Well, it’s been a couple of weeks now since my last therapy session I think. I’m choosing to spend time on the present day goals I have, improving my singing, finishing the book I’m writing, getting my physical health in better order, having fun.
I’m feeling a bit isolated. Father’s day was hard this year, which it isn’t usually. Normally it’s this irrelevant thing that passes by without my notice. This year I really wanted him to die, was really hoping and expecting him to die on Father’s day, like it would be fitting somehow. He could of course be dead right now, given I’m out of touch with anyone who’d tell me in a hurry, but somehow I doubt it.
My wife asks what does it matter if he dies? To me it’s a product of my anger. I’m angry that I was wounded so bad on my vulva and remember very little of the situation surrounding it. I remember it happening, but not what happened before or after or even the place where it happened very well.
Has anyone tried hypnosis to fill in the details in their memories? I’d be interested in finding out how that worked out for you.
I’m angry and he should have some consequences for something as horrific as that. My friend the lawyer says it’s not to late to pursue criminal charges, but I’m not sure I want to do that. I don’t think much of it would be within my control. I mean, I have these big scars on my body that prove I was injured. Does that mean they’ll have a big picture of my vulva in the courtroom, or read out my medical report, or have me examined by a forensic gynaecologist or something? That’s actually not the part that bugs me, it’s just that they won’t be representing me, I’ll just be a witness and they’ll be making decisions out of my control on a situation that should be completely within my control.
What I really want is to rub my mother’s nose in it, make her explain exactly how she managed to overlook such a serious injury, force her to take back her lie that she didn’t know I was being abused. I want to scream and yell and force her to tell me the truth finally.
What I really want to do is sing and dance and be happy and not worry about shithead.
I read something recently that a therapist wrote about survivors. That we’re not willing to live an ordinary life. That our winning back of our souls and hearts and memories had better bloody well mean something. I’m paraphrasing here, but I agree. I’m not content to have a job and a marriage and a home and routine activities. My life has to count for something or it wouldn’t be worth the first 15 years, and the ten after that recovering myself.
I told my therapist in my last session that what I wanted was to do earth work, get my regular life sorted out, and balance out all the water work of healing. Now I actually have to do it.
I have had two singing lessons now and I rehearsed tonight. My first lesson went amazingly well and I sang like a rock star. Predictably, by the second lesson I had a sore throat and a head cold. I’m now over the cold and practising for my third lesson next week. I was in the park today on my dinner break and was thinking about how my eyesight has taken an abrupt turn for the worse these last two years. I paid attention to what that meant, looking out with my eyes at the beautiful trees around me that I could no longer see crisply without glasses. I realized suddenly, suddenly knew that my eyes were trying to protect me by shutting out seeing things, the way they had as a child. That I needed to give them permission to see. It felt like I had been cutting off the blood flow to my eyes. I told myself, my eyes that it was now safe to see everything. It is now safe to see.
With my father in my face all the time, the only way to lesson the visual impact of what he was doing was to blur my vision. Perhaps that’s the gift my body gave me. I had eye surgery about 10 years now, but just recently my vision has reverted, making eye glasses necessary again. Maybe being in therapy these last almost two years has made my body react in the same way again. I’m going to experiment with that idea.
When I was 7 we moved to the second house. The dog who died in the first house was replaced near the end of our time there with two black lab puppies. What were my parents thinking? Amos was a high strung hyper dog, and Andy was more placid. My father was training them as hunting dogs and made them respond to whistle commands. Andy often ignored the commands because he thought he knew where the duck was better than my dad did. He usually did. One time he couldn’t find the duck my dad had shot and brought back an uninjured one instead. He was a good dog. My dad would pinch their ears if he thought they were misbehaving. I thought the noise was terrible and that my dad was cruel, which of course he was.
The new house had a playroom in the basement that I remember quite well, along with a suite of rooms that became my older brother’s bedroom. It also had a formal living room that wasn’t often entered, that I would hide in. I spent a lot of time being still in that living room, staying out of notice. The living room contained a piano, which my father would play sometimes. I took piano lessons for awhile, but my teacher wasn’t nice and nobody made me practice, so I didn’t do well with it. I now have that piano in my home. I still don’t really play it, but at one time I thought I would. I still kind of intend to learn…. Chaotic households don’t lend themselves well to establishing routines, something I still don’t really have the hang of.
