By Jordan Ferranto, LCPC, ATR.
Contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
In my work with survivors of sexual trauma, I see a lot of folks who have challenging relationships with their bodies. I have noticed a trend in how survivors relate to their bodies after sexual trauma. Their bodies become a source of danger and betrayal – a deceitful vessel separate from who they are or who they used to be. The vulva and vagina (for those who have them) receive particular blame. Some relate to this part of the body with enhanced shame, disgust, numbness, or hatred. For many vulva-havers, (regardless of whether or not they have a sexual trauma history) the pelvic region of the body is one of mystery. It is an area of the body that we are taught to ignore or leave unexplored. It is often riddled with shame, embarrassment and insecurity. Sexual trauma, coupled with our already incomplete cultural relationship to the vulva, can lead us from thinking of the vulva as ‘the mystery between our legs’ to thinking of it as ‘the enemy’.
There are many factors that contribute to our personal understanding of the vulva. Some vulva-havers feel that this part of the body is simply there to service others’ sexual pleasure and thus have not explored their own desires and pleasures in relation to this part of the body. Many adults with vulvas don’t know the difference between the vulva and the vagina. Many also have a difficult time saying either of those words out loud. Are you feeling uncomfortable right now reading this? You are not alone!
So how do we transform this relationship? Whether you are starting from a neutral place or a traumatic place, I think it’s important to start with awareness. Get to know this part of your body. Touch, explore, examine, hold, nurture. What does your vulva look like? What does it like? Dislike? Do you know all of its anatomy? What do you know about your clitoris? Familiarize yourself with this part of you. Did you know that the clitoris is the only body part whose sole purpose is pleasure alone? That’s it! And yet, many folks who have a clitoris don’t understand, or feel too ashamed to work towards creating a pleasure-based relationship with their genitals. Some beauty standards may lead us to believe that there is an ideal vulva with waxed pubic hair, tidy symmetrical labia, and an appropriately small-sized clitoris and hood. Anything that resides outside of those ideals is deemed ugly, unattractive, or abnormal. The truth is that vulvas come in all shapes, sizes, and colors – all completely normal!
Just like we do with other parts of ourselves, we need to know and understand our genitals because this can lead to our next step in transformation: empowerment. If we learn this part of ourselves, we can also learn to say “YES!” and “Nope!”. We can learn to notice when something feels off and when something feels good, allowing ourselves to take ownership over our sexual health and pleasure, which can decrease opportunities for avoidable traumas or illnesses.
Now, what does awareness and empowerment lead to? Healing! Through these steps (and potentially an infinite amount of other things in between them, depending on each individual’s needs and desires) we can begin to heal our relationships with our vulvas and let go of thinking of them as anything other than a worthy part of our body.
As an art therapist, I like to create art processes that allow us to feel held and affirmed as we walk through the uncharted territories of healing. So, for this particular issue, I created the process of making a three-dimensional vulva out of fabric. The process begins with hand stitching, which allows the mind to wander into a meditative space that is both calming and contemplative. Here the maker may begin to bring their beliefs about their vulva to their conscious mind.
Next, there is a step for stuffing. Here the maker may include a written or symbolic intention to fill their vulva with. This intention can aim to challenge or change some of these beliefs.
Finally, there are many opportunities to adorn your vulva as you wish. You may choose adornments that mimic your actual vulva, or you may choose to include pieces that allow you to personalize your vulva so that it aligns with your intention for change. Once finished, makers end up with an object that is hard not to be proud of. One that showcases the intention and labor put into understanding and honoring this part of yourself through art making.
If any of this sounds appealing to you, please join us for our Love Your Vulva Workshop.