“Now I will put my fingers in while pressing your lower abdomen.”
The voice came from between my wide-spread legs. My vagina was out in the open while my mouth was covered with a mask. I could not see what was happening down there. All I could see was the white ceiling and the light-blue papery cover draped over the hills of my knees. I felt highly vulnerable in that position, and I thanked my doctor after the exam for verbally walking me through in each step.
The previous time I got a Pap test and a pelvic exam was five years ago. I had just moved and visited a gynecologist who was well-known in town. Her examination was short and perfunctory, which made me feel like my vagina didn’t deserve her time. Shortly after, I called in for irritation and itchiness in my vaginal area. The nurse suspected that I was using a bad soap, so I changed it. When my patience ran out after two weeks of persisting symptoms, I went to Urgent Care. The doctor suspected a yeast infection and prescribed a suppository gel. My symptoms went away in 3 days.
When I started having sex with my then-boyfriend in my mid-20s, I thought something was wrong with my vagina because every intercourse hurt. When I confided with my closest female friends, they asked “Have you had many?” “No.” “Maybe that’s why.”
The issue was big enough for me that I decided to ask a gynecologist when I got a checkup during a short stay in South Korea. The male doctor in his 50s said, “some penises just won’t fit you because of their size.” There was no mention of foreplay or lubricant. When I told my closest female friend (one in Seoul) about the doctor’s opinion, she commented, “You are definitely more open about these things because you live in the US.”
What my Korean friend didn’t know was that people don’t talk about “these things” in the US, either. I have made close female friends here: some grew up in the US and some in other countries. We never talk about vaginas.
I didn’t know what yeast infection was until I was diagnosed.
I didn’t know whether intercourse was supposed to be painful or not.
I didn’t know what was supposed to happen at OBGYN visits.
I didn’t know the vaginal speculum, a scary metal device that widens your vagina for inspection, can be stored warm until I met a gynecologist who cared enough to do so. He was also thoughtful enough to tell me that everyone should ask me for my permission before they touch my vagina, including gynecologists.
Where I experienced most talks about vagina was on stage when I was cast in a college production of The Vagina Monologue by Eve Ensler. My monologue was from an interview that Ensler conducted with a six-year-old girl. My favorite part of it went like this:
“What’s special about your vagina?”
“Somewhere really deep inside, it has a really really smart brain.”
Acting out the interview with a six-year-old girl in The Vagina Monologue
Even with its secret smart brain, my vagina feels stuffy. It can’t breathe because I’m sitting on it a lot, which sometimes causes rashes. I’m still waiting for innovative underwear that will provide breathing room for my precious vagina and its neighbor (Yes, I’m talking about the anus.) It used to suffer even more when I was using disposable menstrual pads. The crinkling sound of their plastic material still makes me cringe. Now I use menstrual cups and cloth pads. I didn’t know such things existed until I read about them in Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson six years ago. I still don’t know whether anyone around me uses them because, again, we don’t talk about vaginas.
A new floral set for my Spring/Summer 2020 from GladRags
For those who’d like to try sustainable menstrual products, I’d like to share a Beginner’s Guide from my favorite menstruation YouTuber, Precious Stars:
Tips for starting out with cloth pads
How to choose your first menstrual cup
My vagina envies the mouth upstairs for that reason (Of course, it also envies the view and fresh air). So here I go. I will happily talk about my downstairs, or VAGINA (just so I can say it more one time).
PS: This letter is for you, who have a vagina yourself and/or loved ones with vaginas, regardless of your gender.
PPS: Have you missed my previous letters? You can read them at definitelynotokay.com. Here are three I sent out in July: