So...sometimes I feel like I am a little late to enter "The Conversation". But that has never stopped me before! After all, I really just discovered Daphne Merkin after reading her cover story on depression in The New York Times, "A Journey Through Darkness" a few weeks ago, Daphne is a fearless writer who has written on many controversial topics in her own voice and through her own eyes. Daphne puts it out there and invites controversy. Bravo. I love fearless.
After I read the piece in The Times online - my eyes stumbled on to several related links - other writings by Merkin. And these writings have been talked about for several years in the online commentary that I recently found. But I just have to weigh in...of course I do!First there was the piece that ran in The New Yorker on sensual spanking ("Unlikely Obsession"), which apparently raised a few eyebrows and no doubt a few skirts - and then there was another controversial piece that ran in The New York Times, called "Our Vaginas, Ourselves,"- where Merkin talks about the new world of, shall we call it, "The Cosmetic Vagina" and female self-loathing.
Merkin talks about the world of Brazilian waxes, hymen reattachment, labia reshaping and shortening and what it says about how we view our female genitals. I celebrate the fact that she writes it all - through her eyes - and that the NY Times publishes it. But Merkin misses the mark when she says,
"Truth be told, I always considered myself lucky to have escaped coming-of-age at the height of the consciousness-raising era, when anatomical self-examination took on the aspect of a collective ritual. Those were the days when women felt obliged to convene in sisterly circles with mirrors and flashlights the better to study their bodies, themselves. Never having been one to enjoy group activities of any sort, the thought of becoming more closely acquainted with my private parts in a public setting seems potentially traumatizing rather than liberating or, God knows, celebratory".
Actually, that is the problem. The problem is that most women do not know what female genitalia past the pubic mound looks like. And if we as women don't know our bodies and have a healthy self-image, how are we supposed to have sexual pleasure and a healthy relationship with our own bodies? It is through the not seeing and the not knowing where women often self-destruct as sexual beings.
Women don't grow up like young boys, stealing glances in the locker room to see what is going on with other same-sex bodies. We have no idea of the diversity of the vagina and we can't even agree on what to call female genitalia, a subject that gets most sexologists screaming that "the vagina is the birth canal" and not a good descriptor of a woman's sex organs.
Perhaps if women could see more of other women's inner sexual landscapes - if it was alright for women to look - we women would get it that each vulva is a unique work of art. Instead, the only pictures of female genitals that most women see are the air brushed and clipped versions in the journals of Playboy.
Women don't get to see images of real women.
For Merkin to celebrate the fact that she missed the age of the brave pioneering women who came together to explore the great unknown - mirror and flashlight in hand - is truly a disservice to those that came before her. The fact is that there are still rare opportunities, and few books outside of medical manuals that give women the opportunity to see the diversity of vulvas celebrated. If they did, Dr. David Matlock's practice of "Vaginal Rejuvenation" wouldn't be so popular.
There is a part of me that hates myself for criticizing Merkin at all. Look, she is out there and she is at least sparking the conversation in very reputable publications about female sexuality in a way that is real and in the first person. That takes courage. And for her reward, she gets to not only take it on the chin for her bravery by "sexual conservatives," but also by well-known outspoken sex activists like Susie Bright and Dr. Betty Dobson, for example, in this excellent and scathing commentary, "Daphne Merkin Needs to get Spanked Again."
But it is the fact that I can take her on that is so wonderful! Daphne is a big girl, and she is putting it out there. I suspect she can take care of herself. And she is doing a service to all of us by taking this conversation, whether you agree with her or not, into publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times so that there is a public discourse on issues that are never talked about.
This morning, as I was researching this blog, I came upon "How to Have Baby Making Sex" on one of my favorite fertility blogs, "How to Make a Family" . At first I was all excited! A fertility blog other than mine was talking about sex! But in a nano second, I became incensed by the introductory language of the piece, and I quote:
"If getting pregnant hasn't been so easy for you, maybe you're not doing "it" right." Doing it right? It almost didn't matter what came next in the blog - the shadow of a past insult and shame came flooding back in an instant. It didn't matter if the off-hand remark which was made with too many beers in hand happened over 23 years ago.
It was the only time my husband ever became inflamed over our infertility experience with a family member. It was when his brother asked him if "we were doing it right." My mild- mannered husband stood up and punched his brother in the jaw. To this day, I have never seen my husband raise a hand to anyone before or since!
Why begin a conception sex tip piece with a knock to our sexual self esteem? It is insulting. And it's why many men don't want to see a reproductive specialist - because they are worried that they will be told that they are not doing it right.
Look, it's hard enough already for couples who are living through "conception sex." Do they need to have that particular myth reinforced that perhaps they are not doing it right?
And what does any of this have to do with Daphne Merkin and "My Vaginas, Ourselves"?
Well, Daphne has taken it on the chin for what may be seen as taking hidden issues to the main stream, and here is How to Make a Famiy taking a stab at sexuality and conception. And instead of giving them snaps for being a fertility blog uttering the word "sex," I am stomping around my apartment.
So, we don't all agree, but at least we are starting to talk about sex in a new and open way. Right? Even the fertility blogs.
I wonder who I am provoking this morning?
Pamela Madsen is one of the nation's most outspoken and recognized fertility and sex educators. The Fertility Advocate, Ms. Madsen's Blog has become the must-read for all members of the fertility and sexuality community, with hundreds jacking into Ms. Madsen's funny, insightful and provocative posts every day. Ms. Madsen is The founder of The America Fertility Association and works with East Coast Fertility as the Director of Public Education. Ms. Madsen is reaching out to women - and men — to integrate all aspects of the reproductive continuum from sexuality, infertility prevention, protection and treatment into the general health care of all women.