Vanity Fair

The Vagina Wears Diamonds

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Mints, deodorants, diamonds, bleach—words we never thought would be preceded by the word ‘vagina’. How the vagina is going glam and why

What’s new in sex? Remember that episode in Friends when Rachel’s mother asks her this question and proceeds to announce that she’s going to try a homosexual relationship? I miss those days. These days, when I ask this question—on Twitter, at parties, on Facebook (and sometimes just to piss off the prissy aunty who keeps warning mum that no ‘decent’ guy will ever marry me)—I’m almost afraid to hear the answer. Because these days, more often than not, the answer falls somewhere between the asinine, the odd and the downright bizarre. Not surprising, considering that 60 per cent of women around the world think that their vaginas are ugly and disproportionate, according to the International Vagina Dialogue Survey in 2009. No wonder there are probably over 1,000 recognised euphemisms for ‘vagina’ in the English language (sticky bun, pecan pattie, sausage wallet, butter boat and whatnot). If we’re going to call our vaginas—or allow them to be called—all sorts of offensive names, we’re going to treat them likewise. Eve Ensler, the director and writer of The Vagina Monologues, in an interview with Women.com, said that the story of a woman’s vagina is the story of her life and women want to talk about their lives… if only they had the opportunity.

While looking for an answer to the question, ‘What’s new in sex?’, I found myself comparing vaginas to bags—far too many women seem to want a designer one. The saddest part? These are all well-spoken and well-educated women who exude confidence and are at the top of their games. Again, I can’t but agree with Ensler when she says that to be truly liberated, a woman needs to live inside her vagina. I quote: “Some women, even feminists, criticise me [for] singling out the physical aspect of women to talk about. There are some women who ask, ‘What about the brain?’ I’m not saying women don’t need to think. But I am saying that you can think all you want to and have all the great ideas and theories, but nothing changes. I completely lived in my head for years and years and nothing changed. It was only when I began to live in my vagina that the world really changed.”

So then why are well-spoken, well-educated and emancipated (on the surface at least) women treating their vaginas like a mystical land that is visited and spoken of on a strictly need-to basis? What’s gone wrong?

According to Maitri Verma, a 25-year-old in Delhi, what’s wrong is the taste of her vagina. (Yes, we needed a minute to pick up our jaw from the floor too.) Maitri uses vaginal mints to make oral sex more palatable for her partner. “My boyfriend would keep complaining that I tasted really bad and so he stopped going down on me. It used to make me feel uncomfortable and ugly,” admits Maitri. “Then on one of his trips abroad, he brought back a pack of vaginal mints,” says Maitri, “He’s happy, I feel confident, and the oral sex has resumed.” But before you pop the magic pill like Maitri, we suggest you read the fine print. Most vaginal mints carry a disclaimer saying, ‘For novelty use only.’ What this essentially means is that the manufacturer is sufficiently shielded from the law in case something goes awry. In 2009, Mother Jones magazine decided to conduct its own research and realised that these ‘Altoids for your lady parts’ were actually just that—little cubes of sugar that looked, smelled and tasted like regular mints made by the same company. Is a yeast infection a fair price to pay for a mint-flavoured vagina? We don’t think so. Perhaps a better solution would be to take the ultimate blow job revenge—preserve some of his funky load and give him a taste of his own medicine (quite literally) the next time he complains about the ‘icky’ taste down there.

Hot on Maitri’s heels is Sara Verghese, 23, from Mumbai. While Maitri was conscious of the way her vagina tastes, Sara decided to take drastic measures to alter the way it smells. “Oral sex is so much more enjoyable when I’m confident that it doesn’t smell dirty,” says Sara. “I used to use regular ones on the insides of my thighs and close to the labia,” she admits. That was before she discovered vaginal deodorants online, and after that, life was a bed of roses. But not quite, because what’s actually happening is that Sara and other women like her are turning their nether regions into a toxic wasteland. The chemicals used in vaginal deodorants are the same as those in hard surface disinfectants that are carcinogenic when absorbed by the skin. And it’s the most sensitive part of your anatomy that you’re lathering these chemicals on. So ditch the toxic fumes and tell him to clamp his nose, just like you keep yourself from gagging, while practising the 69.

If the vagina smells bad and tastes bad, there must be something inherently dirty about it, right? Obviously. And that’s why the world gave us women douches. No, we’re not talking about men, we’re talking about the chemical fluids or water used to ‘clean’ the vagina and rid it of its natural smell. The idea behind douching is to clean the vagina of either menstrual blood or secretions. Vaginal secretions are nature’s way for the vagina to clean itself and maintain its chemical balance. Regular douching changes this balance and makes women vulnerable to infections. If you’re using a chemical douche, it can introduce bacteria into your vagina and cause irritation or infection. In case of a pre-existing infection, douching might push the bacteria up and into the uterus, causing severe problems. Douching has been linked to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), ectopic pregnancy and even infertility, which is why it is widely discouraged by medical advisors across the world.