I also remember my own bedroom well, and every area of the house and yard. My parent’s bathroom stank of my father and mother’s bodies, which always repulsed me. I had a closet in my bedroom that was furnished with fake-gilt furniture my grandmother had bought me, complete with a pink canopy bed. I was one of those princess girls, so much for the stereotype of the butch from birth lesbian. Come to think of it, I was given that furniture when I lived in the old house and I do remember when it arrived and setting it up there, which is kind of a bedroom memory. I was one of those girls who had barbie dolls, and I even had a barbie townhouse for a short while, which made me a popular gal around the neighbourhood. That ended when my younger brother ran down the hallway with one of the townhouse pillars in his mouth, falling and cutting the back of his throat. At least that was what I was told. It happened while I was out of town with my mother for a family wedding, so Goddess only knows how his throat got damaged. He’s never told me any different.
Anyhow in the new house I had my own room. My abuse memories from that time are mostly about waiting for my father to go to bed each night. He’d get hammered beginning before dinner, and then eat dinner, watch tv, get belligerent and pass out. Good nights were when he passed out fairly early. Then my mother and brothers and I could relax. As long as we didn’t make too much noise we could talk and be relatively relaxed. While my father was awake and belligerent it was important not to rile him up. The more riled he got the more likely he was to take it out on me.
I’d be put to bed, but wouldn’t sleep. I’d lay in my bed in terror. I complained almost every night to my mother that I couldn’t sleep, and she’d say everything was fine and she was right down the hallway. A lot of good that did.
My father would wake up at some point and would turn the TV back on and watch it. He’d often wait a couple of hours after my mother had gone to bed. I think he did this on purpose to maximize his chances to abuse me. Finally he’d come staggering down the hallway, his big fat-fingered hands brushing on the walls as he made his way down the hall. Sometimes he’d pass my door, which was opposite the bathroom, and continue down the hall to their bedroom, which had it’s own ensuite bathroom. Sometimes he’d go into the bathroom across from me, use the toilet, turn on the fan. When he came out he’d come into my room. I don’t remember much more. All I know is that I spent some time in my closet in that room, that I really really wanted a lock on the door, and that I have a trigger about light shining around a partially opened bedroom door. I honestly don’t know if I was raped there too, but I think it’s likely given all the triggers. Iether he slipped my mother something to keep her asleep, or she pretended not to know. I do have one memory of trying to wake her and being unable to.
I remember spending a lot of time in the bathroom with pain in my vulva. I had an itchy discharge and pain I now know is similar to a urine infection, sitting on the toilet for hours feeling like I had to pee but being unable to. I was pretty thoroughly out of my body, but I remember this pain.
I got my period when I was 13. After that I think the rapes changed from vaginal to anal and oral. I have body memories of the oral, mostly the aftermath, and to a lesser degree of the anal rapes. I don’t know when or where those rapes happened, but I’m guessing that they were in my bedroom. I know that around that time I became unable to sing. It felt like I had phlem in my throat, which was sore, all the time.
One thing I wonder about is something my mother said to me repeatedly. If we were talking about my father’s crimes, she’d say “but what did I do?” with emphasis on the “I”. At the time I thought (and said), “it was more what you’d didn’t do, which is not protecting me or leaving him.” But now I’m wondering if she did anything to me herself. I’ve never had much response when a love goes down on me, and have a particularly hard time staying in my body while it’s happening. If she did anything to me, that’s what she did. I had that wierd kind of memory last year of her abusing me, that I discounted, and I’m still not sure whether it was real or not.
I was anxious and odd enough by the time I lived in the second house that kids teased me, including my older brother. Noticing that I would get terrified if I was in the bathroom if he reached in and turned off the light and on the fan, he would do it to torture me. As an adult, knowing what happened to me, he apologized for doing that, knowing that my terror must have been related. Not that it made it any easier for me at the time.
My younger brother, who would have been about 3 by this time, had his own room across the hall from my parents’ bedroom. I don’t know if my dad abused him directly. I hope not. I’ve always felt protective toward him.
When I was in grade 9 I think, I read an article in a magazine that talked about a young woman who had been arrested for prostitution. She’d been put in a cell, which she had smeared the walls of with menstrual blood. The article explained that she had run away from home to escape the sexual attentions of her step father, and had ended up in prostitution. The tone of the article made it clear that the stepfather had no right to be hitting on his step daughter, and that she was clearly forced to run away.
