Northampton Electronic Collection of Theses and Research

“Oh yes, it has to be all neat and tidy down there”: exploring the everyday narratives of young women’s perceptions and practices around genital appearance and sexual identities

Smith, L.-A., Reed, L., Hickinbotham, L., Cooper, C. E. and Evenden, R. (2015) “Oh yes, it has to be all neat and tidy down there”: exploring the everyday narratives of young women’s perceptions and practices around genital appearance and sexual identities. Paper presented to: LGBT/Sexualities Conference, Manchester, 15 May 2015. (Unpublished)

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Abstract: With the rising use of social media and in particular the visual elements of ‘selfies’ by young adults, recent research has explored the ways in which the images of the female body are scrutinised and stigmatised if non-conformity towards an idealised body image is apparent (Chrisler, 2011). This current trend of social media surveillance and self-regulation has led to recent moves towards young females removing their pubic hair with clinicians claiming that it is now unusual to examine a female under the age of 30 years who still has pubic hair (Braun, Tricklebank & Clarke, 2013; Riddell, Varto & Hodgson, 2010). In addition, the visible components of the vaginal area, albeit when clothed, can also be under scrutiny and subject to ridicule. More particularly in this case, the size and shape of the labia minora becomes the focus of the public gaze especially if the labia minora is visible (Braun & Kitzinger, 2001)). Discourses such as ‘camel toe’ are used to ridicule females where the labia minora is visibly evident which may contribute to the rising levels of young females undertaking vagina surgery creating a cultural move towards having a ‘designer vagina' (Braun & Wilkinson, 2005). These are ways in which the intimate appearances of genitalia become enveloped within everyday life. This qualitative research uses one-to-one, semi-structured interviews analysed using a discursive analysis with females aged 18 to 30 years old, with differing sexual orientations to explore their own perceptions and practices of this particular grooming regime. This research is still in progress at this time but initial findings suggest that participants predominantly cite the removal of pubic hair as a hygienic issue together with narratives of non-shaving resulting in a lessening of sexual activity (this can take the form of self-monitoring whereby not having shaved before a night out will stem sexual activity together with partners’ (either male or female) influencing shaving behaviours by refusing to have oral sex if the vaginal area is not fully shaved. The visual components of the labia minora seemed to be dependent upon being in a long-term relationship where this was not such an issue but there were narratives around possibly having surgery if looking for a new relationship. All participants cite pornography and the media (television programmes such as Geordie Shore) as being instrumental in both these trends.
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF692 Psychology of sex. Sexual behaviour
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women > HQ1101 Women. Feminism > HQ1206 Psychology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women > HQ19 Sexual behavior and attitudes. Sexuality
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GT Manners and customs > GT495 Human body and its parts. Personal beauty
Creators: Smith, Lesley-Ann, Reed, L, Hickinbotham, L, Cooper, Callum E and Evenden, Rachel
Faculties, Divisions and Institutes: University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > School of Social Sciences (to 2016)
University Faculties, Divisions and Research Centres - OLD > Faculty of Health & Society > Psychology
Faculties > Faculty of Health & Society > Psychology
Date: 15 May 2015
Date Type: Presentation
Event Title: LGBT/Sexualities Conference
Event Dates: 15 May 2015
Event Location: Manchester
Event Type: Conference
Language: English
Status: Unpublished
References: Braun, V., & Kitzinger, C. (2001). The perfectible vagina: size matters. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 3 (3), pp 263-277 Braun, V. & Wilkinson, S. (2005). Vagina Equals Woman? On genitals and gendered identity. Womens Studies International Forum, 28, pp 509-522 Braun, V., Tricklebank, G. & Clarke, V. (2013). It shouldn’t stick out from your bikini at the beach: Meaning, gender, and the hairy/hairless body. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37, (4), pp 478-493 Chrisler, J.C. (2011). Leaks, lumps, and lines: Stigma and women's bodies. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35, 202-214 Riddell, L., Varto, H. & Hodgson, Z. (2010). Smooth talking: The phenomenon of pubic hair removal in women. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 19, 121-130

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