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In Favor of a Full Bush: Why I Want Healthcare Education to include Pubes

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September 12, 2016

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This past week, as a part of my first official semester in nursing school, I learned how to insert a urinary catheter. A urinary catheter is a tube that is inserted into the bladder via the urethra when the bladder does not empty pee as normal. My nursing class learned how to insert catheters into urethras that were located above adult vaginas. The whole process of learning how to insert a catheter began with reading about it, then watching a video on how to do it, and finally practicing on a mannequin that is supposed to simulate a real life adult human person. While I watched the catheter-insertion video and then later in lab while I readied my mannequin’s vagina for practice, I was perplexed. Why? Because both the mannequin vulva and the video vulva were pube-less, people! And it is concerning to me.

The video labia and the adult mannequins’ labia were new to me in two ways. The first way I have already mentioned, the labia were completely bald. Hairless. Free of any pubes. Secondly, all of the vulvas were perfectly symmetrical, with urethras nestled between two equally sized and shaped labia minora, which were in-turn framed by equally proportional and slightly larger labia majora. “Where are the pubes?!” I asked incredulously during the video. “I think I see some,” my classmate reassured me, “they’re just blonde!” I was unconvinced.

These completely bare, pube-less pussies do not reflect my lived experience. In my lived experience, vulva come in all shapes and sizes, colors, patterns, and textures. Sometimes there is hair, sometimes there is not, sometimes a little, sometimes a cushion of curls! There is a never-ending, vast, limitless labial reality. (Those interested in a select sampling of this array can check out The Great Wall of Vagina –an art piece!)

My concern with the singular representation of vulva that we were exposed too during school last week is that it serves to normalize one image of a vulva. So much of what we have been learning in nursing school has to do with internalizing “normal” and applying a “normal” ideal to bodies. While this is undoubtedly useful to an extent, it also has the potential to create a dangerous dichotomy: “normal” versus “abnormal,” “healthy” versus “pathological,” and so forth.

When the only vulva we are exposed to in medical/nursing teaching are hairless and symmetrical, this image can become internalized as the norm. Representations, particularly within formalized education, are a method of making meaning, and it is important to recognize and critically analyze how standardized representations of genitalia impact the students, teachers, and individuals who interact with them. The fact that these proportional, pube-less vulva exist within an educational arm of the US healthcare system adds an additional layer to dissect because formalized healthcare in the United States is given legal and cultural authority. My additional worry is that, in a world saturated by plastic, hairless, symmetrical vulva deemed normal and healthy, a vulva sporting a plume of pubes can suddenly be considered deviant and/or unhealthy. How will such notions effect reproductive health care for patients down stream (pun intended). Wouldn’t the ideal be that all pube stylings are accepted and honored?

Luckily, my disquiet was addressed when my lab instructor brought my nursing classes attention to our mannequin’s noticeable lack of pubic hair by saying, “That video y’all watched? This vagina here? Yeah, it’s not like that. In real life the vagina won’t be Brazilian waxed, urethra out in the open and easy to see.” When she said this I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. At least I am assured that my lab instructor is making an effort to alert students to a variety of pubic possibilities.

 

Image from Internet Archive Book Images, via Wikimedia Commons

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