Looking At Our Cunts: A Review of Vulva 101
Hylton Coxwell loves the vulva and he isn’t ashamed to show it. In fact, when I was first looked through his book, Vulva 101, with its vast array of photographs, I breathed a sigh of relief, because these are real cunts. From wine-red to delicate brown, and from large and blooming to tight and lush, these aren’t the vulva of professional models or plastic “would be” vaginas. They are your cunt, my cunt, our next door neighbor’s cunt. And they are displayed with pride.
Coxwell’s project was conceived on vacation at a nudist beach. Here, among naked women who could “just be themselves without judgment,” he had his light-bulb moment. Through his work as a photographer, he wanted people to be able to view a rich variety of vulva in a context where they could be celebrated. Not a book that disguised vulva or made them stylized or blurry — and not one that sought to simply choose “the best” — but one that showed off the natural spread of cunts (which I am told is in the spirit of Femalia, by Joani Blank, Tee Corrine and Michael Perry).
Coxwell talks at length about his creation of the book, and I enjoy his writing. For instance, he explains that his female friends could mention “penis” happily in conversation, but were so abashed about their cunts that they sometimes resorted to using “vajayjay” or “The Place Which Shall Not Be Named.” So he advertised online for women who weren’t ashamed, and so began the two-year project.
Well, my friends talk about cunts all the time, I’m happy to say, but that doesn’t make the book any less enjoyable. When I received my copy, I unwrapped it in the presence of close, sex-positive friends, who rifled through the pages as we passed it around. “I kind of expect them to smell,” announced Ellie, holding the page in question close to her nose and sniffing. We all laughed. “Well you know,” she said, “up close like this, you expect a full-on sensory experience.” And she’s right! Each vulva is depicted with life-sized candor, and is so real that I wouldn’t be surprised if I smelled a whiff of beautiful reality.
Another friend, Dana was also intrigued by the book, and suggested I leave it on the kitchen table where every guest could see it. But when Joe took a look, he said, “There isn’t much hair, is there?” Yup, that’s true. In fact, Coxwell reveals that when the volunteer models asked whether they should shave or not, he said it was up to them. Interestingly, the majority of his models are still fully or partly hairless, so it’s hard to tell if this was their preference or just some camera-shy behavior in a hair-phobic society. But when Joe passed the book back to Ellie, so she could inspect the hairlessness of a particular pic, she suggested we couldn’t know if this model had removed any pubic hair. “Maybe that part of her cunt is naturally hairless,” she said, “and the bit that’s still hairy isn’t.”
A great discussion, right? And all because of what the book enabled us to easily see.
In Vulva 101, Coxwell notes that he didn’t want this to be like other books, which “tried to water everything down, often in sepia tones or black and white, in an effort to not be confused with pornography.” But Coxwell found the latter offensive, saying, “it just reinforced the notion that vulva are dirty, at least in a pornographic way.” But frankly, (as someone who doesn’t see porn as “dirty”), I’d like to see more porn that shows vulva in different shapes and sizes, with more candor and less plastic surgery. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers use the photos in Vulva 101 for sexual enjoyment. If so, then more power to them…and to Coxwell too, for having the guts to show our cunts as cunts.
And that’s pretty high praise.