Genital panics: Constructing the vagina in women's qualitative narratives about pubic hair, menstrual sex, and vaginal self-image

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

An emerging body of research targets women's relationship to their genitals, particularly as pubic hair removal and the promotion of female genital surgeries increase in popularity and visibility. This study asked women to discuss their subjective feelings about three related but distinct genital attitudes: pubic hair grooming, sex during menstruation, and genital/vaginal self-image. Specifically, this study applied thematic analysis to qualitative interviews with a community sample of 20 women (mean age. = 34, SD= 13.35) from diverse ages, races, and sexual identity backgrounds to illuminate seven themes in women's narratives about their vaginas: (1) "dirty" or "gross", (2) needing maintenance; (3) unknown or frustrating; (4) unnatural; (5) comparative; (6) ambivalent; (7) affirmative. Overwhelmingly, women used strong emotional language when discussing their genitals, often evoking descriptions of anxiety, excess, and need for control. Fusions between sexuality and body image, and connections between "genital panics" and internalized racism, sexism, and homophobia, also appeared.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-218
Number of pages9
JournalBody Image
Volume11
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2014

Fingerprint

Panic
Vagina
Hair
Homophobia
Hair Removal
Sexism
Racism
Grooming
Menstruation
Body Image
Sexuality
Emotions
Language
Anxiety
Maintenance
Interviews
Research

Keywords

  • Gender norms
  • Genital self-image
  • Menstruation
  • Pubic hair
  • Women's bodies
  • Women's sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Medicine(all)

Cite this

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abstract = "An emerging body of research targets women's relationship to their genitals, particularly as pubic hair removal and the promotion of female genital surgeries increase in popularity and visibility. This study asked women to discuss their subjective feelings about three related but distinct genital attitudes: pubic hair grooming, sex during menstruation, and genital/vaginal self-image. Specifically, this study applied thematic analysis to qualitative interviews with a community sample of 20 women (mean age. = 34, SD= 13.35) from diverse ages, races, and sexual identity backgrounds to illuminate seven themes in women's narratives about their vaginas: (1) {"}dirty{"} or {"}gross{"}, (2) needing maintenance; (3) unknown or frustrating; (4) unnatural; (5) comparative; (6) ambivalent; (7) affirmative. Overwhelmingly, women used strong emotional language when discussing their genitals, often evoking descriptions of anxiety, excess, and need for control. Fusions between sexuality and body image, and connections between {"}genital panics{"} and internalized racism, sexism, and homophobia, also appeared.",
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