27 September 2010

Not for the Faint of Heart - Vagina Talk

Okay, how about something a little unorthodox... Can you handle a whole day of talk about VAGINAS?

Dr. Virginia Braun, Psychology Dept, Univ of Auckland, New Zealand

Sunday was a most interesting day for me. Model, Samantha invited me to a women's conference on Sunday at UNLV called, "Framing the Vulva: Genital Cosmetic Surgery and Genital Diversity". Sam and I have had extensive discussions on the matter and she thought I might be interested in attending this conference. It was put on by UNLV and the New View Campaign, who has a slogan that says: Challenging the Medicalization of Sex.

The goal of the New View Campaign is to expose biased research and promotional methods that serve corporate profit rather than people's pleasure and satisfaction. The Campaign challenges all views that reduce sexual experience to genital biology and thereby ignore the many dimensions of real life.

Morning plenary session, 150 attendee
I gotta tell you it was quite enlightening. Over the years, I've had situations where several models have confided in me about horrid stories regarding the way they look "down there". The conferences main focus this weekend was addressing the negative perception women have about their vaginas that lead them to undergo cosmetic surgery called labiaplasty which is the surgical removal or trimming of the labia minora. I won't go into detail here, but I could share with you a myriad of stories of women as young girls who were traumatized either throughout their childhood or at least at some point in their lives for having labia that hangs out or extends past the vulva more than what some women might deem as being normal. In addition to these experiences, I've had sex classes in college both from a sociological perspective and psychological. So these topics of discussion were not new to me, but it was still interesting to see some of the more recent empirical research and data on this topic.

Dr. Marta Meana, Prof of Psychology, UNLV. Afternoon workshop
"Ewww Factor" Workshop, Dr. Meana, UNLV

2nd Afternoon Workshop "Empowerment Through
Vulva Photography"
The main reason this conference was held was actually as a COUNTER-conference to the Cosmetic Vaginal Surgery Conference that was held this weekend at the Venetian Hotel and Casino which hosted people in the medical profession that promote labiaplasty and other cosmetic surgery of the genitals. This organization points out that there is more commercialization of these procedures as opposed to actual treatment with the individual in mind. They DO NOT like Dr. David Matlock, who you may have seen on Dr. 90210 and the View. He's even got new procedures now that give you a Brazilian Butt. One procedure that was new to me was a means of restoring the pink color back to the labia. We were also presented with lots of great input on why women do this, but the primary focus has been on the societal pressure to appear as the women you see in print media for the pornography industry where depictions of the vagina are on constant display however the trend is for the "clean and neat" vaginas which mean the inner lips are small and are not as visible. Some of the research I didn't totally agree with and some could have been better, but for the most part, they were informative. Discussions during the first half of the day included, Embracing Genital Diversity, Pleasure and Sex Ed, Art Activism, "Retail Medicine", and a critical view of the conference at the Venetian.

Photographer/Sexologist and "Petals" author, Nick Karras,
along with Carolina Ramos and Sayaka Adachi

Sexologist, Sayaka Adachi of San Diego during the
Vulva Photography Afternoon Workshop
For me, the more interesting part of the day was the afternoon sessions where we broke up into separate workshops of which we could select 2 of the 6 activism workshops available. My first session was the "Eww Factor: Clinical Reflections on the Role of Vulva Dissatisfaction/Disgust" done by Dr. Marta Meana, Professor of Psychology, UNLV. My second workshop was "Empowerment through Vulva Photography" which focused on the artwork of photographer/sexologist, Nick Karras who authored, "Petals". Nick was accompanied by Carolina Ramos, Program Director, Latino Services, San Diego LGBT Community Center. Also leading this workshop was Sayaka Adachi, clinical sexologist and orgasm coach also in San Diego. About 150 people attended the conference. It was also a different twist when one of the participants gave some excellent points with reference to how Christians might look at this issue. There is really just too much information that I'm almost tempted to get into, but I think the basics will suffice rather than breaking down the details of each class, topic, and bullet points. Anybody with more interest can visit some of the sites and links or just contact me for more details. Thanks Sam for the invite.


scottellington said...

Having completed a reasonable amount of reading at New View, followed links and wishlisted both forms of Petals, I've reached the tentative conclusion that the proper course of action for a guy like me is to butt out of the mysterious relationship between a presumably limited number of women and their (presumably mercenary and unprincipled) labiaplasts...because male opinions are a significant portion of the problem. And while I happen to belive that labiaplasty is incredibly close to atrocious medieval, anti-scientific practices like infibulation and pharonic circumcision, my opinion is ridiculously irrelevant to candidates for these procedures.

The fact is, if my opinion mattered, I'd very much prefer more labia minora to less, truth be told.

Karl said...

Very good topic. I am hoping we will have a rebellion against this trend to be perfect. I am all for people being healthy, but this fixation for perfection is scary. I love the variations humanity shows. If everyone has the same nose, breasts, butt, vulva or penises, we lose the unique beauty.

This goes for art. I appreciate your art because you show the true beauty of your models. Your artistic exploration with color, post processing, and manipulation do not create a lie about the model, but instead enhances their uniqueness and tells unique narratives. Kudos to you.

Photo Anthems.com said...

Thanks so much, Karl. Its definitely not an easy tasking much less one open to broad discussions. I thought it was pretty cool to be able to talk intelligently and honestly about this subject as if we were discussing the global warming. There was a stern sense of urgency in the message but it had no taboo undertone. It was both informative and encouraging.

lizmarsden said...

Thanks for directing me towards this blog, it really is such an interesting topic - and it always seems to me, as a woman, that actually male opinion is not the problem. I used to read a magazine which would ask normal men-on-the-street a question every week and publish the results, one week the question was asked "do you prefer natural or fake breasts" only 10% would go fake, mainly citing reasons such as "it shows the girl takes care of herself and cares about her appearance".
I actually think the main problem is other women. I spent my formative years (age 15-18) in an all-male friend group - I was the only girl so I received many complements and had no one to negitively compare myself to. I find it striking when I talk to other women, including my own mother, and they have so many complaints about such minor flaws. I can look at my body and find imperfections but I can honestly say they do not bother me on a day to day basis.

I agree with Karl, I like to see natural bodies on display, when I attended life drawing class it was always an asymmetrical "flawed" model who was the most interesting to draw!

Sorry for the rant!

Photo Anthems.com said...

Rant on. Your point of other women being a possible reason for this was one discussed at the conference, to great detail, I might add. There was actually lots of opinions, questions, and discussions of various point of views that was covered openly and frankly. For a little bit, I felt really out of place, being one of only a couple of men in attendance, but somehow, I eventually fit right in. Thanks for the commentary. Direct some of your friends this way. I'd love to hear more opinions.