Wednesday, 29 March 2017

My Thoughts on Vagina Varsity

Oh Glow Blog Vagina Varsity sex ed sexuality sex positive
I'm a little slow to catch on to things, so when I kept seeing ads for Vagina Varsity, I pretty much ignored them for far longer than it was cool. When I did eventually board that particular bandwagon, I sort of hoped that the program would be an intensive sex-ed sort of thing, kinda like the Veteran difficulty level of Call of Duty. It wasn't like that at all, and I'm so glad.

What Vagina Varsity actually consists of is a combination of educational videos and email-based literature that teaches any vagina-owner about how to maintain their vaginal health, as well as cool stuff like basic anatomy, how to deal with gynae visits, shameless sexual pleasure, and STI prevention. The material is clearly aimed at young adults, but is accessible for all ages. It is sponsored by sanitary-ware company Libresse and presented by Pap Culture's Thembe and Nwabisa in order to provide vagina-havers and those who love them with the tools they really need to go through life. Is this normal discharge, or should I see a doctor? What can I do about safer sex precautions? Vagina Varsity helps you figure all that out.

What I liked

I enjoyed the way that the Vagina Varsity curriculum starts out suuuper basic -- general anatomy, presented in both 'official' medical terms as well as colloquialisms that add a little relatability and humour to what could have been a sterile, uncomfortable discussion. After establishing a solid foundation, the content even touches on issues often highlighted by popular culture, like 'camel toe,' vajazzling and pubic styling, providing additional cultural relevance to the series. The hymen episode was of particular interest to me, because I feel like vaginal virginity is so 'prized' despite nobody even knowing what's potting.

The show is peppered with cute, colourful little graphics that feel inclusive and varied in terms of differing anatomy -- no carbon-copy vulvas in sight! I had a good laugh at the Vagina Varsity rendition of the patriarchy; a vintage-looking graphic of an old white dude with a Southern-American accent who spouts misogynist misinformation, providing Nwabisa and Thembe the opportunity to dispel some myths in their usual entertaining way. I also loved the unrealistic colours that were so often used in body depictions, which not only looks visually engaging, but also does not presume the race of the viewer. Yay!
Oh Glow Blog Vagina Varsity sex education sexuality sex positive South Africa

My personal favourite video featured Dorothy Black talking about sex and pleasure in a very heartfelt, honest way. She destabilises some commonly-held perspectives on what 'counts' as sex and what acts are just foreplay, encourages viewers to masturbate by grinding pillows, then follows it up by dumping a box of toys on the table. I had a good giggle seeing Thembe get particularly excited about all the goodies, because hey, I can relate.

The videos are short, informal, and a perfect fit for the often short attention span of the internet. Fear not -- each video is supported by supplementary inbox reading, which often expands on the topic at hand and basically gives you a springboard for additional self-study.

What I didn't like

The main thing I took issue with were the confusing uses of the words 'vulva' and 'vagina.' In the very first episode, our hosts state that although the official terms delineate different parts of the anatomy, they recognise that many people say "vagina" when they actually refer to the vulva. Nwabisa and Thembe are upfront about this from the start, and I get that the people that brainstormed the educational script were trying to put it on a level that most people would understand. Nevertheless, this misinformation is why a cousin of mine had no idea that the vagina was only the passage that infants come out of. The average person with the all too often mediocre education about sexual matters regularly doesn't have a word for the totality of female-assigned genitalia, and this is why we often resort to the euphemisms we were taught as kids. My cousin, a grown(ish) man, was left grasping at alternative nouns and eventually had to settle on "koekie" even though that word is uncomfortable AF. He didn't have anything else to fall back on, you see.

Even the supplementary material you get emailed along with each video reflected this confusion. Episode Three's notes open with, "We're taking a tour of the inside of the vulva, from the entrance passage, your ACTUAL vagina, all the way to the ovaries." If you say you'll use the terms interchangeably, then differentiate with "ACTUAL vagina," things start seeming a little conflicting.
Oh Glow Blog Vagina Varsity sex education South Africa sexuality sex positive

Also, while an effort was made to be inclusive (terminology like "vagina-havers" was often used instead of "women"), only the additional reading that came with episode 16 made explicit mention of the ways in which gender and sex do not always align. To me, there should have been at least a passing mention of the existence of transgender people in one of the first few episodes, rather than throwing it in way at the end, and not even making mention of the discussion in the associated video. While I understand this is aimed towards those who have vaginas, the lack of some gender-based discussion feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.


Despite these concerns, I really enjoyed the Vagina Varsity series. The course material, dynamic presenters, and the entertaining graphics all combined to create a friendly, informative virtual space that hopefully won't freak out even the most squeamish and shy of fourteen-year-olds. I'm genuinely impressed that such a large project was initiated especially for the South African audience, and I think that Libresse did an excellent job (with comparatively few product nudges even!). Thembe and Nwabisa are charismatic presenters that provided an excellent face for the series, and the information they provide is solid, practical and necessary. Recommend it to the young people in your life, or hey, sign up yourself! I learnt some stuff, I'm sure you will too.

No comments:

Post a Comment