One woman has made it her mission to end shame around discharge.
Biologically it is there to serve a purpose but like many things related to women anatomy, society has made it seem gross, embarrassing and shameful, or just ignored it all together.
But one woman has made it her mission to end this harmful view through an exhibition that celebrates all types of vaginal discharge.
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Jo Corrall, a vulva artist/activist and founder of This is a Vulva, uses art to help women and people with vulvas feel more confident about their genitalia.
“I provide education about vulvas (because most of us didn’t receive any at school) to help stem the rise in labiaplasty and to get people to feel less embarrassed and confused by their genitals.
I feel it’s highly urgent that we dispel the myths around vaginas and vulvas and help people realise that there is no ‘perfect vulva’ or ‘designer vagina’,” she tells Body + Soul.
This year, Jo has also incorporated what she calls the “last taboo,” vaginal discharge.
“I never heard it talked about at school, at home, with friends, in magazines or online. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20’s that I tentatively started to mention it to close friends. As part of running This is a Vulva, I realised that discharge is another thing that we think is unique to us and that no one else has discharge quite like ours. Just like people think no one else has a vulva like theirs and therefore they must be wrong.”
Jo says the best way to tackle this myth is to see what everyone else has and this is exactly what she has done.
I put photos of my pants, wet and crusty with discharge on my Instagram feed. I got thousands of likes and hundreds of comments from people saying, ‘oh thank god, I thought I was abnormal’. And then Instagram took it down as they claimed it broke their rules.”
Despite trying again a few months later, the photos were removed once more, so Jo took matters into her own hands and created an online discharge gallery on her website.
“I asked my followers to send me photos of their discharge and immediately got responses. They are now up online to show everyone what pants can look like at the end of the day – soaking wet, sticky and clumpy, dried and crusty, stained, bleached (discharge is slightly acidic to keep the vagina healthy) and in hugely varying amounts.
I want people to know that discharge happens and that it is normal and nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. I want it to relieve fears and worries and to allow people to take off their pants without feeling the need to instantly hide them from view.”
This shame and embarrassment around our vaginal discharge, something which can even lead women to hide their underwear from partners, is something that stems from a lack of sex education on the topic, its absence within the media and a general view that vaginas, vulvas and their bi-products are inherently gross Jo believes.
In addition to this, “the awful ‘feminine hygiene’ products that we’re bombarded with that make us and everyone else believe that vaginas and vulvas are inherently dirty and smelly, and you’ve got the perfect environment to breed shame.
Bodies are bodies, and they do what bodies do. Discharge is your vagina cleaning itself, so you don’t get infections. We should be pleased that it just gets on with it and keeps us healthy!” says Jo.
Not only does vaginal discharge act as a self-cleaning tool and help prevent infection but it also integral to our reproductive and ovulation cycles. Vaginal discharge can be a great tool to know when you are most fertile when trying to conceive and some changes can also be a sign of infection or other health condition.
Since Jo made her initial call out, she has received over 60 photos from women around the world.
“I’ve been sent photos by women and by people with vaginas and almost all of them sent a comment about how grateful they were that this was happening.
I even had one 50-year-old who said this is the first time they’ve seen other people’s discharge and it made her realise that she’s always thought something was slightly wrong with her and her discharge but having seen photos of mine, those fears have disappeared.”
The gallery has received nothing but positive responses which Jo says she has been blown away by.
“I knew it would help people, but I didn’t realise how much and how many. [So many] people have felt able to let go of that fear that they are dirty or broken and are able to step out of their pants at the end of the day and not feel ashamed.”