Being a woman is not easy. It’s not enough that we scrub, shine, wax and polish every visible and invisible surface of our body so that the delicate sensibilities of the men in our lives are not hurt; it’s not even enough that our underarms must match our body colour which must match our face colour. Now, even our intimates must come straight out of the Barbie shade card. If it’s not peachy and pink, it’s not worthy of an orgasm, is it? At least that’s what vaginal bleaching cream makers would have us believe. A small mercy is that when I went vaginal bleach hunting at the unfriendly neighbourhood chemist, he looked at me like I had sprouted horns. Ditto at the second and third chemist I tried. So I assume that vaginal bleaches aren’t being sold over the counter yet. But there’s a slew of vaginal (and anal and nipple) lightening products available online.

Skin Bleaches, all skin bleaches, contain two principal chemicals—hydroquinone and mercury. Both chemicals have been banned in the UK on account of their toxic nature. Both have been linked to skin cancer, premature ageing, liver and kidney failure and mercury poisoning. So the next time your partner surreptitiously leaves a vaginal bleach ad for you to discover on your computer, reciprocate by booking him for the male equivalent of a Brazilian wax. See how he reacts to the torture of his reproductive plumbing.

How can we talk about sex and not talk about the Great Indian Marriage Market? Hymen resurrection is what’s keeping the myth called ‘the virgin Indian bride’ alive for many parents auctioning their virtuous daughters. Hymenoplasty means the surgical reconstruction of the hymen and is very popular among young brides-to-be who want to start over with a clean slate or are petrified of being ‘discovered’.

 “Mine was an arranged marriage. We’re from a conservative family and I didn’t know how my husband would react if he found out I wasn’t a virgin,” says a 27-year-old from Kolkata. For this precise reason, Mumbai-based cosmetic and plastic surgeon Dr Manoj Manjwani sees a growing number of patients each month. “Hymen repair is a very popular surgery at my clinic,” he says, “It takes about half an hour or one hour, and there is no post-op care involved. The girl comes, gets it done and goes back home. After the operation, she only has to wait for the stitches to dissolve.” A few days before her wedding, the Kolkata 27-year-old slipped out of her house with a friend, and voila, within a couple of hours, she was a virgin again. Round two at the virginity club cost her roughly Rs 40,000 to 45,000, but to her mind, it was money well-spent. “The money is nothing compared to the constant fear I was living in,” she says.

Sonali Kumar’s reasons were different. “I was married to my first lover, my boyfriend from college. Our marriage ended bitterly after I discovered he was cheating on me with my best friend. I wanted to wipe him out completely. You can never forget your first lover, but having two first lovers is a good consolation prize,” she says. Although it isn’t physically harmful, the idea of voluntarily signing up for the virginity-losing experience seems a bit strange. Want to hear something stranger? This is what Dr Rohit Krishna, plastic and cosmetic surgeon at Max Hospital, Gurgaon, has to say: “Indian women are very sexually active but get cold feet before their weddings. So they opt for surgery. Some of them come for hymenoplasty and then opt for labiaplasty or laser vaginal resurrection as well.”

Labia-what, we wondered as well. Labiaplasty and laser vaginal resurrection are the less-known cousins of breast augmentation and tummy tucks. Going from a 32A to 36C, or the transformation of a stiff upper lip to kissable, pillowy lips is so yesterday. Today is about cutting up and stitching the vagina of his dreams. And if you thought it’s a Western trend, think again. Labiaplasty, or tightening of the labia, is a highly sought-after surgery in India. Dr Krishna says that the number of inquiries for vaginal beautification has gone up from one a month in 2010 to over six every month in 2012. “The industry is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s all very hush-hush still, but it is definitely growing,” he says, “The women who come to me are very sexually active and have read about vaginal beautification. Some of them have really big labias that don’t look good at all. So to make the sexual experience better, they go for such surgeries. Labiaplasty usually costs anywhere between Rs 45,000 and 55,000.”

Dr Manjwani echoes Dr Krishna: “Vaginal beautification, as a concept, is fast catching on in India, especially in the bigger cities. Each month, I get 4-5 inquiries about vaginal beautification surgeries. Earlier, girls used to come on their own because they were conscious of how their private parts used to look. Now they come with their boyfriends and husbands.” Considering that a 2008 study by Britain’s Channel 4 revealed that 43 per cent women would consider vaginal beautification surgery if the opportunity arose, it’s not surprising that women are willing to shell out mega bucks to iron out this glitch in their otherwise wrinkle-free existence. Vaginas aren’t meant to be as soft as butter, smooth as silk and hairless as Ben Kingsley’s head, no matter what you see on YouPorn. So save the dough and make the downpayment for your new car instead.

