Written by Ashni Acharya
Edited by Kalyani Shukla and Tara M. Rai
The media doesn’t do the best job when it comes to telling young girls about their bodies. I’m sure I wasn’t the only 7 year-old watching The Little Mermaid and wondering why her waist wasn’t even the width of her neck. Or watching 25 year-olds play teenagers in Hollywood movies and wondering what was delaying my C cups and contoured cheekbones.
Fiction aside, even content that is supposed to be factual — textbooks, newspapers, advertisements — usually relies on outdated research carried out primarily by cis-men with vested interests.
Fun fact: Governments funded research in the early 1900s to suggest that women couldn’t participate in the workforce because menstruation weakened them. The same governments propagated exactly the opposite when women were needed in factories while the men went to battle during WW2. After the war ended and the men came back to take their jobs, guess what the “science” about female bodies now said?
Here are some bogus theories about our bodies we were made to believe:
You Should Scrub Your Vag
“Intimate Care” products have recently come into the mainstream market. We’ve got everything from liquid to washes to wet-wipes to clean the external parts of our genitalia. What manufacturers will not tell you is that any cleanser that you could use on the rest of your skin — soap, body wash, face wash — can be used as “intimate care”. Don’t believe ads that tell you your crotch needs some special pH. And definitely don’t listen to Gwyneth’s vaginal steaming regimens. Tap water and your regular Dettol bar will do it.
Worse are the products that claim to clean your internal genitalia i.e. beyond the vagina. Douche is entirely unnecessary and even dangerous. Your vagina has a self-cleaning mechanism:
“It is lined with a mucous membrane that protects against infection (necessary in any part of the body that opens to the outside world), as well as a clever, complex mix of bacteria – also known as vaginal flora…keeping itself safe and hygienic with secretions.” Rose George writes for The Guardian.
Regardless of what some doctors themselves might say, there has been no significant correlation found between UTIs and hygiene practices. How often you wipe after peeing has no effect on the likelihood of infections. The only verifiable factor that increases the chances of UTI is sex. And sadly, condoms are no help here. Counter-intuitively, your best defence against urinary bacteria is staying hydrated — believe it or not, peeing regularly helps wash off bacteria from the crotch area.
You Can Suck It Up
PMS is not in your head. It’s a genuine syndrome with verifiable symptoms and real-life consequences. Whether you get headaches or not, whether you get only mildly bloated or severe cramps, thousand if not millions of women around the world experience insufferable PMS symptoms.
We’ve all heard people dismiss PMS as something that can be overcome with enough will power. This narrative trivializes the experiences of women with severe PMS or other menstrual disorders. Don’t ignore period-related pains; speak to a gynaec ASAP.
Fun fact even gynaecs might not tell you: Masturbation is a great reliever of period cramps! It relaxes your muscles and lifts your mood, and sounds a lot more fun than Ibuprofen.
It’s probably not surprising that a supporter (female) at a Trump rally in 2016 said she refused to trust Hillary with nuclear codes because she might start a war at the drop of her hat during “that time of the month”. Sigh.
All wars ever have been started by men, but that’s not the most compelling evidence against this bias against women in power. Studies have found that over the span of a month, moods vary in men about the same as they do in women. What’s more, women are better than men at predicting when they’re prone to mood swings! And yet, men and women have been using periods to justify typifying women as over-emotional and without control of their wits.
To characterise PMS mood swings as an increase in irritability twists the truth. Rather, we experience a decrease in tolerance for bullshit. If a PMS-er is mad about something, chances are they were mad about it before as well. The difference is that now, their body needs their energies for self-care, so there’s no time to put up with unnecessary stressors. PMS doesn’t make you more sensitive, it doesn’t invalidate your emotions. On the contrary, it’s when you’re truly expressing your more unfiltered thoughts.
Hymens come in many different shapes and sizes. Often, they don’t break but just stretch. So it isn’t necessary that intercourse will make yours bleed.
The idea of virginity is a dangerous legend. Students and military applicants in Indonesia are subject to invasive ‘virginity tests’ by authorities to determine their moral purity. These prove nothing because there is only about a 50% likelihood sexual intercourse will “break” a hymen. What’s more, vigorous exercises/activities such as dancing, swimming, or cycling can have the same effects.
“Breaking” is not the only lie, “loosening” is too. The walls of the vagina are elastic — they’ll come back to their original size after expanding. The myth of loose vaginas after childbirth is a patriarchal excuse to marry multiple young women. The entire narrative revolves around a man’s pleasure and dominance — a feeling of superiority at being able to act upon women in a manner that will leave them ‘undesirable’ to men, thus dependent and subordinate.
Rest assured, neither your tampons/cup nor having sex with multiple people has any permanent effects on tightness. But even if they did, it shouldn’t matter — a woman’s worth is not defined by how pleasurable she is to a penis. And don’t even get me started on stuff like this:
It follows that it is a misconception that virgins cannot use tampons or menstrual cups. This is untrue unless you have vaginismus or another such rare disorder. Girls as young as 13 use menstrual cups.
Many women are immediately petrified when they find themselves incredibly tight, thinking there’s something wrong with them and wondering if they’ll ever have intercourse. Breathe. Everyone’s a lil tight initially. Familiarise yourself with penetration by your own fingers over a few days (please lube up) before using a cup for the first time. It may be daunting and new initially, but there’s nothing to fear from your own body.
Further, tampons cannot get lost inside you! It’s just not physically possible. Our vaginas are too tiny. It may seem to be lost for a bit if you can’t locate the string, but there really isn’t enough space for it to go swimming into some deep sea, never to be found again.
The only acceptable response:
Friends will tell you they never use protection during this time and they’ve never been pregnant. Period apps will tell you you’re at a 10% probability of getting pregnant on your period. But 10% is not 0%, and period-conceived babies are more common than you’d think. Also, periods don’t make you immune to getting STDs. Use protection when having period sex and any other sex!
Period or no period, don’t expect to finish when he does. Orgasms occur when enough blood surges to the sensitive parts of the genitalia, which usually surround the clit more than the vaginal opening. Only about 18% of women orgasm through penetrative sex.
So here’s debunking another delusion movies (x-rated and otherwise) gave us — penetrative sex is invariably fun and anything otherwise means there’s something wrong with your body.
So go ahead and masturbate or try a menstrual cup or have (protected) sex or do anything else you’ve been avoiding because you were taught to be afraid of your body. This could be daunting at first, of course. But I would rather take the plunge than live with fears based on fiction. Wouldn’t you?