This article was liberation for me. Before that I had no inkling what sexual abuse was and that he wasn’t allowed to do it. This is why silence about sexual abuse to children is so harmful. I immediately began to fight back. I think I realized I could tell the police on my dad at some level. I argued with my dad when he became belligerent rather than trying to placate him. He began to get worried. The abuse ended definitively one evening. He confronted me in the hallway, in front of a wall hanging of trees screen printed on a sheet. He said “you know I would never hurt you” looking at me in the eyes. He didn’t say it like a question, but like he was instructing me on what to believe and say. I don’t remember what I said in response, but it was not compliance. He left me alone after that.
Life wasn’t a whole lot easier at that point, but it was manageable I guess. I had two boyfriends in succession, and one part time job, and got decent marks, good enough to earn me a scholarship that paid for my tuition in my first year of university. I got the hell out of town at 16 and went to university. I started to realize I was gay, but didn’t do anything about it. I had two boyfriends in university, which lasted till the end of my third year there, when I came out. I had been fighting to suppress some pretty major flashbacks most of my teen years. I continued to have major flashbacks in first year, but didn’t make much sense of them, again until third year, when I started attending a 12 step program for children of alcoholics. I started hearing other women speak honestly about their childhoods, and some even disclosed abuse. It was the first place I’d ever remembered feeling safe. Once that circle was opened with the women sitting in a circle doing the beginning readings, it was like a magic circle had been cast and I was protected from my father. That circle saved my life. I began going to twelve step meetings a lot.
I’m amazed I didn’t act out. I barely drank, didn’t do drugs and didn’t particularly sleep around, although I’d had sex with one of my two boyfriends. I think I felt I needed to be ‘on’ to be safe, which mostly involved manipulating situations that got scary rather than kicking butt. That I learned to do later. The first boyfriend was gay, which worked out pretty well for both of us until he left me for a guy. The second boyfriend, predictably for a guy of 18, wanted to have sex several times a day, and I didn’t usually want to have sex at all, but complied out of a sense of obligation and to maintain his attention and regard. I liked to sleep with him for the feeling of protection. When I broke up with him I swore I’d never have sex with a man again, and didn’t for several years. It wasn’t all bad – he was a kind guy aside from the sexual pressure, which I stopped being mad about after a couple of years, and we’re still friends. After we broke up he called my father to confront him, but my mother either wouldn’t put him on the phone or he wasn’t home. I would have paid money to hear that if he’d have been able to get through to him. While I was with this boyfriend, I wrote my mother a letter disclosing the abuse, and cut ties with my parents. I moved and didn’t tell them where I was living. For most of the next several years, I didn’t even tell my mom where I was living, just called her from time to time to let her know I was okay. I’d hang up without saying anything if my dad answered. During this time my I didn’t speak to my younger brother, who was still living at home. It was about 14 years later that my mother finally left my father. During those years I almost never saw iether her or my younger brother.
Every once in a while she’d breeze into the town where I lived and have a very short visit, one or two hours, sometimes more. During this time I asked her to mail me my stuff, which she mostly did, but she went through and read all my journals, which, not surprizingly, had nothing in them about the abuse, although a bit about the neglect, which I haven’t mentioned. Basically, there was almost no food at home. My parents used their credit cards to eat in restaurants during the day, but there was often no groceries at home, at least not enough for hungry teenagers. There’s one passage in my journal where I am a teenager and am talking about how hungry I was and how there was no food at home, and how I was using the money from my part time job to buy groceries at the mall and eat there. I could get more food for less money if I bought groceries rather than going to a restaurant or fast food place. I also bought vitamins for myself. What kind of teenager does that?
