This past week I learned about a challenge that started about a month ago on the Internet: the Panty Challenge. Now, if the name isn’t enough to make you roll your eyes, the goal of the challenge should. The challenge asks women to post pictures of their underwear on social media to prove that they do not have any discharge and are thus “clean” women, implying they do not sleep around and are healthier.
Thankfully, the internet came through with a boatload of criticism for this challenge. Women all around were crying out that discharge is absolutely normal! In fact, not having discharge could lead to health problems and discomfort during sex. The vagina is a self-lubricating and self-cleaning organ that needs discharge.
This challenge spurred me to think of other myths we are still teaching people with vaginas about their bodies, specifically things we are teaching them about sex. If people honestly believe that discharge is a sign of promiscuity, there have to be other myths out there that need busted. Below, I have come up with three of the biggest myths that need addressed.
1. Your “first time” will hurt, and you will bleed.
Okay, there are a few issues with this myth. Firstly, we imply that a “first time” and thus real sex only occurs during penis-in-vagina sex. This definition is wildly heteronormative. Many people with vaginas in the LGBTQ+ may never choose to have PIV sex for any number of reasons. Other forms of sex are completely valid. It does not take the insertion of a penis to feel that you have lost your virginity or truly had sex.
Secondly, the first time you have PIV sex does not necessarily need to hurt nor will you necessarily bleed. The vagina can expand from about 3 inches to 5 inches during arousal to allow the comfortable entry of a penis or other object as the pleated wall of the vagina expand in an act known as tenting. Foreplay can also cause the vagina to produce lubrication to ease penetration and avoid discomfort. Many may not be mentally able to relax due to nerves and allow the level of arousal necessary for comfortable penetration; ironically a lot of these nerves may be caused by the idea that their first time will hurt regardless. If we all stop telling young people this myth, it will be a lot easier for relaxation and proper arousal to occur. (Note: Some may continue to experience pain due to a condition called vaginismus or physical size of vagina. If penetration continues to be painful regardless of situation, speaking with a doctor may be the best course of action.)
As for the bleeding part, this is not as likely as we are taught to believe. The myth of “popping your cherry” is not entirely untrue. Some biosex females have a hymen, a thin piece of tissue over the vaginal opening, that can break or tear during sex and cause some bleeding. However, the hymen does not always tear during the first time having PIV sex, and it may already be broken in those who have taken part in active sports or used tampons. Some women do not even have a hymen. Other bleeding may be the result of additional friction not being physiologically ready for penetration due to a lack of foreplay or relaxation as discussed above (though it may be an indicator of a more serious issue). Long story short: if we stop expecting a bloody, painful experience, it is less likely we will have one.
2. The clitoris is a small “bean” that is hard to find but gives the best orgasms.
If you are lucky enough to have been taught in your sex ed class about the clitoris and not just given the shark brain diagram of the internal female reproductive system, you are a step ahead of the game. However, a lot of us learn from the internet that the clitoris is some small thing that someday a man will learn to find and use to give you the world’s best orgasms.
In reality, the clitoris is not just the small external gland located at the apex of the labia minora (the inner lips of the vulva). You can easily find the gland at this point, just up from the urethral opening, but there’s a lot of the organ that you won’t be able to see. The clitoris is also an internal organ that wraps around the vagina. Think of it as a shape similar to a tuning fork with two bulbs on each part of the fork and the external part being the handle bit. While the gland has 8000 nerves (4000 more than the head of a penis!), other areas of the clitoris can be stimulated through the walls of the vagina or by rubbing the labia to also cause pleasure. The clitoris takes up a lot more real estate than we are giving it credit for when we write it off as just being a tiny bean.
It’s also important to remember though that all those nerves we were talking about? It’s possible that stimulating the gland will be too intense for some people. For all the talk of the best orgasms being clitoral, some may find direct clitoral stimulation painful and prefer indirect stimulation from stroking the clitoral hood (the skin above the gland) or labia. Others may prefer penetration. There is nothing wrong with not having the earth-shattering orgasms from clitoral stimulation that the internet hyped up; everyone is different. Always ask your partner what they want, and don’t be afraid to explore what you prefer on your own!
3. The vagina becomes “loose” from having too much sex.
This one just does not make sense. If someone can birth a child, a roughly watermelon-sized object, with very little difference in size of their vagina afterwards, a penis is not going to be able to wildly change how tight someone’s vagina may be. More specifically, having multiple partners of varying size will not cause a physical difference in size. Vaginas come in a variety of sizes. Some will be tight, some will be looser, but they are not going to change in size due to how little or how much sex someone has. The muscles of the pelvic floor can be exercised by doing Kegels to make the vagina seem tighter, but sex with multiple partners is not going to make these necessary; it is a choice you can make. Telling someone they will become loose and undesirable has been a method for controlling when and how people with vaginas have sex for far too long. If the shape of a penis is not changed by the number of times it has been in a vagina and the number of vaginas it has been in, why would the vagina radically change shape?
Additionally, this myth is part of the greater issue of shaming women into thinking their anatomy should be a certain way or it is wrong. Not too long ago, a picture comparing vulvas to sandwiches circulated social media that implied vulvas that were not perfectly symmetrical with small labia minoras were wrong and somehow an indicator of someone who does not take care of their sexual health. Every body is different and unless some aspect of your anatomy is causing you regular pain, it’s normal. We’re being conditioned to think that biosex females should have the same vulvas as porn stars, but we need to unlearn this. Asymmetrical, loose, tight, darker, lighter, lots of hair, not much hair, big clit, little clit: they are all normal.
It’s time to start spreading real knowledge on reproductive health, and stop spreading myths that will prevent people with vaginas from loving their bodies and living the type of sex life they want to have.