Monday, 20 November 2017
This year, a worrying increase in numbers of young women, as young as 16, reported to go through vaginal plastic surgery to make their vaginas look ‘better’. It seems that many young women think their vagina doesn’t look right.
Surgeons performing such interventions say that it is helping these young women have better ‘self-esteem’, which I think is incorrect.
Surgery only promotes the ‘perfect-looking vagina’ epidemic that seems to be spreading. As a psychosexual psychotherapist, I know that if we don't address the underlying issues that bring the distress around the look of vaginas, the surgery won't make that person have a better self-esteem.
The vagina is a complex structure with many important tissues. It can be traumatic to have unnecessary surgery in that area: it can in fact contribute to psychosexual problems. Having an operation before the age of 18 is not recommended because the body hasn't completely developed by then.
But, most of all, why go through that pain? Vaginal operations are only recommended if there is a genetic anomaly that makes sex very painful. If it is just cosmetic, it is not recommended.
If you have distressing thoughts about your vagina, here are some tips:
1- Look at other vaginas in the right places: not erotic images nor pornography. Look at anatomically, everyday, real pictures: you will see that all vaginas look very different and they are all normal and beautiful in their own way. There isn’t the ‘right’ amount of hair, or just the ‘right’ colour. Vaginas come in all sizes, shapes, hair and colours, etc.
2- Get to know your vagina: with a small mirror, look at your vagina: touch it gently, looking with curiosity. After looking at other pictures, you will see that yours is just as normal and beautiful as others.
3- Protect your vagina: if a boyfriend tells you that your vagina isn't hairless enough, or pretty enough, it is the equivalent of bullying: protect it and defend it. It may be that your boyfriend needs to educate himself about what vaginas actually look like.
4- Give a voice to your vagina: it may sound strange but it is a powerful exercise. If your vagina could speak, what would it say? As mentioned above, your vagina is a complex structure: it has much to say, and it might have a lot to say to respond to you not liking the look of it.
I see many women in my consulting room who have no relationship or a hate-relationship with their vaginas. This simple process of getting to know it, spending time with it, meeting it, protecting it, giving it a voice is a meaningful way to learn to love your vagina. In my experience it is the easiest, less invasive, less painful way to address permanently the issues of self-esteem, and feeling better about yourself.
There isn't just one way that your vagina ‘should’ look like. It is an important, tender, beautiful part of you, so, please, love your vagina.
Tuesday, 14 November 2017
I sit opposite a female client in my consulting room. I hear her say: ‘All men are evil. What hope do women have? How about our daughters?’. I challenge my client with the obvious: ‘I’m a man’. To my surprise, her facial expression was one of shock. It was difficult for her to reconcile her notion of ‘all men are evil’ and knowing me, a man who had been holding her emotional space and helped her heal over the last six months. Thoughts like ‘all men are evil’ is what we, psychotherapists, call ‘global thinking’.
I can’t blame her. Global thinking is prevalent in today’s society, especially through social media, as is ‘black and white thinking’: some things are good, some things are bad. There is no room for grey areas. Yet, my clinical experience, and life, has taught me that reality is hardly black or white, and is mainly composed of various shades of grey. During my career as a psychosexual and relationship therapist, I have noticed that global thinking and black and white thinking encourage the movement of shaming male sexuality and, at the same time, promoting the fear of male sexuality: ‘men who watch porn are bad’. ‘men are cheaters’. ‘men sexually offend’.
Douglas Murray calls this movement a ‘sexual counter-revolution’ in his article in The Spectator published on the 4th November 2017. In his opinion, the new ‘feminism’ is ‘producing manifestos for torturing men’ to the extent that ‘no sex at all’ will become the new appropriate behaviour. I fear that Murray is right, given what I hear in my consulting room, more and more, and especially since the Weinstein scandal and the subsequent #MeToo movement.