So until about 7 years ago, I didn’t see most of my relatives at all. Then my mother left my father and I made an effort to be supportive. I started seeing her a couple of times a year, and realized who she is like when she’s out from under my father’s shadow. How she is is mostly anxious, needy and high maintenance. She needs to have all the attention, and tries to buy my affection with gifts she thinks I’ll like, while withholding what I actually want, just like she did when I was a child. She had a couple of shining moments of helpful mothering, like when she co-signed our first mortgage, and when she organized a bunch of relatives to attend our wedding. She was like the poster mother for gay friendly parents, telling her friends they needed to accept that her daughter had a female partner or lose her friendship. Every once in awhile she gets it right. Most of the time she gets it very wrong because she wants me to pretend everything is okay the way I did when I lived at home. F— that. I respond by pretending for short periods and then getting irritated with her. Finally I stopped seeing her all together. Now that I know about the scars, I don’t know what I’d say to her. If I told her about them, she’d deny knowing, and I’d feel like killing her.
I just had an hour long massage at a spa. Steam room, cucumber water, soft music, the whole bit. I decided to spend the money I’d been spending on therapy on something body/soul nurturing, and this and the singing lessons are it. I even spent a little time meditating in the quiet, pleasant waiting area. So I’m feeling pretty mellow.
One of the things that I have a love-hate relationship with massages about is the fact that I often cry during massages, particularly deep tissue ones. This time, the body worker was working fairly intensely on my left shoulder-back and I started to cry. Now a certain amount of crying is easily hidden during a massage, with your face down, a lot of people get sniffly just from their nose clogging up, for example, and there’s a bit of music, and well, your face is hidden. The sobbing breathing has to be controlled if I don’t want her to know I’m crying. I walked a middle line there.
What I ended up crying about is stinking father’s day. As much as I try to avoid it (I actually put a rule in my email that deletes any message with the phrase ‘father’s day’ in it), these kinds of holidays are ubiquitous. I ended up on the table praying to ‘the Father’ a made up god from a book called “The Curse of Challion”, who is kind of the soul of positive fatherhood, and also the god of winter and death. I was asking him why he didn’t strike my father dead for desecrating fatherhood. That reminded me of my grandfather, and I asked him the same thing (he died when I was 13), why he couldn’t do something to make sure my father dies. Father’s day would be an appropriate time. Anyway, I started to feel my grief.
The woman’s hands on my waist as she massaged my lower back reminded me of being touched by my wife, and how I miss feeling intimate with her, how I miss loving, present, touch. It’s not as if she doesn’t caress me, but I still miss the way it used to be.
Luckily, she worked on my back a long time before flipping me over, and I was able to enjoy the pleasure of her massaging my feet, and scalp and arms. By the time it finished, I was ready to go to sleep.
So today I had my lung function tested and it’s apparently just fine. The respirologist said the dizziness was just exercising too hard while being out of shape, as the lactic acid builds up in the body and gets released or something when you exercise hard, making one dizzy and nauseous. I guess I have to work up gradually or read up on lactic acid.
I did okay going to the doctor, but woke up at 4:30 this morning out of anxiety about it and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I’m running on fumes now. At least I seem to be able to go to the doctor. I handled it by bringing my wife along and promising to take her to brunch afterward. If he was arrogant and condescending I would order waffles with strawberries and cream. He didn’t turn out to be particularly condescending but I ordered it anyhow. He even had to press around my throat at one point and I coped with that fine.
What was valuable about the whole thing was that I got a chance to ask about my chronic cough/sore throat and got a couple of strategies to help it. It’s not a big deal generally, but it does seem to mess with my singing endurance a bit. The asthma educator woman I spoke to said that I might try taking a silent break for a few days to let my throat muscles relax and calm down, as they might be twitchy because of some past issues (irritation from chronic nose runnyness, which is now fixed, but went on for years).
Basically my asthma is almost completely in remission, given that I’m mostly avoiding what triggers it. Also, apparently I’ve been doing everything right, even to the extent of taking vitamin D supplements, which are supposed to be good for the lungs. At least something works.
I had my first singing lesson and actually it went pretty well. The teacher said I had a clear tone and a large range, and I had lots of great overtones in my voice. I sang with so much resonance in my head that my ears tickled and my sinuses started to clear!
This song often makes me cry. It’s about the Australian government’s apology to the aboriginal peoples of Australia, but…. imagine it is an apology from the people of your home town, extended family or community for not seeing or helping you when you were abused or for not stopping the sexual offenders they knew were active from hurting children. Imagine a day when people recognize the injustice of shunning incest survivors in all the subtle and overt ways it happens. Imagine allowing this apology to sink in.
