Words by Haley Jakobson (she/her) @haleyjakobson
My first viral tik tok was about my vagina. More specifically, my labia. I hopped on a viral sound trend where folks were making videos with something they like to talk about that everyone else thinks is strange. You present the thing you love to talk about, act as if somebody has shot you down, and you pout while lip-syncing the phrase “Nobody thinks what I think.”
The thing I like to talk about? Innie Vaginas and Outie Vaginas. Specifically, and with consent, I like to ask folks which kind they have. I use this silly shorthand to differentiate between vulvas with labial hypertrophy – essentially exposed labia —and vulvas where everything is kind of, like, tucked up there. I captioned the video “proud outie club” and sent it out to the tiktok ether without much thought.
Well, it wasn’t without any thought. Because I've always given my vulva a lot of thought. I didn’t have a choice in that. Starting in early childhood I was inundated with information about my vulva before I even had time to consider what I thought of it myself.
Read More by Haley: My Battle With Chronic Yeast Infections
I’m nearly-thirty, have had as much therapy as my brain can stand, and I've been through enough with my vagina that we’re in a pretty good place. And the delicious combination of time and therapy can start to untether us from the not-good stuff that got lodged in us early on, and there was a lot of not-good stuff lodged in me about my vulva.
But memory is a funny thing, and you can never know when something will jog it. And after I posted that video, I received an onslaught of comments that reminded me of everything I had attempted to unlearn about my vagina.
Beef curtains. Labiaplasties. Is this normal? I would do anything for an innie. The boys at school make fun of – they don’t go down on vaginas with – I tried to cut mine off – some girls are so lucky – I bleach mine – I thought there was something wrong with me —saving up for surgery – I hate mine so much I want to die – the comments went on and on and on.
Read More: How to Love Your Naked Body
Most of these comments were from teenagers, and were written with such urgency and sincerity that they stopped me in my tracks. Suddenly I was thrust into memories of girlhood and all the ways my vagina and I were pitted against each other from the get.
It started with my yeast infections. Chronic, starting at age eight. Agony. And then the rest. The first time I heard boys talk about a roast beef sandwich. When I realized that I had a vulva of the lunch-meat variety. When I watched porn and realized my vagina was quite a bit bigger, and far more purply-brown, than the itty-bitty-pinkish parts I saw on screen. When I snuck glances at other bodies in the locker room for the sole purpose of comparison, scanning their anatomy to measure up with my own once home, legs spread, in front of my tallest mirror. Fishiness and discharge and blood and hair and girls saying “I could never touch one” and so many ways to hate a body part that brought me, and everyone else, into the world.
Read More: What Should Your Vulva REALLY Look Like?
I was barely-sixteen when I got my first STI. I had had sex that I didn’t want to have, and some months after my birthday I felt a growth on my vulva that wasn’t there before. Not a pimple, not an ingrown, but a dreaded vaginal wart from a strain of HPV. This was in the height of the mass hysteria over the gardasil shots, where HPV was massively feared and stigmatized and teenagers were being assaulted with misinformation and a hearty helping of slut-shaming in health class. I wasn’t allowed to get the shots. (Yeah – there’s regret there, Mom has apologized, lots of therapy, remember?)
My gynecologist was my classmate's father and over the next year he would freeze the warts off my vulva while discussing my plans for college. The midwife was unkind, pitying. I was riddled with shame. For a long time I didn’t touch my vulva unless I absolutely had to. I didn’t have sex again until college, three years later, when I fell in love.
The first time my college boyfriend looked at my vulva, like really looked, my heart leapt into my throat. I thought maybe he had found something, that the growths had come back, or that he could see the scars the gynecologist left. I waited for some big reveal, a look of horror, a realization that would make it so he never wanted to touch me again. I tried to stop him.
“Let me look.” He said. “I want to look.”
All at once I saw my body through his eyes, his unmistakable desire, and there was a shift.
A montage flashed behind my eyes, a movie featuring every piece of media, every cutting remark from a classmate, every moment of comparison in the mirror, pornstar pussies, the pity in that midwife’s eyes, the gynecologist’s cold instrument against my skin, my fear of smells and fluids and body hair – it all seemed…insignificant. Because right there in front of me was a human nestled between my legs, staring at my body in awe. And it wasn’t that my affection for my own flesh came only after affirmation from a cis man. He had shame too, a late-in-life circumcision because of relentless bullying, and scars of his own. We both looked at each other’s parts, really looked, and what we saw negated everything we had been taught to see.
At twenty I finally became enthralled with my vulva. I grew out my bush, performed naked in The Vagina Monologues, found a website that showcased hundreds of different types of vulvas, and started openly talking about innie-versus-outie vaginas. It was a reclamation, a fuck-you to societal standards for anatomy. My journey with my vulva was further expounded when I came out as bi and began to have sex with other vulvas, peeling back another layer of shame that I didn’t even know was there. It was great, a veritable pussy party, a pussy partnership if you will! But it wasn’t perfect.
With penetrative sex reintroduced into my life, my yeast infections got way worse, UTIs were thrown into the mix, and although I was riding high off of sexy-self-love, when I was alone with my vulva I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I had reached a point where I was able to question the pussy police, and so I began yet another journey – figuring what standard of vulva care was for me and my body, not what society told me I should do with it. So the investigation began: scented tampons and flavored lube, latex condoms and birth control, douches and “feminine” washes, strong antibiotics and hot wax and bleaching and more.
There were so many practices used to disguise and alter my vulva, and I wasn't sure if any of them were for my benefit.
I learned that there was far less research on vulva health than penis health, was overwhelmed by how difficult it was to obtain yeast infection antibiotics and even more anxiety ridden learning about the potential side effects of those medications. Everywhere I turned it seemed like there was a sign telling me that my vulva was a burden, and time and time again I had the thought there has to be a better way than this.
I was twenty five when I was introduced to Momotaro Apotheca. I told a friend about my chronic yeast infections and she said she knew of this company that had really helped her. I heard the word “Apotheca” and was instantly skeptical (I'm a Jewish New Yorker – we like doctors), but one raging yeast infection later and fatigue even thinking about getting swabbed at the gyno made me decide to do a little digging. I looked up the website. It was….lovely. The branding wasn’t pepto-bismol pink or insufferably gendered and the products were in sustainable packaging and there were no added scents or chemicals or infantilizing language. And there was real, scientifically-backed information about the infections I'd been suffering from my whole life. What’s more, there was an acknowledgement of how debilitating these infections can be. After a decade of throwing the most random shit on and into my vulva, I knew I had nothing to lose. So I added their salve into my cart, and a week later my life changed forever.
Support your body’s natural ability to heal: Shop Salve
Since using the salve (and now the brand new suppository!), I've never had to take an antibiotic for a yeast infection again. At the first sign of a little PH mishap or sourdough starter, I am able to care for my vulva without anyone else’s input. Because I know my vagina best. And she deserves comfort, relief, holistic care. I am able to touch myself without shame, which strikes me now as a nearly impossible feat with all we’ve taken on together.
Me and my outie vagina against the world.
About the Author
||Haley Jakobson (she/her) @haleyjakobson is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. In her work Haley explores mental health and wellness, queerness, sex and trauma, and bodies. As a Very Online Bisexual™ Haley reaches an audience of twenty six thousand readers on her instagram. Haley’s debut novel, OLD ENOUGH, is forthcoming from Dutton Books & Penguin Random House! OLD ENOUGH will be in bookstores everywhere on June 20th, 2023 and is now available for Pre-Order!|
Normalizing Our Everyday (Vaginal) Experiences by Rachel Symone Gilliam (she/her)
Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.