Home / SEXPress / Is Your Vulva Obscene? On Facebook, Censorship and Female Genitals
Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010

Is Your Vulva Obscene? On Facebook, Censorship and Female Genitals

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As a sexuality educator, I perform a constant balancing act. On one hand, my mission in life is to enhance communication about sexuality, to create spaces where people can get information about sex without fear or shame. On the other hand, I can never forget that our culture automatically labels almost anything having to do with sex as “obscene.” When I write this column, plan workshops or design ads and window displays for the store, I always walk a tightrope in my mind, knowing that what I consider educational could be deemed offensive by others, simply because the subject is sexuality.

Over the past week, women whom I consider my sisters in the sex-positive movement have been censored by Facebook, apparently because the content of their Facebook fan pages could be considered “obscene, ” which is a violation of the Facebook terms of service (although Facebook has not offered any explanation as to exactly what their definition of obscene is and how their terms of service had been violated). The owners of Self Serve, a feminist sex toy store in Albuquerque, N.M., that is similar to the Tool Shed, posted on their Facebook page a video blog about labiaplasty that included photographs of female genitals. Violet Blue, a prolific author and blogger, maintained a Facebook page called “Our Porn, Ourselves," the goal of which was to create a dialogue about women’s relationship to pornography, but which did not contain or link to any pornographic images. Both pages were deleted without warning.

I find this disturbing because it implies that the mere image of unaroused female genitals, not engaged in a sex act of any kind, is obscene. OMG—did you know that you were walking around with an obscenity between your legs? It also implies that the discussion of pornography, not just pornography itself, is also obscene. The common thread linking the Self Serve and Our Porn, Ourselves pages is their assertion that women have a right to sexual pleasure—that women should know what normal female genitals look like in order to better understand their own bodies, and that women should not feel ashamed if they enjoy watching porn. Hmmm, I guess I should be scared, since I frequently talk about vulvas, porn and female sexual empowerment in my work.

Women’s bodies are not offensive. Public dialogue about sexual images and sexual arousal is not inappropriate. The fact that we live in a culture where a giant corporation can decide that they are and control the flow of information about these topics is the reason that so much shame about sexuality still exists. And by the way, there are still plenty of anti-porn and pro-labiaplasty pages on Facebook. Et tu, Mark Zuckerberg?

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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