I’ve been listening to a self-hypnosis tape on lately every morning before I get up. It gets some positive thoughts in my head and I’ve followed it in my mp3 player with some happy uplifting music. It’s a meditation on confidence and seems to be a good fit for where I get stuck in inaction. I wouldn’t have said I lacked confidence, but this is helping. The guy who recorded it seems to be quite good at what he does. I went to his website to see if he had anything else I might want to buy but got put off by the Tony Robbins style marketing. Ick. However, this recording is very helpful. It’s not the least religious, for those with religious triggers, and he has a pleasant British or perhaps Australian accent. ( I note that the amazon.co.uk description I linked to above warns not to listen to this if you have a ‘nervous psychiatric condition’, I’m wondering if this is some sort of blanket British legal thing about hypnosis. I suppose PTSD is a nervous psychiatric condition, but I don’t see what harm a nice calming positive thought meditation would do.)
Because of the meditation and music, I wake up dancing. That and the rolfing and I’m walking tall these days. I told my therapist I wanted to take a break, and that I’d call her when the old bastard dies, but for now I need to work on practical problem solving around my business and health. For right now, I need to be working on earth (practical) and fire (will creation), not just water (emotion, intuition) and air (thought) to balance my life out.
I’m going to my first singing lesson in awhile today. I’m getting my lung capacity tested this week to help me figure out how to exercise without getting dizzy and nauseous (something my NP says is tied to my vagus nerve and not getting enough oxygen). I’ve been taking my vitamins regularly and dosing myself with a fairly large dose of Omega 3 fatty acids daily, which are good for the brain and anxiety. I feel much more calm and relaxed than usual.
May we all be well and happy (except you know who…)
I got my wife to take a picture of my vulva so I could see what I’m dealing with. A mirror is quite an awkward way to see one’s vulva if you’ve ever tried it. It was easier at the nurse’s office, but she had a magnifying mirror I think and a good light and angle.
Anyhow I now have this good quality, close up picture of a part of my body I’m trying to have a happier relationship with. It helps.
I can see the two scars leading away toward the front of my body from the vaginal vestibule. One reaches all the way from inside my vagina opening to the place where the two labia minora come together at the top (where it disappears from view in my picture), which is almost to my clitoris. And the other is almost that long, but goes off to the side a bit. They are quite faded now, as she said, very old scars, but I think about what kind of injury would create that much tearing to be that long and that visible over 30 years later.
That old fucker better die soon.
Seeing how faded the scars are, and how clearly healed it is helps. If you know about or suspect damage to your own vulva I recommend taking a picture and having a look. Use a flash, a lot of the detail isn’t easily visible at first, particularly with old scars. Mine look like faded white/pale pink lines leading out from the vestibule. I probably wouldn’t have known what they were without my nurse, who has seen scars on women’s vulvas from childbirth, identifying them for me. Since I’ve never given birth or been raped as an adult, (and apparently my cervix does not show evidence of having opened for birthing) there’s only one experience I’ve had that could have made these scars.
In my religion, the vulva is particularly holy, being representative of the Goddess’s creative power in the universe and the sacredness of both sex and of giving birth. The Gods are valued as lovers and brothers of the Goddess(es), and also as fathers to Her children. I think it’s great I’ve chosen to participate in a religion that calls this part of me holy, that is unafraid to talk about or honour vulvas. My father is not a pagan, but he’s done what must be the greatest act of sacrilege, violating the most sacred part of a woman’s body and his sacred role as a guardian and nurturer of children.
Well, my little sacred warrior vulva, you’ve come through a lot. May you be blessed, may you be happy and whole and an honoured part of my body and being.
P.S. I was looking for some links for explanation of the medical terms above, and ran into some journals, which led me to others. I found this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10533272 which has the following rather chilling phrase, which made me cry a little out recognition of the validation it provided for my recollection of what happened. “repeated abusive genital penetration significantly more often than non-penetrative abuse leaves deep posterior hymenal clefts and/or vestibular scarring”. This particular study took pains to match the girl’s disclosure of what happened to her with the perpetrators confession, so there could be no argument about what caused these particular injuries. The exams were also done ‘non-acutely’ which I think means that they were done some time after the actual injury took place. This article also might be valuable to other survivors with genital injuries, which talks about the healing patterns of pediatric genital injuries. : http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/112/4/829 It also has pictures and shows what the same injuries look like when healed, and has arrows showing where the injuries are. The vulva is such an unfamiliar organ, that the arrows pointing out what’s wrong are helpful. A lot of the sources make it clear that lack of visible injury does not rule out abuse, and that often the injuries heal without a scar or vascular damage. What I am understaning from all of this is that my injuries were particularly severe, even as far as these things go. Yikes.
