Much ado about pussy: Vagina 101 project

There must be something wrong with me. I don’t go squeamish when I hear the word ‘vagina’. Or any of the other anatomical references to female genitalia (vulva, labia, clitoris etc etc). Nor do I feel in any way shocked or offended when the words penis, testes or glans fall into a conversation (in context). But apparently I am an exception.

I’ve just spent a bit of time reading about a new coffee table book entitled Vagina 101, containing 216 pages of black and white photographs of vaginas with stories to accompany them. Yep, you heard me right. Coffee table book. (More thoughts on that later).

Perhaps it was the intensive psycho-self-examination I subjected myself to in my twenties, but I’m pretty comfortable with my body and, in particular, my lovely lady-bits. I have my frumpy days, same as everyone else, but for the most part I’m at peace with my lumps, bumps and pussy. Yet looking at why this book came about, and at its contents, comfort appears to be the exception rather than the rule when it comes to how women (and men) feel about the good old vajayjay.

The book is all about breaking down taboos and stigma attached to that wellspring of pleasure, the female genitalia. It’s an ambitious and creative project, at its heart well intentioned, interesting and probably very challenging to many [see a sample here]. But I do wonder if it’s achieving what it has set out to do, because who, other than the women appearing in it, will buy it? I’ll tell you who - the converted.

I’m no prude and I’m a strong advocate of women claiming their bodies back from the cultures that still try to own and control them, but I’m not 100% sure that I want a shiny, hardcover, gorgeous looking book full of other women’s vaginas sitting on my coffee table to prove it. Aside from the fact that I’d be answering some serious questions from the parents of every child who visited, I’m not that keen on gazing over a bunch of labias while watching TV or listening to some smooth vinyl on my stereo.

To be honest, I’d love to own a copy of this book and may well buy it sometime in the future. It represents everything I believe in when it comes to women’s bodies: honesty, acceptance, openness. I might even consider its companion volume being put together as we speak, Penis101 (okay, maybe not). But if I owned a copy I wouldn’t have it on public display. I have enough emotional intelligence to know it will offend some of the people I know, and if I offend them at the outset I’ve already lost them in the conversation. They will be judging me instead of listening to me, and their ear is of more use in helping them see things differently than their shock.

I absolutely applaud the women who participated in Vagina 101 project. I can imagine the experience was validating and hopefully empowering for them. And, for their sake, and the sake of the very brave photographer who created it, I hope it goes some way to achieving its aims.

[As a point of interest on the ‘coffee-table-display-and-children’ issue, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with my daughter seeing the pictures. They’re only bodies and nothing she hasn’t already seen in the pool change rooms many times before. I’d draw the line at the text, however, because I don’t believe children need to be exposed to complex adult reflections on their own bodies. The poor little buggers have enough to deal with just growing up.]

Would you have Vagina 101 on your coffee table?

More articles on Vagina 101 project and vaginas at large:

SMH - Private parts go public

Daily Life - Vagina Bombing



I’m not prudish either…and kudos to the photographers and the women inside the book. I think the important point I would get out of such a book is the empowerment of the women – baring all for the camera, and the world – and being proud of their bodies. But I don’t need to look  In a past life I was a midwife and a gynaecology nurse. I’ve seen them all LOL. Another great post Kate 

KateBellex's picture


I get you Maggie! I’ve been to more nude beaches and alternative dress meditation affairs than I care to name, so I’ve seen PLENTY of live ones in my time. But, like you, I still like the idea of the book and can see its enormous value. Thanks for dropping by. x