I am not denying the struggles of women in a patriarchal world: women have to endure men putting them down and sexually objectifying them, every day. It is not ok for women to live like this. The #MeToo movement has created empowerment for some women to speak out, which is positive. But it is equally important to remember that not all men are sexual offenders or predators. Most men are loving, caring and kind. Perhaps some are awkward and ignorant and say the wrong things at the wrong time: it is clumsy, but it is not a criminal offence.
Soon after #MeToo, another movement took off: #ImperfectMen, to encourage men to say that they are imperfect. What good would it do to anybody? With #ImperfectMen, it is a way to silence men again, and to put them all in the box of ‘Not Good Enough’. I prefer #WhatIHaveLearnt. This seems more appropriate to me because it can create a discussion without shame. Sadly, that one didn’t take off.
And, by the way, nobody is perfect.
What appeared on social media besides #MeToo and #ImperfectMen is multiple articles and blogs with headlines like: ‘The 5 top things to never say to a woman’. ‘The 10 things you must do to be a better man’. ‘The 5 signs to find out if your boyfriend is a cheater’, etc. Rather than ordering men to act exactly in this way or that way so that they can be a ‘good man’ or a ‘better man’, why not have an ongoing conversation between a man and a woman: because women, too, are not all the same.
Some women enjoy being told that they’re beautiful. Some others don’t. Some women enjoy the attention from strangers. Some women don’t. Some women have sexual fantasies of being dominant, others have sexual fantasies of being submissive. Some women enjoy a man taking control, some don’t. Some women welcome a flirty touch on the shoulder or the knee, some don’t. Some women enjoy watching porn, some don’t. Some women, too, exploit men’s vulnerability to coerce them into sexual behaviours, most don’t.
If there is no ongoing conversation between men and women, on an individual basis, then how can we understand what is right for one person and what is not for another?
The conversation is simple if we stop thinking in black and white terms, or in global thinking.
‘For me, this is ok to do this, and it is not ok when you do that’. This is boundary setting from one individual to another.
If someone unknowingly crosses a boundary and they are told so, this person must not minimise, argue or dismiss the assertion of boundaries, but simply listen to the boundaries, apologise and make sure they don’t cross the line again with this particular person. Then, they can ask for clarification: ‘what is acceptable for you?’: this is the basis of consent.
If this dialogue happens in this way, then you have two people who are honest and assertive and they can respect each other.
Of course, there are gross misconduct and criminal behaviours that we all agree should never happen, like any non-consensual activities and other illegal sexual behaviours. And we all have social norms to respect: not intimidate or ridicule another person. I think this is pretty easy to know what is right and what is wrong if you have been socialised by reasonable parents. Most men know about non-consensual sexual behaviours and what is illegal. And most men know about social norms, and they don’t breach them. This notion that male sexuality is dangerous and that it can get out of control quickly is pure fiction and fear mongering.
Of course male sex offenders exist, they are a tiny percentage of the population. These people should have the appropriate criminal sentence. And There are also female sex offenders who also should have the appropriate criminal sentence.
At the same time that we demonise men, we also order them to open up: ‘men must talk more because their mental health is poor’. Suicide statistics are worryingly high amongst young men. But how can we give a chance to men to open up if we’re going to shut them down as soon as they make a genuine mistake, or be clumsy or not knowing the right word to say at the right time?
Masculinity is beautiful. Male sexuality is as vibrant and loving as female sexuality. Let’s embrace all of it.
Rather than demonising men, I think it is best to meet each other with open arms, have honest ongoing conversations without making judgements and assumptions of what we are, what we think and what we are likely to do based on our gender.
My point in writing this blog is to offer a bit of balance in a discource that is often too black and white. We seem to live in a world that is polarised. But the fact is that we are men, we are women. We all do good things and bad things. We can unknowingly offend somebody by being insensitive and clumsy. Let us keep the judgement in the court room for the true sex offenders. And for the rest of us, let’s allow mistakes to happen, it is how we can learn from each other.