Friday, December 16, 2011

psychology today on vaginas

I saw an article entitled "15 crazy things about vaginas" through facebook that i thought of writing about, then a friend brought up the article in conversation, and I decided to go ahead with this post (found here)

Here are a few comments on some of the points.

1. Pubic hair is not just a biological accident that forces us to the waxing salon. It serves three critical functions. First, it protects the delicate vagina. Second, it serves as a reproductive billboard to alert potential mates that you are biologically (if not emotionally) prepared to procreate. And last, it's a pheromone carpet and traps the scents that lead potential mates to the promised land. So you might think twice before you shave it all off. It's there for a reason. Embrace it.

So, the first reason, which seems to be the most important is talked about in passing, without saying how or why it protects... but sociobiological arguments that have nothing to do with how we currently have sex are emphasized and appear to be more important.

3. The average vagina is 3-4 inches long, but fear not if your guy is hung like a horse. The vagina can expand by 200% when sexually aroused, kind of like a balloon. Remember, the vagina was made to birth babies, so it's exceedingly
elastic. If you have pain when getting it on with someone large, you can use
dilators to help stretch the vagina so you can accommodate the whole package.

Hetero-centric. Vaginas exist for penises. And if the penis doesn't fit, the answer isn't to have different types of sex, but to learn to accommodate it.

5. Yes, it's true -- your vagina can fall out. Not to belabor the sock metaphor, but it can turn inside out just like a worn out sweat sock and hang between your legs as you get older. But don't fret; this condition -- called pelvic prolapse -- can be fixed.

Isn't that a pretty thought? So many things that we can talk about without having to make women's bodies seem even more disgusting... warn out sweat sock? Really?

6. Vaginas have something in common with sharks. Both contain squalene, a substance that exists in both shark livers and natural vaginal lubricant. (Cue music: "She's a maneater...")
Ewww... vaginas are disgusting... and psychology today is misogynist. I'm not sure how they get away with the maneater comment.

7. You can catch sexually transmitted diseases even if you use a condom. Sorry to break it to you, but the skin of the vulva can still touch infectious skin of the scrotum -- and BAM! Warts. Herpes. Molluscum contagiosum. Pubic lice. So pick your partners carefully.

This is the first practical thing that was said, but again, very heterocentric.

8. The average length of the labia minora is less than ¾ inch long (yes, someone got out a ruler and measured 2981 women). Only 1.8% of women have labia longer than 1 ½ inches. But remember, every vulva is different and special. Some lips
hang down. Some are tucked up neatly inside. Some are long. Some are short. Some are even. Some aren't. All are beautiful. You're perfect just the way you are.
If you don't want to make one type seem preferable to another, why use words like "neatly"? Also, they tell us what normal is with statistics and measurements and everything, then say not to worry if we aren't normal. If we don't want to worry about not looking "normal", why tell us what "normal" is in the first place?

11. Only about 30% of women have orgasms from intercourse alone. The clitoris is where the action is. Most women who do orgasm during sex have figured out how to hit their sweet spot, either from positioning or from direct stimulation of the clitoris with fingers.


13. Vaginal farts (some call them "queefs" or "varts") happen to almost all women at one time or another, especially during sex or other forms of exercise.
So don't be embarrassed if your hooha lets out a toot. You're perfectly normal.
I don't not trust anyone that refers to a vagina as a hooha.

15. Safe sex (or even just orgasm alone) is good for you. Benefits include lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke, reducing your risk of breast
cancer, bolstering your immune system, helping you sleep, making you appear more youthful, improving your fitness, regulating menstrual cycles, relieving menstrual cramps, helping with chronic pain, reducing the risk of depression, lowering stress levels, and improving self esteem. So go at it, girlfriends!

I'm confused about the separation of safe sex and "even just orgasm alone". To me, this gives an assumption about what counts as sex (vaginal intercourse)... I think it should say something more like "sex and masturbation are good for you." Also, why is it "just orgasm alone"... prioritizing certain acts above others? Maybe this is unintentional, but this kind of language can shape how we think about sex.

This is an example of why I sometimes really don't like psychology as a discipline. The idea that these medical "experts" get to shape so much of what we know and how we know it. The underlying assumptions in this article, such as heterosexuality and what counts as sex, never have to be explicitly stated, and come to shape what we "know" and how we think. Hopefully this pop psychology is far worse than academic psychology. Also, I don't mean to offend psychologists as a whole because I know some that do fantastic work and I know some sociologists who do terrible work.


  1. Ug, Psychology Today... It might as well be titled "Phrenology Today" or "Physiognomy Today" considering how great of a source it is for a "scientific" understanding of the world. Not only are they excellent for discovering parascientific justifications for heterosexism (as with this article that you have thoroughly mocked), but I remember how, almost a year ago, they published that piece of racist evolutionary psychology (which is a racist pseudo-science) that tried to argue black women were essentially different from white women.

  2. Gross. Psychology Today is a total joke, and this is not the first time that they've done something embarrassingly misogynist.

    Thanks for your little comment that not all psychologists are represented by this magazine, though. I'm a grad student in psychology, about to complete my coursework and go out on internship (the last step before receiving my Ph.D.), and it's been interesting negotiating my identity as a "psychologist" with my identity as a feminist. I recently discovered the sub-field of critical psychology, which has helped - critical psychologists examine the way that the mainstream field of psychology perpetuates and normalizes the status quo instead of working towards a social climate that is psychologically healthier for everyone. There are also a couple of American Psychological Association Divisions for women's issues, racial issues, sexual orientation, and a Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.

    So, just like any other field, psychology has a mainstream that in many cases perpetuates the status quo and inequality in our society, but it also has many dedicated individuals (and some groups) within it who aim to deconstruct and reshape those structures to promote respect, equality, and psychological health for all.

  3. JMP, was this the article about one group being more attractive than the other?

    Ms. Wizzle, thanks for your comment. Various branches exist within a most disciplines - some are critical, others much less so. In sociology, there are a lot of functionalist theorists... thankfully, this is less common than in psychology, but it does still exist.