A vagina museum has opened! It’s in London, and this is the world’s first museum to celebrate “vaginas, vulvas, and the gynecological anatomy” (per the web site). The museum is in the Camden Market neighborhood, and the kickoff exhibit is appropriately called “Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them."
Battling vagina disinformation and breaking the taboo surrounding this sexual and reproductive organ are the founding principles of the museum. “Our mission is about spreading knowledge and awareness," Florence Schechter, museum director, tells Health. "Currently, one of the major barriers to this is the huge stigma of the gynecological anatomy."
To help further the museum's mission, we asked Schechter to tell us the biggest vagina myths she and her team would like to dispel for good and never, ever hear again. Here are her top five, plus why everyone needs to stop believing them.
Vaginas and vulvas are basically the same thing
The museum's first exhibit makes a point of explaining that these terms refer to distinct body parts. The vulva is the external part of your genitals consisting of the outer and inner labia, clitoris, and urethral opening. The vagina is the internal canal extending from the vulva to the cervix. Things can go in the vagina—a penis, sex toys, fingers—and things can come out—menstrual blood and babies.
Vulvas are supposed to look a certain way
Just as faces can look vastly different, so can vulvas: some women have long, thin labia, others short and puffy; some vulvas are pale or pinkish, others dark purple or brown. All are totally normal, despite the fact that there's an entire industry of cosmetic surgeons trying to get you to believe your vulva isn't shaped right or is unattractive and undergo surgery to "fix" it.
Schechter explains that the Vagina Museum's first exhibit hopes to educate people about all the variations of the vulva. There's no one way a vulva "should" look, and it's just another belief that "upholds the patriarchy," she says.
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Vaginas are messy and need cleaning
Every day you're bombarded with ads for products that promise to help your vagina smell nicer, cleaner, better, and so on. The message is that without these items, your vagina is inherently dirty and gross. But here's the thing: Vaginas are designed to clean themselves. Washes, douches, creams, and the like shouldn't go anywhere near your genitals and can in fact do more harm than good.
“Vaginal cleaning products can upset the pH balance and microflora of the vagina, which then promotes infections,” says Schechter. Also, consider how the “vaginas are dirty” message makes women feel shame about normal and natural vaginal odor and wetness. “By designating the vagina as ‘unclean,’ it makes people afraid of it," she says.
If you use a tampon, you’re no longer a virgin
This longstanding myth stems from the fact that to insert a tampon, a woman might tear her hymen—the thin membrane covering the vaginal opening. But really, virginity has nothing to do with anatomy. “That’s not how hymens, vaginas, or virginity works at all,” says Schechter.
For one thing, the hymen can tear for a whole bunch of not-sex-related reasons, such as playing sports or simply being active. Second, even if it does tear, it doesn't mean anything in terms of whether a woman is a virgin or not. “Virginity is a social construct. Its definition changes throughout time and across the world,” she says.
Vaginal discharge isn’t normal
Actually, discharge is a sign of good health. This myth circles back to the lie about vaginas needing to be cleaned. Turns out that discharge is the body’s natural cleaning system, says Schechter. To make this point, the museum's Muff Busters exhibit features actual underwear worn by women and the discoloration in the crotch area that comes from normal daily discharge.
What exactly is discharge? It’s mostly water and microorganisms, according to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The color can range from clear to white to off-white, depending on where you are in your cycle and also what's normal for you. Some women produce a lot, others just a little. The only red flags are if it has a foul odor, it becomes itchy and thick, and/or it turns bloody or dark yellow to greenish. These signs might mean you have an infection, which your ob-gyn can diagnose and treat.
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