a “connoisseur” of vaginas. He loved their taste, smell, and most importantly, how they looked.
I held my breath. He looked, and looked. He gasped, and smiled, and stared, and groaned. He got breathy and his face changed. He didn’t look ordinary anymore. He looked like a hungry beast.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said. “You’re elegant and deep and innocent and wild...”
I watched him looking at me. He was so excited, so peaceful and euphoric. I began to get wet and turned on. I began to see myself the way he saw me. I began to feel beautiful and delicious...
Bob wasn’t afraid, no, he wasn’t grossed out. I began to swell. I began to feel proud. I began to love my vagina, and Bob lost himself there, and I was there with him in my vagina.
I remember laughing through much of Ensler’s play, but it was an uncomfortable laughter.
Every woman I knew felt much the same way as I did. We had all been told we should consider our vaginas as lovely as a Georgia O’Keeffe painting and that they weren’t ugly, monstrous, hairy things.
But that followed our mothers teaching us about hygeine, and in my case, in my formative years wondering what that rubber tubing thingie was that she hung over the faucet in her bathtub. My mom didn’t buy me one for my very own, but I got the point: women are supposed to cover up how we smell down there, keeping clean isn’t enough.
By the ’90s, though, we understood the irony of The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s art installation of vagina-themed plates as table settings, but our understanding was on a feminist, intellectual level.
The idea that the dank, dark place between our legs was actually something beautiful and worthy of display on a pristine table...not so much.
The sexual revolution of the late 1960s/early 1970s led many woman to “let it all hang out.” I remember the hairy armpits, legs, and shall we say “full bush” appearance of women in the copy Alex Comfort’s The Joy of Sex (1972) I “borrowed” as an adolescent from my parents. Perhaps Will Farrell said it best on a recent Conan O’Brien when he referred to the area in Playboy centerfolds of the era as “the dark forest from which no man returns.”
A generation later, Sex And The City’s Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda discussed the virtues of the Brazilian wax from a grooming level. And ever since, it’s become nearly impossible for a group of educated women to get together and talk about baring themselves without turning it into a feminist polemic on turning women into little girls.
What I find ironic in these aesthetic and political discussions is that they seem removed from sex...you know, the reason we actually have sexual organs. Hair or bare—couldn’t the answer depend instead on sensual considerations rather than everything but? Mightn’t loving the look of our genitals rely more on sex itself rather than vajazzling?
That’s where the erotic romance performs the vaginal makeover, and not necessarily because of the hair or bare question, although deforestation is often at play in these books.
No, the makeover, at least for me, is the result of the extreme lust erotic romance heroes have for the female flower, which transforms a visual or feminist issue into one of sensation. So...does sporting a bare look infantalize a woman...or might it be a woman’s way of heightening sexual experiences for herself? It all depends upon the view.
Rather than having a mysterious, perhaps strange looking area between my legs, from all the erotic romances I’ve read over the years, I now accept that part of my body is one of pure pleasure...and how can that be ugly?
Granted, erotic romance, like all romance, presents a fantasy, and the up-close-and-personal intimacy of sex in an erotic romance actually does make it personal. Nowadays, because of reading erotic romance, it’s easier for me to conjure up the picture of a to-die-for, sexual man glorying in female genitalia and scenting it like the nectar of the gods instead of worrying about gender politics and obsessing about the flora and fauna of my lady parts.
Rhyannon Byrd’s books for Ellora’s Cave were the first I remembered to present the vagina as a thing of utter beauty (and therefore a joy forever), most likely because the men in her books obsess over their women’s gorgeous genitalia in an entirely over-the-top manner. All of ’em seem to want to take up permanent residence, but in A Bite of Magick the hero seems content at times simply to look his fill. Over the top—indeed—but nonetheless making the author’s point: nothing to be afraid of down there.
Currently I’m reading one of Lorelei James’s Rough Riders. In Tied Up, Tied Down the hero does a classic “Bob” with the heroine. When he looks at her vagina, he envelops himself in a delicate, beautiful, pink, glistening, ambrosia-scented feast for his senses.
This may not be how I’ve considered my own feminine flower for most of my life, but I gotta say, it’s working for me. Have you had your makeover yet?
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.