By Abby Burrows
Art by Maanasi Shyno
Even at 40 years old and supposedly certified to speak on the subject, my human sexuality teacher knew nothing about vaginas. The issue that exposed his complete lack of knowledge was discharge. Now to his credit, discharge is one of the lesser known secrets of the vagina. It's a real doozy of a subject when talking about vaginal health -- particularly in the context of STIs. My teacher, let's call him Mr. Smith, decided that he knew what he was talking about, and so boldly claimed that “discharge is a common sign of STIs.” The faces of the girls in my class went pale. There was a chill in the room. A deathly silence. One girl Emma, who looked particularly troubled, tentatively raised her hand and asked “You mean … all discharge?” Evidently Mr. Smith had not been expecting this particular question -- or more, he hadn’t expected to be questioned at all. He stuck to his guns, but a little less certainly this time. “Yes, um, yes all vaginal discharge is a sign of STIs.”
I’m sure my readers with vaginas are in two camps right now: those of you who have put this magazine down in order to call your gynecologist, and those of you who are ready to call this girl Emma and let her know Mr. Smith’s mistake. Worry not. Though at 16 I had never even discussed discharge out loud, I knew instinctively that this could not be true, and I wasn’t about to let Mr. Smith scare an entire class of girls about what was likely normal vaginal activity. I spoke up: “Excuse me, but I don’t think that's true. Vaginal discharge is normal -- I’d assume some change in discharge would be the sign of an STD. I think everyone has discharge, though.” The teacher was stunned. I couldn’t tell if he was more surprised by the fact that I had corrected him or the fact that he had been wrong. My classmates did not seem to care. They breathed a sigh of relief that could have been heard miles away. At least in that classroom, the misinformation campaign about vaginas was stopped. But the worst part? This seemed normal to us. No one complained about the teacher, no one even gave it a second thought -- least of all, the teacher.
This class was representative of a larger issue: it seems like no one knows the truth about vaginas these days. We hear different things all the time about what is healthy or normal for the monolith of vaginas -- should we shave them? Should we wash them? Should mine stick out like this or smell like that? Both our questions and their answers come from all different places. While doctors or gynecologists might tell us one thing, mass media tells us something different all together. Often, men’s aesthetic preferences shape the media's narratives about women’s bodies. The problem is when these “aesthetic” preferences are no longer believed to be aesthetic but are believed to be about health. Because men prefer shaved vaginas, that means it is “cleaner” to not have pubic hair. Because men dislike the natural smell of vaginas, something must be “wrong” with your vagina if it has a scent.
The issue is two-fold. Not only are men’s aesthetic preferences taken to be the truth about vaginas, but the media only allows men to speak about women’s bodies as objects of their interest. However, when men speak about women's bodies, they are glorified. When women speak about their own bodies, they are often censored or shamed. So how can we really expect young women with vaginas to know anything about their bodies?
Why do we even have to turn to the media in the first place to learn about our bodies and sex? Would proper sex education not be a more objective and truth based environment for learning about our selves? Access to any sort of sex ed is the first issue here in the US: as of 2020, only 24 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education in public schools. Evidently though, mandating sex education does not guarantee quality sex education. Planned Parenthood reports that this is a quantified phenomena: fewer than half of high schools teach all 16 sex education topics as recommended by the CDC. Without mandated, quality sex ed, it only makes sense that young people turn to art and media.
That's where “WAP”, the chart topping hit by Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, comes in. Thanks to the porn industry, the conversation about how wet a woman’s vagina is has become largely normalized. It’s commonplace these days for men to question whether a vagina is wet enough, too wet, etc. Standing for “Wet Ass Pussy”, in “WAP” Cardi and Megan take the narrative over wetness into their own hands. They rap honestly about how their bodies react to good sex -- and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, but in fact something glorious.
Part of the importance of “WAP” is that it reclaims a narrative that is largely controlled by men. The song is as explicit in its descriptions of vaginas and sex as many male artists are in their music. This is something of a rarity in mainstream music and media. While the male dominated media industry hugely profits off their carefully crafted narratives about women’s sexuality, they too shame women for speaking their own language. The porn industry, for example, is one of the worst offenders. They objectify, oversexualise, and dehumanize women to the tune of $12 billion dollars in profit a year. In this vein, I cannot overstate how important it is that the mass media is consuming a song about vaginas from the perspective of people who have them.
And yet, “WAP” was still crafted to suit a narrative that would make profit -- is consumption of this narrative objectively better than the alternative? Does this not stigmatize people with vaginas who, quite literally, have a DAP for a variety of medical reasons? These concerns are valid: the body positivity movement is a prime example of how lauding a “mainstream” body type can actually further stigmatize bodies that do not conform. Maybe, then, we as listeners need to shift our emphasis. The real power of “WAP” should not be that it normalizes having a wet ass pussy, but that it normalizes women taking control over the narrative about their bodies. If “WAP” can destigmatize women taking control of the sexual narratives surrounding women’s bodies, then maybe all aspects of women’s bodies can be explored without judgement. I believe WAP has the potential to set the precedent of women speaking openly and honestly about their bodies, even outside of sex.
Critics have described the song as “lurid”, “vulgar”, and “vile.” Maybe. But in its explicitness, it is refreshingly honest. In its vulgarity, it is empowering. And vile? Men have always thought anything “woman” was vile. But in the end, I’d take “WAP” any day if it means I don’t have to be the one teaching my teacher about vaginas.
 “What’s the State of Sex Education in the U.S.?,” Planned Parenthood, November 11, 2020.
 Susanne Ramírez de Arellano, “‘WAP’ by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion is a joyful role reversal. No wonder people are mad,” THINK, NBC, August 10, 2020.
 “Porn Industry Archives,” Enough is Enough, November 11, 2020.