The first time I truly looked at my vagina, it was at a friend’s insistence, and I was 27 years old. Maybe a little wine and whispered secrets had something to do with it. We were at Amani’s sleepover talking about how well we knew our bodies when Amani brought up vaginas. I will say, Amani is the only one in our friend group capable of hosting adult sleepovers. Amani claimed that she’d be able to find her vagina in a heartbeat if they were something you could lose.
“Come on girls, you don’t think they look the same, do you?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Teetu said, sucking on an olive and staring at her toes pretending the still wet bright red polish was the most interesting thing in the room.
“Hmm, what do you think?” Amani was looking straight at me.
“I mean, it’s not like we did communal showering in high school so…” I let my shoulders fall noncommittally. “Why are we even talking about this?”
“Oh my God!” Amani gasped. “You totally have no clue. Shameless! Ebu get up we put this nonsense behind us.”
She got us off the floor and into different corners of the house.
“Do not stop until you have a diagram of your cooch!” she shouted after us.
It was an uncomfortable occurrence at the time. I remember getting under the staircase. The bulb kept flickering on and off, and there was an incessant ringing in my head. I couldn’t look. My fingers travelled down out of their own volition to my clitoris. I froze. The only time I touched myself like this was in the shower. Something quick, clinical, to get a part of my routine done. But this, this slow swirling of fingers that were not someone else’s was foreign yet oddly familiar. A tingling sensation spread to my fingers. I stopped, suddenly wishing there was a mirror so I could see my face. I felt brave and sexy and knowing. Like I had discovered a new part of me.
“Guys, that’s enough time. Do not overdo it,” Amani called out from the living room. “Ready or not, I’m coming.” She chuckled at her weak pun. I pulled up my pyjama pants quickly, my fingers uncoordinated, as her light footsteps halted at the foot of the stairs.
“Rara, you good?” she asked, scrutinising my face like she was looking for something. “Was there a ghost in there? I heard you gasp.”
“Now you are eavesdropping?” I sounded whiny.
“Gosh, relax!” she raised her eyebrows askance. “Teetu and Serah kujeni.” I followed her into the living room. What was that?
Amani refilled our glasses. The large bowl of olives was empty. She got some for Teetu who swore she couldn’t enjoy wine without them. Serah did not think what we had done was a big deal. Teetu looked like we had just sealed an oath. She asked Amani if they could visit the gynaecologist together the next time, her eyes glistening.
I go back to that conversation a lot because it unlocked most of the things I took for granted regarding my body.
While I prepared for my first pap smear, I channelled Amani who was the only one in our friend group who had annual pap smears. She would know what to say and do. I was scared and kept arriving at so many ifs. What if I found out something was wrong with me? I even started thinking of my mum’s friend who had gone for a pap smear and ended up having a hysterectomy. I was not ready for something like that. What if it was too painful? What if I got an amateur who poked more than they should? I ended up calling Amani because I needed an “expert” on my body.
Amani’s first question was, “is it clean?” I played dumb. What is clean? A day later, she held my hand in the waiting room as I waited for my turn. It was quick and almost painless. I had taken charge of my reproductive health which put me at ease. I think women want ease. A lot of our experiences are dreadfully painful—menstruation, sprouting breasts, labour, hell, even waxing. We want sanitary towels that are soft, easy to put on, and stay put. We want bras that hold our breasts with ease and confidence. Stilettos? We want to walk like we are tittering but still feel comfortable. It follows that when I needed my first wax, I took Amani with me to the waxing parlour. At the time, I was heavily pregnant, at risk of going into labour any moment.
“First time?” the waxing lady asked as she moved things around and helped me onto the bed.
“Si I’lll give you a few moments to undress and come back.”
She came back and switched off the wax heater. The overhead bulb changed from neon blue to a bright white. Jesus! All of me was sprawled out on the tiny bed like an offering. I tried to cover up my bits and the waxing lady laughed.
“What’s your name again?” I asked her, anything to stall the ordeal.
“Emily, but I don’t think we can do this. How far along are you?’’
“Ah, this small tummy? Imagine only four months. Small bodied whatnot.”
“Sawa, if you say so.”
I felt the cool surface of tiny scissors working the hair on my lips. I froze. Not bad at all, I thought, but when the first strip caught my flesh unawares, I think I wet the bed and died a little.
As luck would have it, I went into labour the very next day and in between the hiccups of pain, I stared at a picture of my vagina that the waxing lady had so graciously taken. Like a baby’s bum, my friends said. Well, I was about to find out. It was beautiful, flawless, and somehow filled me with a kind of hope. I was excited that after labour, I’d finally be able to see my vagina after what seemed like aeons.
Fast forward to years later and yoni pearls almost broke the internet. This time, I called Amani and asked, “Have you heard of yoni beads?” Of course she had. She wanted me and the rest of the girls to try them. “Oh, and I hear it’s good for tightening down there, you know, after a baby,” she mentioned like an afterthought. She was already planning a sleepover even while we spoke on the phone. I was tasked with ensuring everyone confirmed attendance. It was going to be a sisterhood of wine and bonding over vaginas, she promised.
Serah was not going to be around. Also, she was not a huge fan of disturbing her vagina’s peace. She had screamed when I mentioned the pearls. Do you even know what you are talking about? What things are you putting into your body?! I tried Teetu next. She agreed to anything Amani suggested. “Has Amani tried it?” Of course, I said. She was in. I was going for nefarious reasons. I needed more flesh for a story I was working on and it was better that they did not know.
I came with the wine. Amani came with the pearls. “They are going to detoxify you and work around your muscles,” she said with the knowing confidence of someone who carried a miracle in the form of a vagina. Teetu didn’t need telling twice. She popped one in remarking “it’s just like a pessary, only silkier.”
She sat with us to wait for her hallelujah moment. It came. But with terrifying results. She started cramping heavily for someone who has a very peaceful period. Amani tried to calm her down, telling her it was part of the process. “I am still bleeding and discharging every other week,” she said nonchalantly. Teetu was now rocking back and forth on the floor. Her soft whimpers were far from normal. Her breath caught like she couldn’t get enough air, her arms wound tightly around her stomach. My arms went around her shoulders but she shook them off with her continuous rocking.
“Did you insert?” Amani asked as if our friend was not crying on the floor. I lied that I had.
In a last-minute panic, I called a taxi and we rushed to the hospital. We held Teetu between us as Amani confessed that she now battled yeast infections every other day. “They are supposed to cure that,” she cried, making it worse for Teetu. “Did it say that on the packaging?” I asked. “No.” She replied quietly after a minute. “But that is what it said on the Instagram advert.” I was quiet for the rest of the drive. Thankfully, the driver didn’t try to chime in on the bizarre conversation that was happening in the backseat.
History has many tales of women going to extreme lengths for their vaginas—from inserting potatoes to crocodile dung (who came up with these things?) in their vaginas. Women are always doing the most for a ‘perfect’ reproductive system. Some douched with liquid steel, others sneezed so hard believing the action would push the pesky swimmers out. But to quote my mother, if God wanted us to clean this thing, He would have put it right up there with the nose.
I breathed and hoped for the best.
Names have been changed for privacy.