Here's a question: How much do you really know about your vagina? Or, for that matter, vaginas in general? Depending on your level of curiosity, your access to good medical care, and the quality of sex education you've had, maybe a lot. But for many of us, there are basic questions about our own anatomy that go unanswered, a fact that can have serious consequences. The women behind Pussypedia are hoping to change this reality with the creation of a free, digital, bilingual encyclopedia of the vagina that uses only the most rigorously vetted scientific sources, plus interactive elements, and a judgment-free, inclusive tone.
"I was Googling whether or not all women can squirt," recalls Zoe Mendelson, the journalist and information designer behind the project, of how she first conceptualized it. "I didn't find anything conclusive on the subject, but I did come to realize how awful the quality of most of the information about vajayjays is on the internet. Finally, I came across a medical journal article about how the two types of orgasms aren't actually different—they're part of one integrated system. And I couldn't believe that this obscure article hadn't made more waves because I was so sure that every single woman I know would want to know that information."
Mendelson, who is based in Mexico City, teamed up with Jackie Jahn, a PhD candidate at Harvard's Chan School of Public Health, and Maria Conejo, a visual artist and designer. The three are currently fundraising for the project on Kickstarter, where they've met over $4,000 of their $8,000 goal in just a day. Perhaps that's because it's shocking that something like Pussypedia doesn't already exist, and that it's so hard for many women to find straightforward, reliable information about our bodies.
But, Mendelson notes, beyond its capacity for reproduction, the female anatomy is something that the medical community has taken an interest in only relatively recently, and there's still a lot of misinformation being propagated, especially online. "Why does Walgreen's still sell douches? And why do women still buy them? Science has known for a long time that they're terrible for your vagina," Mendelson points out. "Why is labiaplasty on an astronomical rise among teenage girls?"
Many of the topics Pussypedia plans to cover are hard to find good information about because they're considered taboo. Menstruation, masturbation, and vaginal infections are things we've been taught by society to be ashamed of, and therefore many women are scared to bring these topics up even to their doctors. Meanwhile, resources for information about transmasculine and transfeminine vaginal health are still woefully limited across the board.
The team chose the moniker "Pussypedia" because they feel "pussy" is a more inclusive word than "vagina." The vagina is a specific body part, whereas the pussy encompasses something less concrete. What's more, with the proliferation of Pussyhats and the post-Trump, post-Weinstein notion of "grabbing back," the word has taken on an inherently feminist ideology.
"We are reappropriating 'pussy' because we love that word," reads a statement by the creators. "[T]he word 'vagina' comes from the word 'sheath'—that thing you keep a sword in. We're not into the idea that the pussy exists as an object of service to the penis. 'People with pussies' refers to people with many combinations of anatomical features. We know not everyone shares all the same features. So we're giving 'pussy' an expanded definition that makes room for the diversity of human sexual and anatomical expression."
The team also seems to understand that not everyone has the metabolism for reading hardcore scientific scholarship just to understand the mechanics of vaginal orgasms, for example. The point is to break these things down and illustrate them in a way that's easily digestible for everyone. We're living in a cultural moment in which our bodies feel increasingly politicised, even (or perhaps especially) as violent actions against them are finally being brought to light. Now more than ever, the rights of every woman to know, understand, and appreciate her body is crucial.
Fundraising for Pussypedia will continue until December 30 on Kickstarter, with prizes including stickers, totes, and prints.