Recently, some asshole posted nude photos of his ex, who had committed the unforgivable sin of breaking up with him and then dating someone else three months later, on an online message board. There is already a script to this: The ex's sob story alongside the pictures, the aggressively jaded evaluation by the men of whether they'd hit that and whether or not the guy himself is a loser (the answer is yes), the posting of the girl's phone number and talk of "sending the thread," which of course means sending the thread to the girl, who was located very quickly. The girl herself even showed up (apparently) and loudly proclaimed that she didn't give a shit.
(We're not going to link to this crap because it is, obviously, crap we don't want further disseminated; suffice it to say it's a board for an enthusiasm not officially related to the evaluation of women's bodies.)
There was also this remarkable exchange, where one guy said he would not only have sex with the "bitch ex-girlfriend" but also offer surprise anal. "Go for, it bro," came the reply. "You don't have any std's or a huge dick or anything, right?" said the one who would take one for the team. "No std's and a very average dick," said the original poster. "You'll do fine, buddy."
Anyway, what caught my eye was this. One of the shots was of the girl's vulva, followed by guys complaining that it was the wrong color, followed by this admission that real-life vaginas were awfully confusing after porn. Click to enlarge.
Of course, any guy who cares about the appearance of a partner's vulva beyond say, health and hygiene, doesn't deserve to be there in the first place. But that doesn't mean it's not real or damaging. The claim that male expectations of women's bodies and sexual behavior is being warped by porn is, of course, often found in feminist criticisms of porn. You'll also find plenty of quotes from plastic surgeons who perform labiaplasty saying their patients bring in images from porn to show what they want to look like.
The Internet, sad to say, is full of testimonials of women hating the shape, size, and color of their labia. "If we had to make a list of the top five questions we've gotten at the site over the last few years, 'What's wrong with my labia?' would come right on the heels of 'Am I pregnant?' 'What's sex like?' and 'Is it okay for me to have sex/masturbate?' and sit just in front of "Is my penis too small?'" write the wise souls at Scarleteen. "Whether more women are just asking about it than before, or concerns are growing, we've been seeing more and more — often unfounded — worries about labia as the years have gone by." They remind anyone wondering that it's perfectly normal for inner labia to vary in size and color and texture, and continue,
Unless you have had or do have female sex partners, work in direct reproductive health, or have friends who are very open to letting you look up-close-and-personal at their vulvas, you're not going to be able to see many labia, and you're going to have to take those of us who have at our word. What women who don't have those opportunities usually have as a basis of comparison is what male partners report (which isn't very reliable), or what women can see in pornography or art, which provide some representation, but are both limited in really showing what's real for real people in real life....But because there are more places where women's genitals are being seen more publicly than ever, it also makes sense that can result in worrying more — rather than less — about what your own look like.
I also checked in with Fleshbot editor Lux Alptraum, who (to simplify matters) knows, and often advocates for, both porn and sex ed professionally.
"I've read personal essays from women talking about hating their large inner labia, etc. that are from ages ago," she said over IM. "I mean, you see way more labial diversity in hardcore porn than you do in Playboy." I haven't seen nearly enough porn to comment on its labial diversity, but Lux pointed out that Playboy rarely showed close up shots of vulvas. (Penthouse does, but their, um, penetration was far smaller than that of Internet porn today.) On the other hand, the rise of homemade porn and even heinous dudes posting nude pictures of their exes without their consent do provide an opportunity to represent the existing biological range.
Still, while it's easy to scapegoat Internet porn for all societal ills, if new forms of insecurity can be manufactured by marketing about the unattractiveness of one's underarms, why not other parts too?