I used to be thrilled to take heed to and watch “WAP,” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s just lately launched homage to feminine sexuality and vaginal, let’s consider, lubrication. (I like to recommend Googling what the acronym stands for, as a result of it’s not one thing The New York Times is usually allowed to print.)
As a gynecologist, I’m used to dispelling all types of vaginal misinformation in the workplace and on-line, however the one fable that’s the hardest to undo — and that I encounter usually with sufferers — is the concept that vaginal lubrication is “problematic.”
These girls don’t have an itch or an odor. They don’t have ache with intercourse. They don’t have any symptom apart from their concern about the quantity of their vaginal discharge or that they’re overly lubricated throughout intercourse. Or each.
I do know the cruelty and damaging messages these girls obtain from numerous sources — males, moms, associates, magazines and social media — all as a result of of a system constructed and maintained (typically by these with out vaginas) that revolves round the tradition of the problematic, shameful and, sure, moist vagina.
Did a companion (normally male, as a result of I by no means hear this from girls whose companions are girls) complain about the moist spot? Get grossed out by white secretions on his penis? Say he “couldn’t feel anything”? Blame his misplaced erection or untimely ejaculation in your lubrication?
Or maybe it was the underwear problem on social media, by which younger girls posted photographs of their underwear on social media to brag about their dryness and lack of discharge as a supposed signal of well being and cleanliness. The douche beneficial by a buddy. The swab promoted on Instagram to wipe out the vagina after intercourse. The repeated articles in girls’s magazines about the fable of consuming pineapple to make oral intercourse sweeter. (And sure, it’s a fable. It’s a vagina, not a piña colada.)
Concerns about vaginal lubrication aren’t simply restricted to girls who categorical concern about the quantity of discharge — what’s “normal”? 1 to three milliliters in 24 hours, which is sort of a soaked a panty liner — or their wetness with sexual arousal.
If vaginal lubrication have been celebrated, then feminine masturbation wouldn’t be taboo, and each ladies and men would be taught in intercourse schooling that the elevated blood movement to the vaginal tissues permits fluid to leak throughout the cells, leading to a further three to five milliliters of lubrication.
Men and girls would additionally know that needing or liking lubricant isn’t an indication of private failure. Because girls are additionally shamed when they don’t seem to be moist sufficient at the precise second the penis is prepared for intercourse.
To be a lady and to companion with males is to consistently stroll the edge of the knife between too moist and too dry. Gush on command, however not an excessive amount of as a result of you then’re promiscuous or gross or each.
An editor as soon as instructed me the journal the place she labored wanted no less than one “vagina gone bad” article every week, that the quest for vaginal mayhem consumed editorial conferences. What sells copy is how you can repair vaginas … that males really feel are damaged.
No one ever says that final half out loud.
The ‘Problematic Vagina’ Isn’t New — or American
The worry of vaginal wetness crosses cultures and religions and international locations and eras. And it’s not simply seen in direct shaming about lubrication. Every so-called vaginal hygiene measure can hint its lineage to the problematic moist vagina and different misinformation about the reproductive tract.
During the time of Hippocrates, and for hundreds of years afterward, girls’s our bodies have been thought-about bodily inferior to males. According to this logic, one purpose was girls have been “wetter” than males. This was not associated to the vagina; slightly, girls’s flesh was thought-about free textured and spongy in order that they absorbed extra fluid from their meals and have become too moist.
The proof? Menstrual blood was extra fluid that the feminine physique was unable to course of “normally,” like males, so the uterus functioned an overflow valve to make up for shoddy plumbing.
Many medical therapies for ladies of the day revolved round making certain common menstruation to forestall the harmful buildup of fluid in addition to maintaining the uterus in place because it may wander exerting strain on organs inflicting sickness. Many remedies have been vaginal, typically pessaries of herbs, oils or animal fat or fumigation of the uterus.
Today’s influencers and different medication aficionados prefer to exoticize these practices as historic knowledge, particularly fumigation, which is now known as vaginal steaming. But this practice would have been ineffective at best and it’s unclear in the rush to celebrate this practice as reclaimed lost knowledge if anyone looked at the actual recipes (I’ll spare you, but they can be horrific).
Most, if not all, of these ancient vaginal therapies would have damaged the vaginal ecosystem — a concept completely unknown at the time — leaving dryness or a sensation of dryness as a side effect. It’s not a leap to think the concept of vaginal health and dryness became synonymous, especially given a core belief for the teachings that led to Western medicine was women’s bodies were too wet.
The Dry Ideal
Vaginal wetness, especially during sex, has long been erroneously considered a sign of previous sexual activity, which implies promiscuity. Medical beliefs and practices often conform to society, giving rise to so-called feminine hygiene measures that blurred dryness — the proxy for chastity — with health and cleanliness.
Almost every single feminine hygiene product will dry the vagina to some degree. So great is the physical damage that many increase the risk of some sexually transmitted infections (S.T.I.s) if exposed. Dryness also reduces sexual enjoyment for women, essentially turning them into receptacles for male pleasure; in fact, dryness can make sex uncomfortable to painful for both partners, but especially the woman.
The products used are as diverse and creative as they are pervasive. Some of the more common ones still in use include bleach, vinegar, lemon juice, oak galls, bags of herbs, soap and water, or wiping internally with a cloth. Sometimes the explicit goal is dry sex or tightness; other times the overt connection with sexual purity has been lost, and the purpose is simply unnecessary and harmful maintenance. A quest for something marketers have called freshness.
If a woman is wet she may be, according to this misinformation, the wrong kind of wet. An “unclean” kind.
A Matrilineage of Misinformation
It seems that everywhere women turn there is predatory messaging about vaginas, and much of it shares a common mutation: the erroneous belief that vaginas are problematic and the most dangerous vagina of all is wet.
Many women around the world learn these practices from their mothers, sisters and girlfriends. In the past six months I’ve seen two start-ups with so-called empowering but likely medically harmful products to clean vaginas — both led by women. And Instagram is filled with women selling a variety of unnecessary and damaging vaginal detoxes or promoting accouterments for vaginal steaming.
Having women perpetuate the misconception that a so-called clean vagina is a healthy vagina is the ultimate subversion of feminism.
The switch in seller from Big Feminine Hygiene (companies that mass produce douches, sprays or wipes) to Little Feminine Hygiene (various start-ups or makers of vaginal detox “pearls,” which are bags of herbs to be left in the vagina for several days) is simply another intertwining of culture and medicine to control the vagina at the expense of the health of women.
The cultural influence of religion or the importance of sexual purity has now been replaced by the quest for purity through so-called natural products — conveniently neglecting that the vagina in its natural state is self-cleaning and the mechanism for that is wetness. To say a vagina needs cleaning is perhaps the most unnatural statement of all.
So as I watched Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion praise a wet and gushy vagina in a stunning display of confidence — and not just sexual confidence — I was thrilled. Not just to see the glory of “WAP” celebrated as it should be, but because now I have an actual cultural reference, a public celebration, to use while talking with women.
I don’t think “WAP” is going to smash the patriarchy, replace sex education or end predatory feminine hygiene practices, but talking about it is an empowering next step.
Dr. Jen Gunter is an obstetrician and gynecologist practicing in California. She writes The Cycle, a column on women’s health that appears regularly in Styles. She is also the author of “The Vagina Bible.”