Vaginas are an open book
Unpacking your lady parts
At Loes Hegeman and Tess Wemeijer’s Groningen student house, any topic of conversation was up for grabs: missed contraceptive pills, STDs, and sexual screw-ups. But they also talked about more complex things, like whether the smell coming from their vagina was normal, or whether their labia were too big or too small.
These were normal conversations for a close-knit group of friends who are about to graduate medical school. Nothing is taboo. ‘After just one day in the gynaecology department, nothing fazes you anymore’, says Loes.
Their studies gave them inspiration for a book about the stories they’d heard along the way. They also try to answer questions about what’s normal (everything, as long as you feel good about it), how STDs work (how do you get them and how do you get rid of them), and what to do when you’ve missed a pill.
It’s a classic tale and an embarrassing situation rolled into one: someone in a marriage or long-time monogamous relationship contracts an STD. Lying about it is one thing, but my one-night stand took his deception to a whole new level.
I got a text from the clinic: ‘We have the results from your test. Please contact us using the phone number provided.’ It was a bad sign. And indeed, after a single night with some dude, I found out he had given me chlamydia. When I told him over the phone, he said: ‘You’re a medical student, right? Can’t you prescribe me the medication?’ When I said no, he was disappointed: ‘Shit, that means I can’t crush it up and put it in my girlfriend’s breakfast.’
I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend! Turns out he was messed up as well. That poor girl.
The true stories came mostly from their friends. ‘I’m pretty sure our friends will know we’re talking about them’, says Loes. ‘But other people won’t.’
What do they hope to achieve with this book? ‘We want to make students aware of the fact that they’re not the only ones who do weird stuff or mess up sometimes. And we want them to be open about sex.’
Loes has never had an STD, herself. ‘I’ve been a lucky bastard’, she grins. But that doesn’t mean she’s never been worried; she’s been to the free clinic several times for testing.
She says regular check-ups are important – it’s like getting your car tuned. Because getting an STD is deceptively easy. ‘A lot of people get STDs from their cheating partners. It’s a really shitty way to find out. And make sure your condom doesn’t slip off!’
In Poezenpraat, one chapter is entirely devoted to genital warts (itching, pain, and cauliflower-shaped warts), while another talks about gonorrhoea (pus-like discharge and all the rest). There are also chapters about how small spots of blood in your underwear might be caused by pubic lice, teensie tiny itch mites that burrow under your skin and can easily infect everyone else in your house.
A lot of students stick their heads in the sand when it comes to STDs. ‘They think it won’t happen to them’, says Loes. But if untreated, STDs can cause a lot of damage. ‘Especially chlamydia’, she says. Seventy percent of women show barely any symptoms. ‘But it can cause infertility.’
Pimp your lady parts
‘So many women are self-conscious about what their vaginas look like’, says Loes. ‘I want them to know there’s no need for that.’
She used to be insecure about her own. ‘But that went away as I got older. Besides, I’ve seen so many different vaginas at the hospital. ‘Normal’ vaginas don’t exist.
So if your labia minora are a little irregular, purple, or larger than the labia majora? There’s no need to see your GP: you’re perfectly fine.
Everyone queefs. It’s most common when you’re having sex doggy style. Once again: nothing to worry about.
Don’t freak out when your anus is a little darker than the skin around it: it’s not dirty, the skin is just a little extra pigmented. You could bleach it, of course. ‘But they use chemicals that are probably really bad for you. Better to just leave it.’
People in a long-term relationship will sometimes decide to do something to get out of a rut. Maybe they’ll have sex in an unusual place or introduce a sex toy to spice things up.
One woman decided it would be a good idea to have sex on top of the sink. It wasn’t a great idea, because halfway through, the thing came off the wall. They didn’t just break their routine; they also broke the sink. And less than ten seconds later, her father-in-law was knocking on the bathroom door to ask what in the hell was going on! She and her boyfriend had a hard time explaining that one.
If you do want to pimp your lady parts, you could always get your labia pierced. ‘Obviously, that’s a pretty painful procedure’, Loes and Tess write. Don’t think that anaesthesia at the piercing shop will protect you from what comes after, either: a vaginal piercing can take up to nine months to heal.
Loes was lucky, she says. Her parents talked openly about sex, which probably made it easier for her to talk about her own sexual adventures. But she hasn’t been immune from struggles.
The hardest thing? ‘Peer pressure. Everyone asking you whether you “did it yet”. Wondering whether you were too early or too late.’
Fortunately, that feeling passed on its own. ‘I just grew out of it’, she says. ‘Now I give zero fucks.’
Her friends are also very open, but there are still taboos. ‘Female masturbation is still kind of a thing. And anal sex.’ They joke, of course, but not everyone is comfortable talking about it.
Loes and Tess, on the other hand, are plenty comfortable. They cheerfully discuss too-tight condoms leading to blue balls, searching for the mysterious G spot, how the reverse-cowgirl position is the best way to stimulate it, how that same position is also the most common cause of penis injuries.
And the back door? If you’re open to it, go nuts, the girls say. They’ve got some tips and tricks if you’re curious.
Like most women, Loes has had pregnancy scares. It’s always been a false alarm, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying. ‘Practically every woman knows what it feels like.’
After all, condoms slip sometimes, people get too drunk to be smart, birth control pills get forgotten somewhere in the chaos that is your room.
So Poezenpraat includes a decision tree listing available contraceptives and an item on what to do when you’ve missed your pill (including the worst-case scenario when you miss a pill and have sex in the same week.)
The morning-after pill is available at your local pharmacy, and you don’t need a prescription. You can also get a morning-after coil five days after you had sex; it prevents a possibly fertilised egg from implanting itself. ‘A lot of people don’t know that’, says Loes. There’s also the option of an early termination, up to sixteen days after you had sex.
Loes knows that many women have trouble talking about these things. ‘They especially don’t talk about abortion’, she says. ‘That’s all done behind closed doors. We want to show people that they can be open about it if they want to.’
It’s in Dutch, but still… Do you want to win this book? Tell us us your favourite synonym for vagina, via email (email@example.com with subject Poezenpraat) or facebook and we will choose three winners.