When I heard about this one, I had a long head-meets-wall moment of frustration. I wish we women would give ourselves a break. While all the misters do is plant their seed and thrust their chest in pride when it bears fruit, we are the ones who manage to push out a 4-something-kilo, 20-inch long, living, breathing person from our bodies. And our vaginas aren’t rubber bands that can stretch to breaking point and then bounce back into shape without a hint of change. Laser vaginal resurrection tightens the vagina to increase sexual pleasure. The procedure costs about Rs 65,000 to 75,000 and comes with the risk of permanent scarring, rectal damage, nerve damage and urine retention. Instead, Google ‘Kegel’s exercises’ for yourself and buy a copy of the Kama Sutra for him!

I thought I was a real badass for getting my ears pierced multiple times. The nose piercing cemented that pompous opinion of yours truly. Then came the tattoo and I thought I had conquered the world of pain, that if I could go through this, I must truly be invincible. But what literally made my toes curl and uterus contract (am almost certain) in fright was this one—genital piercings. Simply put, it is a decorative stud or sliver of metal dangling from the hood of the clitoris or lips of the labia.

When this woman at a party announced to me and roughly 30-odd strangers present that she’d gotten a piercing down there, I was at first horrified, then admittedly a little curious. And so I went case-study hunting. For the woman at the party, it was a first anniversary present for her boyfriend. For the petrified woman I pinned down at my resident tattoo artist’s studio, however, it was something her husband was insisting upon, “to, you know, make me more responsive”, she muttered under her breath. AJ, from AL’s Tattoo and Body Piercing Studio in Mumbai,  assures me that genital piercings are just like piercings anywhere else. “You just need to be careful for a little while, avoid tight clothes, and in case of any formation of pus, wash it away with salt water,” he says with a wave of his hand. Easy peasy. Except that the idea of pus in my nether regions makes me want to run to the woods, screaming in terror. Clearly, he’s not sold the idea to me.

If you’re contemplating it and your reasons are the same as my studio victim’s, here are a few things that might help you decide—against it, hopefully. Technically, very few women make the cut for a piercing of the clitoris. If your clitoris is small or you’re diabetic, you can’t get one, end of story. Even if you do make the cut, the chances of infection are severe, and if you’re lucky enough to find a decent piercer who plays by the book, s/he won’t even agree to it without a thorough physical examination first. If your piercer forgets to mention this little detail, get out of there as soon as your heels will take you, honey! Besides, clitoral piercings can take about six to eight months to heal, can be extremely uncomfortable, and don’t actually enhance sexual pleasure. For something aimed at exactly that, having to abstain for extended periods of time seems like a bit of a conflict of interest. As for a piercing of the labia, do yourself a favour and look into that Godforsaken mirror. The labia are too far away from the clitoris for a piercing there to stimulate sexual pleasure. It’s like a lip piercing coming in the way of digging your nose. You get? What’s wrong with the old-fashioned way, I seriously wonder. Your partner could do with the tongue and jaw exercise. Research shows it slows down the process of ageing around the mouth. Everyone wins.

Until a few weeks ago, I would never have contradicted anyone who said one can never have too many books, shoes or diamonds, but that was in the pre-vajazzle days. Vajazzling is a trend that caught on in the late noughties, after Jennifer Love-Hewitt admitted to routinely jazzing up her vagina with Swarovski crystals to get over a breakup. Vajazzling means glamming up your women parts with diamonds, crystals and other sparkly stones. It burns a serious hole in the pocket, considering it only lasts two to five days, until the hair on your vagina starts growing back. Put the money you’d spend on those sparkly crystals in an FD and make do with their poor Indian cousin—the good ol’ stone bindi will cost about one-hundredth the price of those stones. Anyway, the objective is to try something new, not turn your vagina into a sunlight reflector. Also, make sure you get your own back with penazzle.

Clitter, or glitter for the clitoris, is the budget woman’s vajazzle. While it’s only a decorative product and not as risky as the other procedures mentioned, I still can’t dispel the thought of allergic reactions. Even if it is bejewelled, a yeast infection is a yeast infection, after all. If you must use clitter, make sure you steer clear of the clitoris and use it only as decoration on the outer walls of the labia. Although, personally, I still don’t see the point of it, unless you plan to pull a Yana Gupta and go commando in public.