Vagina monologues: Why we need to be educated about women's sexual organs

Taking us on a post #MeToo journey through female sexuality, Lynn Enright’s brave book is timely and important, says Suzanne Harrington

Where to start with vaginas. Anatomically, culturally, socially, sexually, lady parts have long been short changed. We can’t even get their names right.

We call the vulva the vagina, then infantilise it with daft names or pornify it with porny names, whereas in real life, the vagina is the internal muscular bit that links the vulva to the cervix, and the vulva is the external area of the labia and clitoris, which can still remain as undiscovered as a distant planet.

Why? Because sex education, reflecting the larger culture, is all about the penis, and how it causes pregnancy, and how to avoid that. The clitoris doesn’t get a look in, despite being the only area of male or female physiology that exists purely for pleasure.

How timely then is writer Lynn Enright’s new book, Vagina A Re-Education, which takes us on a post #MeToo trajectory through female sexuality, looking at everything from how we name the sexual parts of our bodies, through periods, masturbation, and orgasm to miscarriage, infertility, abortion, endometriosis, menopause, labioplasty, period poverty, FGM, trans rights, and the myth of the hymen.

She leaves nothing out, her voice clear and honest and true. It’s the kind of book you wish that you — and everyone else — had read when you were first making friends with your sexual self.

Lynn Enright, who is from Dublin, wrote this book because she believes there is significant appetite to talk about issues related to female sexuality, yet a squeamishness in mainstream outlets — you’ll rarely find anything properly in depth and unfiltered in women’s magazines.

And while there have been other books written on the subject — Naomi Wolf’s 2013 title, the seminal 1960s Our Bodies, Ourselves, dozens in between — Enright says that each generation has to start from a place of ignorance, and that although our biology is a constant, the surrounding culture and politics remains in constant flux, rather than following any linear evolution. That even now, we remain removed from our own bodies.

“Progress is not straight forward,” she tells me. “Repeal The Eighth and MeToo have connections to our basic biology.