Beating About the Bush: Why are Women Told to Wax ‘Down There’?
Dear men, forcing your partner to make efforts to have a “perfect” vagina equates to social domination of her body.
The topic of oral sex in India is a tricky one. Despite the fact that most of us love it, we do not talk about it as frequently as we talk about intercourse (talking about intercourse is taboo too, of course, but oral sex is a strict no no).
But last month, a piece in The Quint caught my attention, which discussed how we should embrace the odorous and hairy vagina. It got me thinking and compelled me to organise my thoughts on the issue, which leads me to write this piece.
But first and foremost, let me begin by adding a disclaimer that this article isn’t a guide to oral sex. Rather, it touches upon a hitherto talked about aspect which many of us may have encountered in our lives.
Of Bikini Waxes and the “Perfect” Smell
In 2012, when I first discussed the idea of having oral sex with my then girlfriend, she said “Let’s have it. I will shave down there”. After the first time, when she asked me how it felt, I told her that although I liked it, I was slightly uncomfortable but would get used to it eventually – and I did. As our relationship progressed, the concerns around shaving the vagina dipped significantly.
Over the course of time, whatever experiences I had with women, I found something common. Almost every woman I discussed (or had) oral sex with, inherently assumed beforehand that I had an expectation of a clean and fresh smelling vagina and that if this didn’t happen, they would either be judged or embarrassed. When I placed those assumptions in the realm of feminist arguments and debates that I was exposed to on the internet, I realised that the idea and expectation of a perfect vagina (clean and nice smelling) is constructed differently among men and women.
This is not to accuse those women of internalising patriarchy or portraying myself as a staunch feminist, but highlighting the assumption is critical to my argument.
Though I do not claim to speak for women or appropriate conversations about vaginas, I do feel that capitalism has fuelled the notion of a clean and hygienic vagina.
Before weddings, many women go for bridal packages which include a full bikini wax. A friend’s cousin who got married last year, told me how her cousin was anxious to get a bikini wax done as she wanted to “please her husband on the first night”. I have heard a couple of my women friends shying away from wearing a bikini owing to hair around their vaginas.
How Porn Plays a Part
An interplay of factors seems to contribute towards “promoting” a clean and nice smelling vagina over one with pubic hair and natural smell. A similar rationale, albeit for a different issue, was argued in this piece, written by Priya Ramani, in the Mint. She wrote about how the maximum bikini sales happen in winter as it is peak honeymoon season – one where women will go on a short vacation with their spouses and show off a wardrobe that they will never ever wear again. That’s also the time they look their fittest because of the pre-wedding crash diet. She concludes with a fervent hope that there will be a time when women wear bikinis for themselves, rather than for the men in their lives.
For men, in part, I believe that the preference for a “perfect vagina” is influenced by utterly misogynistic pornographic films. There have been many debates on how pornography creates an unrealistic understanding of sex; similarly, almost every female porn star is clean shaven, thereby sowing the seeds of another unrealistic expectation, which many men desire for, in their partners. To be honest, even I was influenced, but exposure to feminist media and cultures helped me change my mindset.
An online survey conducted by Cosmopolitan magazine revealed that 46% of men prefer when women go completely bare down there. 70% of women, on the other hand, only expect a trim to keep things neat, not total removal. 30% of men reported that a partner's pubic hair would make them reconsider the relationship, while only 19% of women shared that sentiment. And as for asking for changes, the survey showed that 40% of men have asked their partners to alter their public hair.
Dear fellow men, forcing or compelling your partner to make efforts to have a “perfect” vagina equates to social domination of their bodies. A vagina is supposed to look and smell like a vagina, not a bunch of roses, or sweet-smelling pineapples. Deal with it. Your penis smells like a penis and not like a strawberry; a vagina too smells like it’s supposed to.
If you want to enjoy oral sex, go ahead, but do not thrust your patriarchal expectations on your partners.
(Devanik Saha is an MA Gender & Development student at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex)
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