Pubic hair and body positivity can be a tricky issue. On the one hand, people absolutely have the right to cut, shape, dye, remove or in any other way sculpt their own personal body space! I get how it can be liberating and a way of taking control of your own body and quite literally shaping your intimate identity.
On the other hand, there seems to be a growing repulsion for body hair that isn’t manicured. A dislike for ‘natural’ hair, particularly (but not exclusively) when it comes to vulvas. Some people specifically find it ‘unhygienic‘. This despite the fact that pubic hair, like the hair on your head, has specifically protective functions.
So trim and go as bare as you dare around your nether regions if you want to. But maybe think about why your doing it!
Rounding off the year, let’s have a look at penises! We (the societal ‘we’) tend to be a bit more familiar with the constituent parts than we are with vulvas…
Glans: This is the tip or ‘head’ of the penis.
Foreskin: This is a fold of skin that covers the glans of the penis. It can be removed, either at birth or later in life, for either medical or cultural reasons in a process called circumcision. Rates of this practice vary across the world and it isn’t as common in the UK as in other parts of the world.
Urethra: The opening of the penis. Semen, urine and discharge can leave the body here. As with discharge from the vagina, this can be normal. Changes in the discharge (e.g. smell or colour), especially when accompanied by other symptoms (pain, itchiness) can however indicate something’s not quite right and might need checking out.
Shaft: This is the main bit of the penis. Internally are found the tubes that carry urine and semen out of the body, as well as blood vessels supplying the penis – this is part of the mechanism that causes the penis to become hard and bigger during an erection.
The average penis size is 9 cm when not erect, although there is a fairly large and health variation in this.
Thrush is one of the causes of unusual vaginal discharge. Usually not ‘offensive’ smelling, it is often described as ‘cottage cheese’ – it has that kind of lumpy and white quality. Or like the chest of the bird thrush, which is speckled and light compared to the rest of its body!
Unlike other causes of abnormal discharge, it is not a sexually transmitted infection. STIs are spread from person to person, through direct contact such as skin-to-skin or bodily fluids (saliva, mucous, semen, blood, etc). Thrush however, is an overgrowth of a type of fungal yeast (candida albicans) that ordinarily lives in other parts of the body, without causing an infection.
As well as the discharge, it is usually accompanied by an itching feeling. Thrush proliferates in damp parts of the body. As well as being able to cause infection in the vagina, in can therefore cultivate under the foreskin of the penis, or in skin folds around the rest of the body.
Vaginal thrush is treated with a cream, a pessary (i.e. a ‘tablet’ that comes with a device to be put straight in to the vagina), an oral tablet or combinations of these. In the UK, this treatment is available ‘over the counter’ – you can go to a pharmacy and get it without a prescription. However, it’s a good idea to go to your GP if it’s the first time you’ve had thrush. They can then check that this is what it is. It’s important to get further medical help if you’ve had regular infections or tried the treatment before and it isn’t working. You may also need to see your doctor if you have other medical complications as well.
NHS, ‘Thrush in Men and Women’, accessed 14.11.2018.
Wikipedia, ‘Candida Albicans’, accessed online 14.11.2018.
Centre for Disease Control and Protection, ‘Candidiasis’, accessed 15.11.2018.
EMC, ‘Canestan Duo Patient Information Leaflet’, accessed online 15.11.2018.
Genitals. Everyone has them. Sometimes they have weird and wonderful bits. Do you know where to find a raphe of a penis? How about the bartholin’s glands? Occasionally we don’t seem to know how to use them, or what they are for. Sometimes they go wrong. Ever feel like we should be handed a manual? You know – ‘Genitals: A User’s Guide.’ Maybe it could be issued sometime before puberty. That’s what I’d like to create over the next few months – ‘Genital’s: A User’s Manual’. With words and pictures.
Let’s start with the basics. The external genitalia. For a lot of people there are two basic flavours: the penis ( and it’s sidekick the scrotum or testicles) or the vulva get up. Note that I don’t (and won’t) use the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ to delineate these two. Chromosomal and genetic sex is separate from gender identity – people of both and any gender can have either genitalia. Also, it is possible for people to be born with genitalia that do not fit in to this penis/ vagina divide – again, more on that later.
We tend to be pretty familiar with the basic components of penises – the pole and two balls, depicted for generations on the walls of public loos. A little more mysterious seems to be the vulva. People often refer to this as a ‘vagina’. Technically though, vagina is the name for the hole bit – the bit that connects the outside world to the inside (more detail on that next week). The vulva is the word used to describe all of the external parts.
Here are a very small collection of words that we use for genitals in English. I think it’s important to have the vocabulary to describe genitals if we’re going to talk about them in more detail. Enjoy – and let me know (@SquiSquaSque) if you’ve got any favourite words for ‘down there’ that I haven’t included.
Today I was at a teaching session for trainee Obstetrician/Gynaecologists. At one point, these words were uttered:
“If a woman’s been told by her boyfriend that her vulva looks abnormal, it’s YOUR job, especially YOU [points to the two men in the room] to say that you’ve seen far more than him & it ISN’T.”
Insecurities about genitals is the idea behind The Great Wall of Vagina (dull accuracy announcement: it’s actually vulvas, not vaginas, but still great).
There is a huge amount of variation in how external genitalia look. Humans have a great variety in height, build and skin tone. We are all so different that we find it remarkable when we find someone whose face is a little like ours. Why would this be any different in your nether regions?