You know, it’s weird. In the aftermath of finding confirmation my vagina had been injured by the rapes, it’s actually empowered me to do something about the physical discomfort I’ve had on and off for a long time.
It’s quite different to look at the pain as discomfort coming from an injury, than to think of it as some sort of nebulous survivor thing, or something that I can’t do anything about. It gives me something to look for for practical help.
I’ve been reading up about vulvodynia (pain in the vulva) online, and even though my nurse practitioner wasn’t very helpful, I’ve found some self-management strategies that seem to be working. I’ve discovered that the pattern of my symptoms and what causes them fits what other women describe. For example, some women feel sore during penetrative sex, but many feel sore a day afterwards when inflammation sets in.
I’m going to list them here in case any other survivors with injured vulvas find them helpful.
In order of helpfulness
VERY helpful: A squeeze bottle to rinse irritated tissues after peeing. This is so simple and so helpful. Thanks to the gal who runs the interstitial cystitis network for this tip. Instant pain reduction. Perhaps the vascular damage or scar tissue has made the area around my urethra more sensitive. I suppose a bidet would be even better, but I don’t have one. This works great. Just plain room temperature or warm water.
Massage. Yes, I mean massage, consciously loosening up all the muscles in the pelvis and vulva. Thank goodness I have a willing wife. It’s not foreplay per see, but certainly seems to make sex more possible. One massage got me pain free for almost a week. Apparently one of the proposed causes of vulvadynia is restricted blood flow in the vulva caused by clenching the muscles. I think that’s really possible as a cause for what’s going on with me.
Just a regular quite soft pillow on my work chair seems to help even better than the donut.
Sitting is bad for the vulva, apparently, and what do I do for hours each day? Sit in a computer chair. I’m trying to sort out my options on that one.
Donut pillow – This is one of those rubber blow up pillows sold at drug stores called an ‘invalid pillow’. It’s sort of helpful, but puts a lot of pressure on your legs if you’re going to be sitting for a long time. Apparently there are these foam pillows with a cut out or much softer strip down the center that are supposed to be good as well.
Thinking about relaxing my vulva and pelvis while I’m walking or resting. Seems to help a bit. I notice I do seem to clench up a lot of the time, now that I’m paying attention. Interesting.
There were also some tips about sex when you have a touchy vulva that looked helpful too: http://www.ic-network.com/selfhelp/sex.html I don’t know if I have interstitial cystitis, but since many women with it also have vulvadynia too, a lot of the tips cross over. I know I had a lot of bladder infections as a young woman, and I recall recurrent pain and needing to pee but not being able to as a child which probably was a bladder infection then. If I feel one coming on now, I drink a lot of water and eat a lot of vitamin c which usually settles it.
Since the physical things are helping, I don’t think this is a body memory, although the clenching that’s causing it might be. However, I’m not feeling much emotional energy around it, so I think it might actually be mostly physical.
For the first time in a long time I’m actually hopeful I’ll have a sex life again. It sucks to know that every time you have even gentle sex you’re going to be sore for days afterwards. Kind of makes it hard to feel it’s worth it, you know? I’m hopeful that if I can find a way to manage it I won’t have to.
It also feels quite weird to be talking about my vagina and vulva, present day, on this blog. “What kind of person discusses her vulva online?” some voice in my head says. Some people I know face to face sometimes follow my blog and I wonder about judgment about my poor taste in talking about my peach. However, my poor little raw vaginal vestibule (see I learned a new term, its the area just outside the vagina entrance) is pretty darn sore a lot of the time, despite almost never having sex and I think other survivors might be having similar issues, so I think it’s worth talking about, despite the embarrassment. I mean half the population has a vulva, and most of the rest of the world (save gay men, of course) are at least moderately interested in vulvae (my spellcheck rejected vulvas, and suggested vulvae, which sounds so literate) so I think it’s just cultural bullshit that it’s a taboo topic. Incest and vaginas and vulvae, oh my!