Ladies, Your Bare Vulva Is Intimidating Your Feminist Doctor

And why we don't really need to shave vaginas for childbirth anymore.

Jan 30, 2013 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

In medical school, you see a lot of vulvas. I hesitate to call this a “benefit,” because that sounds pervy. It’s a privilege.  

Doctors promise to do our best to exterminate whatever creepy-crawlies you might have living down there -- ideally without batting an eye or making you feel awkward -- in exchange for the privilege of caring for you and your fabulous vulva.

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I am so impressed by this bright light emanating from your vagina.

I was trained to approach the vulva as a professional. I warn the patient before I touch it, for example, and I try not to traumatize anyone. I have an effective, destigmatizing talk wherein I compare HPV to the common cold, and when I have really good rapport with a patient, I even imitate the vagina sneezing. 

But I wasn’t trained in one emotional skill it turns out I really needed: how to not be totally intimidated by my patients’ vulvas.

Here’s the deal: Vulvas are hairless now, y’all.  Not all of them, but a surprising number of them are totally shorn.  

Of course, I knew about this phenomenon long before I started cracking open 20 pairs of labia a day on my ob-gyn rotation. I had even had arguments about whether the Brazilian wax was:

a) a porno trope that undermines the power of female sexuality (my take)

b) a creepy manifestation of our culture’s rampant sexualization of children (my friend Margaret) or 

c) “cleaner” (Lauren)

I knew women were shaving their hoochies. I just didn’t realize how many women.

The answer is: a lot. Like, a brazillion. 

It’s not an urban thing.  I’ve seen women walk out of clinic, put their totally hairless vulvas on top of horses and ride through the mountains all day, because they work on cattle ranches. 

Nor is it an upper-class phenomenon. My patients have taken their bald vulvas to two or three jobs a day, because they were single moms supporting a passel of kids on their own.

The nude vulva also transcends ethnic and age boundaries. Older Spanish-speaking ladies?  Congrats on the awesome vulva ‘do.  I hope I have time to spend on superficial, sexy shit like that when I’m post-menopausal.

The problem is, all these hairless vulvas started making me feel self-conscious about my own privates. My topiary arts have always been moderate: a little trimming, but no bushes shaped like elephants. And no Brazilian.

Suddenly, I was thrown into turmoil. Was I missing out on some erotic power that these other gals were tapping into?  Or -- good heavens! -- was I failing to live up to the cultural expectation of what a woman should look like? If I wasn’t looking like a real woman, I could easily be mistaken for some kind of beast, like a gorilla or a platypus.

So, inspired by my patients, I decided to try a radical new ‘do.  

When my fiancee saw my handiwork, he said the only negative thing he’s ever said about my body: “Aw.  Poor little vagina. It looks like you gave it a flat-top.” 

“That’s my vulva,” I snapped.  “The vagina’s on the inside.”  

As you’re reading this, you may be thinking, “But what about that one time when I was giving birth, and my nurse shaved my vulva? Huh?  I thought medical people were super into shaving vulvas.”

Well, they used to be. Old-timey doctors thought our bushes were gross, bacteria-laden monsterpools that would infect our babies with mother-filth. But nowadays, the evidence suggests that shaving before childbirth has no benefit for mother or child, and may even be harmful. 

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Old-timey doctors could be dicks, but they had awesome hats.

Shaving still happens, though, because (in the case of a tear) some docs find it more convenient to sew up hairless perineum. But, I repeat, there is no health benefit for you.  

So, if you are a bushy gal and your doctor, nurse practitioner, or midwife starts sharpening the razor around your laboring ladyparts, my medical advice is to say, “No thank you. I do not consent to being shorn."

The bottom line in delivery is that a human head is going to be popping out of that awesome vagina. Any doc who can’t see around a little hair to spot the human head needs to have his monocle cleaned. 

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Unless this pops out—a fetal elephant! Congratulations! 

And although I celebrate the choices my patients make about their own bodies, I’m back to my old style.  

But I’m curious what you all think. Do you totally love nekkid vulva? Or does the whole phenomenon make you feel icky? Has your doctor ever made you feel weird about your junk? Let’s hear it!