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Lithium Private parts

Dec. 14, 2018
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Your vagina is private, and no one is allowed to touch it. You are the boss of yourself. 

That’s what I was taught as a little girl. I think I took to heart the part that no one was the boss of me—I grew up feeling like the rules didn’t apply to me. They still don’t. But I understand my vagina now. I didn’t then.

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I got my period in the fifth grade. I went through puberty really early, and I understood nothing about my body. We hadn’t even had our first sex-ed lesson yet, and I was in the bathroom, guessing what I was seeing. Earlier that day, I had played the violin at a school concert. It was 1999, and I had on a velvet shirt and an ankle-length skirt that was so ‘90s. By antiquated standards, I became a woman before the 21st century began several months later. 

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In middle school, the school nurse came into our classroom and told us that she would need to examine us for scoliosis. This would require us to remove our shirts and bend over. It would happen in the locker rooms. We could wear bathing suits if we felt uncomfortable. It would be weird not to wear one when everyone else was. I stood in line, my bathing suit on under my clothes. When it was my turn, I took off my shirt, bent over, and was told my back was fine.

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I got my first yeast infection in the eighth grade. I was a ballet dancer who would sweat for hours in leotards, so in retrospect it’s not surprising. I had to insert medication into my vagina. The yeast infection never went away even after all the treatments. Turns out, I was never actually inserting the medication correctly, just pushing it into the very opening. I just didn’t understand how far in things could go.

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Tampons scared me. I don’t know what it was I thought would happen. I just knew I didn’t want it to. I wore pads until college.

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I don’t remember how old I was when I learned that the hole where you pee is different from the hole where you menstruate, but I know I was in high school. That was the same night I learned what a clitoris was. How did anatomy class fail me so much? Did they even talk about the clitoris in the 5th grade, in sex ed when I could barely pay attention because all I could think about was how uncomfortable learning this stuff made me? When all I could think was that, surely, they weren’t really called “testes;” that just sounded like a nickname the teacher made up.

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The first gynecologist I went to was horrible. It hurt so bad, and she yelled at me to “relax.” She told me my cervix was “way up there.” I didn’t know what that meant. I was too uncomfortable to speak and, anyway, if I asked, what would she yell back at me as the answer?

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My first sexual experience was awful; I was nineteen and drunk. It was in a walk-in closet. I felt violated. I was bleeding the next morning, hungover and sickened—was this something I did, or was I something he used? I went to that same gynecologist. Told her what happened. Asked for an STD test. She swabbed my mouth while saying, “You shouldn’t get drunk and hook up with people you don’t know at parties.” All judgment, but no STDs.

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“Why do women always go to the bathroom together?” In college, guys at parties would ask this question rhetorically; they were speaking into air, not looking for an answer. And I was too young to really have an answer. So I said nothing. And in my silence, women grouping together for safety became another girl-on-girl fantasy for men. Women in the bathroom together. Everything I ever did at parties was simply a performance for men’s fantasies. Including my silence.

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I took birth control all through college. It rendered me essentially asexual. I didn’t think about my vagina very much.

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In a Dane Cook comedy special, he joked that he didn’t like women whose vaginas look like a “bunch of cow tongues.” I suddenly felt ashamed. What did my vagina look like to men? With all the things I was already self-conscious about, now I had to worry about my vagina? I stopped laughing at things Dane Cook said. I worried about the attractiveness of my vagina.

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I went off of birth control, and it was like a second puberty. But this time, I was reborn and it was wonderful. 

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When I finally made the choice to do what I wanted with my vagina, everyone’s first question was, “Did you use a condom?” So much for sexual revolution. (And yes, obviously.)

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I’ve spent the majority of my life not understanding my body or the parts of it that are supposed to be private. But for me, the parts that are supposed to be private are such a vital part of who I am. And so for nearly three decades I hated and misunderstood everything about myself, and my anxiety always led me to think that I was dying somehow, and it was my vagina’s fault. And my guilt was my vagina’s fault, too. Or mine, for having a vagina at all. 

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I understand everything there is to know about my vagina now. More than anyone ever will, and certainly more than any man ever has. And I know that it’s normal-looking, because all vaginas are normal-looking.

And any guy who says differently probably hasn’t seen a lot of vaginas.