In a world where girls as young as nine are seeking surgery to change the appearance of their vaginas, and cosmetic surgery companies are flogging "Barbie pussy" procedures on Instagram, it's clear something needs to be done to remedy society's warped attitude towards our most intimate body part.
This is particularly true when it comes to teenage girls, a group particularly vulnerable to the pernicious effects that social media can have on body image. So, props to the sexual health charity Brook, which has launched a new resource to educate them on what a "normal" vulva looks like.
(Spoiler: they come in all shapes and sizes. It's rare that a woman will need to undergo labiaplasty to shorten or reshape the labia on the NHS because they pose a health risk or are causing her mental distress.)
It includes an abundance of diagrams and drawings to help demystify a body part that's most often shrouded in secrecy. "It’s difficult to know what a 'normal vulva' is," the booklet reads. You don’t really get to see other peoples so it’s difficult to appreciate that labia come in different shapes and sizes."
Importantly, given that teens are increasingly using porn as sex education, with more than half of 11- to 16-year-olds having watched it, Brook hammers home the reality of the sexual organs on show. "If you have seen any porn you might have seen vulvas looking a particular way (often with no hair and with very tiny labia - so you can’t see them)," it says.
"Lots of images are photoshopped to look like this - as are boobs, legs and various other body parts. This creates a false image of what is considered normal or desirable."
The guide also explains the point of pubic hair – "the hair is there to help protect your vulva and vagina" – and the potential benefits of "getting to know your vulva", a message that was notably lacking in the sex education syllabus when many current twenty- and thirty-somethings were at school.
"You might like touching your vulva and vagina. Everyone is different in what feels good for them. Your body belongs to you- exploring is a natural part of growing up, and looking with a mirror can help you gain knowledge and confidence."
More than 200 girls under 18 underwent a labiaplasty from 2015-16, with more than 150 of those under the age of 15, according to NHS figures. Let's hope more tools like this will teach the next generation of women how love, or at least accept, their bodies.
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