A couple of weeks ago I had my debut as a model. A vagina model. I landed a job as a gynecology model for a graduate level physical examination course taken by nurse practitioner students. My role was to act as a “mock” patient for the students to practice their pelvic exams. You know, the type of medical exam where a female patient puts her feet into the fold out stirrups of an exam table and has her lady bits assessed for problems by a medical professional. In the real world, it’s common to undergo this type of examination for needs such as a pap smear, testing for vaginal infections, and assessing for other vaginal, uterine, or ovarian conditions.
With two kids in daycare, and the growing expenses of life as a family of four, becoming a gynecology model seemed a creative way to bring in additional income. I’ve personally had routine pelvic exams throughout my adulthood and, as a medical provider, I’ve performed countless pelvic exams as a skill set of my profession. Heck, I was a nurse practitioner student not too long ago and I, myself, underwent a similar experience of performing my first pelvic on a hired model. My gratitude to that model cannot be overstated. Honestly, this felt like an easy way to give back and I figured there are few people better prepared for the circumstance than myself.
On the day of the job I entered a classroom that was designed to simulate a typical medical office. I was stationed as a patient in one of the exam rooms and, in small groups, the students shuffled in. They introduced themselves, wide eyed and anxious, one at a time. After introductions each was given a chance to muddle their way through a full gynecologic exam under the guidance of an experienced faculty member.
Laying on the table that day I recalled the first time I went in for a pelvic exam. I was a college student and made my appointment at the university health center. It felt like a rite of passage. I’m pretty sure I bragged to my girlfriends that the exam, “was a breeze! Really, it was no big deal!” I smugly urged them to get over their own apprehension and to schedule a personal appointment. Going for an “annual” was part of becoming a responsible adult. The truth, however, was that the whole experience terrified me. It actually was a big deal and I’m pretty sure I held my breath the entire time. Was I worried that it would hurt? Nah, I was worried about what the provider would think of my parts.
Having my vulva closely inspected under the bright and unforgiving nature of fluorescent lights turned my stomach. Even I barely knew what I had down there. I wondered, does my vagina look normal? Is it like everyone else’s? Did I groom my pubic hair too much? Too little?
The adolescent girls I see in clinic and during the high school sex education classes I teach disclose worries similar to those of my teenage self. The concerns they voice are less about preparing for a visit to the gyno and more about preparing for intimacy in a romantic relationship. They will openly ask how sex partners might expect their bodies to look “down there.” How much “should” they shave. What are the best products for keeping their vagina clean and fresh smelling.
At least now, as an adult with some life experience and the privilege of a medical degree, I have some reasonably educated answers.
If anyone expects a certain appearance “down there” he or she has no right to be “down there.” Vaginas, or more accurately, the entire vulvar and pelvic region, are unique to the individual. Pubic hair can be dense or sparse, labia come in all shapes and sizes, clitoral size and appearance is varied, and there are great differences in vulvar skin texture and tone. All this variation is typical, expected, and actually pretty awesome. It’s just another way we are all uniquely featured and made. How much pubic hair to shave? Shaving (should you choose to do it at all) should be a personal decision and there is no right or wrong amount, or preferred stylistic way, to do it. Besides, pubic hair that is aggressively removed (by shaving, waxing, tweezing, or a depilatory) commonly leads to skin irritation and folliculitis. From a health perspective, I’d suggest leaving things trimmed if desired but as close to au naturale as you can to avoid a rash. The best products to use on a vagina for freshness? NONE. Whatsoever. Consider your vagina akin to a self cleaning oven – let it be, it will clean itself. You can wash the external parts with a little soap and water, but nothing more. Products like douches and drugstore vaginal washes disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria that thrive within a vagina. Vaginas shouldn’t smell fishy or yeasty (that can be a sign of infection), but it’s completely normal (and healthy!) to have a detectable scent.
As my modeling session ended I smirked at the comments (compliments?) that followed, “Your cervix is so midline and easy to find,” and “Your ovaries feel like almonds! Just as the textbook said they would be.” Hah! Who knew?! The professor running the course asked if I’d be willing to model a handful of times per year; apparently I make a good patient. Sure, sign me up.
The experience was somewhat odd but altogether no big deal. Truly. In the meantime, I plan to carry on in my little mission to ensure that the young women under my professional influence as an NP (and my daughter if she’ll listen!) are taught to be confident in their bodies and to present themselves in a way that is authentic to who they are. Variation and diversity are part of the glory of being human. Each of us is uniquely, and profoundly, beautiful. With our wildly differing vulvas, varying amounts of pubic hair, and even our unique physical scents, our bodies are pretty darn amazing and, as such, we should hold them in high esteem.
Apparently I make a good model by Sarah Kiser, CPNP-PC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.