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When I was 25, I made the very brave decision of shaving my pubic region. Within a span of a few minutes, I went from being a woman who regularly trimmed for good hygiene to clean bowled down there just because… well, isn’t that what grown women are supposed to do? At least that’s what pop culture taught me to believe.
Since I wasn’t going to put myself through the torture of getting waxed, shaving was the best possible solution. But here’s what Sex and The City and countless other American TV shows and films I was inspired by didn’t tell me about shaving my pubic mound: when the hair grows back all prickly, it’s the most uncomfortable feeling ever. And don’t even get me started about razor burn and the constant itching that needs tubs of aloe vera gel to tame.
It took a month for my pubic region to gain its luscious sheath again and I haven’t touched a razor since then. What I have done, however, is talk to my close female friends about how they take care of pubic area and vaginal health.
Women often shy away from talking about their vaginas for the fear of being judged
“A few years ago, I noticed—perhaps for the first time—that my vaginal lips weren’t the same colour as the rest of my body. But I didn’t talk to my mom, sister, or even friends about it because I was worried they might think I’m dirty,” says 31-year-old Swasthi Arora*.
For 27-year-old Nitisha Bhalla*, it was the way her pubic mound looked that had her worried. “That’s not what women in porn look like. I think mine is an abnormal shape, but I don’t really know whom to talk to about it,” she confesses.
Reel is not real—especially not in porn, where women’s bodies are custom-made to fulfil male fantasies. Real bodies are varied, flabbier, and not even remotely as even-toned. And to understand the real female body in all its essence, we need to have real conversations with our real friends—to help us distinguish between what’s normal down there and what’s not.
It’s not easy—I know. But if you’re willing to take the plunge, then here are five conversations you must have with the women in your life about vaginas—so that you can understand yours better.
1. What do you use to wash yourself down there?
Vaginas are self-cleaning, but the vulva—the area that houses the vaginal opening and lips—isn’t. It needs some maintenance. Knowing how the women you know care for their pubic region can help you make better decisions, especially if you are thinking of buying intimate hygiene products.
2. Do you shave, wax, or do nothing at all?
Let’s be honest, your pubic hair is there for a reason. It protects you from STIs and there is no scientific evidence to suggest that you must get rid of it. But if you must, a healthy discussion about pubic hair with your friends can help you find the best option for yourself.
3. What does it look like?
This is perhaps the most pertinent conversation you can ever have about your vagina. Because guess what? Labia or vaginal lips come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Dark, light, with prominent outer lips or small and enclosed ones—there is no “normal looking” vagina. In fact, it is widely believed that no two vaginas look alike. So having a conversation about your labia with your friends can, in fact, help you become more comfortable about your body.
4. What does it smell like?
Most of us don’t even think of visiting a gynaecologist until and unless we have pregnancy on our minds. This basically means, we accept any odour emanating from our nether regions as normal—ignoring the first few signs of vaginal infections.
What you eat dictates how you’re vagina smells, so the chances are that you and your friends won’t smell alike. But talking to them can give you an understanding of what the normal or usual smells are—and whether or not you have a cause of concern.
5. Do you experience any discharge?
If not the smell, then the one thing that does get women spooked is vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge, in most cases, is fairly normal—until and unless you are oozing cheese curds like substances, which could be a sign of yeast infection. Talking to your friends about vaginal discharge can help you differentiate between healthy and troublesome secretions, and get help at the right time.
It’s time to normalise conversations about vaginas
Most women are more comfortable saying “penis” and “balls”, than they are naming their own nether region. This is just a small example of just how hesitant we are when it comes to discussing the female anatomy—even with our mothers and skilled doctors.
Talking more openly about vaginas is key to normalising conversations about female sexual health—and getting timely help for health problems most of us don’t even see coming.
Your vagina is as much a part of you as your lips, ears, arms, and legs. So if you can talk to your BFF about what kind of body lotion she uses, what can’t you talk to her about her choice of feminine hygiene product? What’s the worst that will happen anyway?
(*Names have been changed on request)