When the police visited the 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina in Redfern a couple of weeks ago they suggested that we should be “keeping minors out” of the gallery. Why? Why should children not see, talk about, hear different words for, draw and reflect on vaginas? Are vaginas bad? Are penises bad? Mine isn’t, is yours?
The younger the children are, the more recently they have themselves just emerged from a vagina, after having been conceived through one. But in spite of this there seems to be a cultural fear around children and anything sex related coming within proximity of each other.
Of course, children should be protected from sexual predators, but somehow, the valid and important concerns about sexual abuse have resulted in sex being given a blanket label: bad. The act that led to their existence is labelled bad. What are the two most forbidden words in the English language? Fuck and cunt. How unfortunate! They should be words of celebration, exuberance, joy, pleasure, freedom and love.
Our culture is severely hobbled by sexual repression and suppression. The worst manifestation of this is sexual abuse and though it may not be the only cause, I believe we will never rid culture of sexual abuse without first dealing with the sexual repression and suppression that underpins it.
Guilt and shame do not arise naturally in us as children, it is taught to us by adults, whether directly or indirectly, through judgement and fear. It is adults who teach children that their bodies are to be hidden, not to touch themselves and not to say certain words. This means that it is up to us, the adults, to reverse this trend.
One of the best ways to reverse guilt and shame is through open discussion and direct engagement. A child who has had open, honest and respectful discussions about their bodies and sexuality is far less likely to end up with feelings of shame and guilt about their own. It also means they will be less likely to fall victim to externally imposed shame from various media or abusive comments.
Imagine if, instead of learning about sex through porn, children were taught to respect their own and other people’s bodies; that they are the masters of their own; that no part of it is shameful; that pleasure is a birthright, and that sex can be a beautiful act of bonding, joy and pleasure?
Fortunately there is a growing and international ‘sex positive’ movement, which is working to remove the negative stigma around bodies and sexuality. The 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina are proudly part of that movement.
Breaking taboos can be both a creative and fun exercise and no one needs to get hurt in the process. In fact, years of hurt can begin to be undone.
Words: Philip Werner, creator of the 101 Vagina book and exhibition.