London Might Soon Welcome the World’s First Vagina Museum

There’s too much weirdness, confusion, and shame around vaginas. A new female-helmed venture is trying to change that.

By Jessie Schiewe

Art:    Zootghost

My vagina’s acting up. She’s leaking tiny droplets of urine every few minutes, which is why, as I pen this, I’m seated on a stack of towels and wearing not one, but two sanitary pads. I’m peeing on myself because I have a urinary tract infection, a rather normal phenomenon for anyone with a urethra (yes, even men), but one that’s still considered taboo.

Normally, I wouldn’t bring up my lady bits in an article, but I feel emboldened to do so thanks to the Vagina Museum. The brainchild of British YouTube vlogger Florence Schechter, the Vagina Museum is all about celebrating and destigmatizing the oft-maligned body part. For the last two years, the Museum has operated as an educational pop-up exhibit, appearing at museums, festivals, and scientific conferences across the U.K. Armed with posters, anatomical diagrams, and one-sheeters highlighting everything from periods and birth control to consent and body image, the Museum’s pop-up exhibits have also included activities-based projects, along with interactive talks and workshops.

It’s now in the process of raising funds to open a permanent location at Camden Market in London this fall, replete with an exhibition space, an event room, and a gift shop. When that happens, it will become the world’s first brick-and-mortar museum dedicated to the vagina.

About half the world has a vagina between their legs, yet most people never talk about them — or even know how. Growing up, I had trouble uttering the word. I referred to it as my “pookie” until I started college. When I got my period in the fifth grade, I not only cried about it for a day, but I kept it a secret from my entirely female group of friends for more than a year. As I grew older, I became more comfortable with the fact that yes, I have a vagina, but there have been moments when my confidence has been tested. Like that time when, at 23, I dated a wannabe rapper who not only refused to go down on me, but made me watch a YouTube video about why vaginas are gross.

Of course, projects aimed at demystifying and elaborating on the vagina are nothing new. There are art exhibits, websites, Instagram accounts, and medical museums about them. But there aren’t many. And there’s certainly nothing on the same scale as the penis museum in Iceland, which has 350 ween-related “artistic oddments and practical utensils,” according to its website.

Schechter realized this dearth in 2016 while doing research for her YouTube channel. After making a Top 10 Weird Animal Penises video, she struggled to make a follow-up about female animals. There simply wasn’t enough information about the beleaguered vagina — especially not from such a light-hearted standpoint — and Schechter decided she was going to be the person to do something about this.  

Education is a big part of the Vagina Museum’s goal, as is giving people a supportive space to discuss and ask questions about lady parts. Before Schechter started hosting the Vagina Museum’s pop-up exhibits, she worried that conversations would be hard to strike up because people are “inherently nervous” about talking about vaginas. Luckily, she was wrong and it turned out to be “completely the opposite.”

“People are desperate to talk about these things,” Schechter told the Museum Association’s Journal in March. “These topics are so taboo, many people can’t even talk to their own friends about them. So when our fabulous volunteers run exhibitions and create a safe, warm, welcoming space, it’s like the floodgates open and we have conversations people don’t feel like they can have anywhere else.”

In addition to having permanent galleries highlighting vaginas’ roles in science, culture, history, and society, the venture also plans to host events, panels, workshops, classes, comedy nights, performances, and other innovative and fun ways to talk about the subject. But for now, partly because they literally have no space to store anything, all of this is still in-the-works.

“We’re not going to start collecting just as yet as we don’t have appropriate facilities,” Schechter explained. “When we do, we’re going to be collecting within the fields of vulva art, gynecological medicine, period products, sex toys, all manner of things within the scope of “vagina heritage.”

And yes, Schechter is aware that calling the museum the Vagina Museum is slightly problematic. They were considering calling it the Vulva Museum but that didn’t seem appropriate given that the vulva only applies to the external parts of the organ (such as the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening), and disregards the uterus, ovaries, and cervix. The word “vagina” technically isn’t that much better, referring only to the elastic, muscular part of the genital tract connecting the vulva to the cervix. Ultimately, Schechter opted to call it the Vagina Museum because it didn’t sound overly medical, limited in scope, or trans-exclusive. Plus, it felt more welcoming for the average visitor.

From a health standpoint, there is a definite need for a Vagina Museum in the world. Some women have a startlingly limited understanding of their bodies and and may avoid check-ups or screenings because they’re shy. If they make it to a doctor, they might not bring up issues they’re experiencing “down there” for fear of being judged or considered promiscuous. There’s also a growing number of females, quite a few under the age of 18, who think their nether regions are so ugly that they get plastic surgery to make them “prettier.”

Like me before the age of 17, many grown women still can’t even bring themselves to say the word “vagina.” Remember Oprah’s fondness for using the term “vajayjay” on her show? Or perhaps you’ve heard that same silly, made-up term uttered by female doctors on older episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. Even though the show is literally about the medical field, network executives worried about too many inclusions of the word “vagina” in its scripts, hence the odd moniker substitution.

Whether you’re male or female, transgender or non binary, it’s clear we all could benefit from a little more vaginal exposure. In fact, when the Vagina Museum opens, admission will be free so that everyone, regardless of their financial situation, can visit and learn from its teachings. It also won’t have a minimum age requirement for entry.

That is, if the Museum opens. Schechter is currently in the midst of running an online crowdfunding campaign for the Camden Market location. To promote the fundraiser, two volunteers got an early start educating the public. The duo dressed up in anatomically correct vagina costumes that sported not only pubic hair, but also a clitoris and both the inner and outer labia. They then walked around Camden Market asking passersby to identify what they were. A surprising number were stumped, offering up answers like, “I have no idea,” “a pomegranate,” “some sort of hot dog,” and “no clue.” If the Vagina Museum founder has her druthers, that kind of ignorance won’t be the case for long.

The Vagina Museum is currently asking for £130,000 to pay for the costs of renting out the space, outreach programs, building their collection, and staff salaries, which will be above the London Living Wage’s £10.55 per hour starting rate.

With less than four days to go (the fundraiser ends the morning of April 19), the Museum is still a ways from reaching its goal amount. If it doesn’t raise the full amount by the deadline, it won’t receive any of the donations that people have already pledged towards it creation. And what a shame that would be for these folks trying to destigmatize an already shameful subject.

Hopefully, more people will start wizening up to the need for such a museum — and soon. As Schechter pointed out, “If we want the gynecological anatomy to be respected and loved, as a society, we need to make the statement that we value them.”

And pledging money to help create a museum that will do that is the first step in that direction.

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