Hi Kate! So we meet again on the subject of Vagina 101!
I’m a bit of a hypocrite because I haven’t purchased myself a copy yet, but I fully intend to do so and I am not part of what you would call the ‘converted’. Ok, so I’m open minded, but I am as regular as they come and I’ve got as many hang ups as the average woman. I’m not like the brave women who have posed for this mighty book or even the kind of person who you would think would buy a big, glossy coffee table book filled with thighs and vulvas. But I think I am exactly the kind of person who will help this book achieve the success it seeks to gain: I am an educated, open minded woman with 3 daughters who are growing up in a coastal town where girls as young as 11 get around in bikinis and nothing else for at least 6 months of the year. Kids grow up fast in towns like this, so fast that our local primary school recently had to open the annual sex education nights to parents of 4th and 5th graders where previously it had only been for the year sixes. My girls are going to get curious at some stage and they are going to be exposed to things I can’t control.
No, I am not going to keep this book on my coffee table (for one thing it would be destroyed in no time, graffitied with crayon, pages torn -you get the picture), instead I will keep it on a high shelf with my other lovely books of art, photography etc and I will get it out when the occasion calls for it. Occasions that might call for it would be when the subject comes up over a few wines with girlfriends or, much more importantly, when one of my daughters has reached adolescence and she is questioning the world and having doubts about her body. I can use this book to show her that she is perfectly healthy and normal. I can guide her and supervise her whilst we look at the book together and even though she will think I am the biggest dag in the world, at least I have shown her the truth as opposed to what she will discover with her friends on the internet when they google porn (because they WILL, no matter what you do they will find a way because they are kids and they are curious).
I think it’s ordinary, average people who can make a difference in young girls’ perceptions of their bodies. I have to emphasise again, I’m not a really ‘out there’ person, although I’d love to be, I’m pretty average and ordinary. But when my girls are at a friends house and they’re talking about sex and their bodies and someone says, “hey, my dad’s got a big box of porn mags,” I’d like to think that one of my girls will say, “well hey, my mum’s got a big book of vaginas, we can go look at that!” Of course they wouldn’t be able to look at it without me, but you get the idea.
I think this book is a great dialogue opener and the people who need to engage in a dialogue like this are regular folk like me, hence why I’m an ideal person to have this book. It’s a huge advantage being a regular Joe because I can talk about it objectively, academically if need be, and in this way I don’t really think anyone could make a convincing argument that I’m a horrible pervert.
Wow, sorry, I wrote heaps!

KateBellex's picture

Wow Kate, that was a big reply. I hope you do buy a copy and others like you follow suit. But I have to say, I think you are ‘converted’ because you can see the usefulness of it and it’s value in educating our girls. It’s on my birthday list, but I reckon I’m gonna have to buy it myself.

I own a copy of this book and you have reminded me that I REALLY must write about it on my blog. I am also a Mother of two. When the book first arrived I left it on the side in the dinning room hoping that one or other of them (or hopefully both) would ask about it and as a result it would stimulate an interesting and open conversation. I left it there for a VERY long time. Neither one of them every commented on it. Ha! I have put it up on the shelf now with the other big books but I shall attempt it again and certainly at some point instigate the conversation myself. Personally I think EVERY teen (both boys and girls) should be introduced to the book so that they experience true and honest representations of how woman look rather than the sanitised often photo shopped images they seem in magazines and on the internet. The barbie ( a form of plastic surgery on the female genitalia) is called a barbie for a reason and don’t want my daughter to ever believe that is a standard she should be striving for.

KateBellex's picture

Thanks Molly for your wonderful reply. I agree, this is a perfect book for teenagers and young adults, who tend to be squeamish about bodies in general. How funny your kids said nothing. Do you think they were too embarrassed?
My daughter is only 8 and, as I said, would have no trouble with the pics (she’d probably find them hilarious) but I don’t think I’d be able to explain the text to her, and she reads EVErYTHING.
Good luck with your next attempt! Xxx

One of the things that I want to hug my mum for is the way she approached sex and sexuality when I was growing up. She was frank, she was honest, and entirely open with me. But the best thing? She never, ever restricted what I read.
From a very early age, I *devoured* books. Everything and anything I could get my hands on. Her approach was to take note of what I was reading (she’d nearly always read it herself if the content looked like it might be something more mature) – and then ask me if I had any questions about what was going on in the text. I can’t recall having anything with explicit pictures in the house, but I don’t think her stance would have been any different if we had.
Now I’m the parent and my house is packed to the gunnels with books. They are practically a furnishing in and of themselves. I’ll read the back of a custard packet, so there’s a real mixture on display; lots of mainstream fiction and non fiction but also a pretty large quantity of erotica and non-fiction titles that focus on sex. Do I hide the latter books from view? No. For the most part, they’re on mid-level shelves, out of the direct line of sight of small people, but they’re not obscured or hidden. My take is this: if they’re going to go to the effort of climbing up and getting them down – and I think they’re a fair way away from that yet – then it’s time for a talk. Why do you want to look at this book? Have you read any of it? What do you think it’s about? Is there anything in it you don’t understand? I don’t want to expose them to anything they’re not ready for but neither do I want to be secretive or ashamed.
Like you, Kate, I’d let my two look at the pictures in Vagina 101; any exposure I can give them to ‘normal’ bodies in an educational and/or informative context has to be a good thing, in my opinion. I don’t want my son to grow up thinking that women should have completely hairless pubic areas or my daughter to believe that her vagina doesn’t fit an ‘ideal’ perpetuated by porn. The words? I can’t really make them out in the sample – even magnified! :-/ – but I don’t think I would stop them reading if they could actually stumble their way through the text. I’d just make sure I was there beside them, ready to answer questions, as they did.

KateBellex's picture

You are very lucky to have a mum like that. What great modelling for you. I guess I’m not up to explaining complicated things in simple language, but the time is fast coming when I will have to. I’m taking a leaf out of your book, Jane. Thank you. X

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