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Vaginas of yesterday: built for tomorrow

By Steve Korver Thursday, April 17, 2014 - 17:43
Even after 150 million years of history, vaginas can still intimidate boys. But vaginas are miraculous. The vagina may hold the answer to the worldwide rise in allergies and obesity. In fact, vaginas are so cool that scientists have begun growing them… These news flashes and more in this week’s Sex in the Press.

Read my lips

While versions of the penis can be found in fish, amphibians and birds, the vagina is unique to mammals. While men are often accused of thinking with their pee-shooters, female brains are actually much more complexly wired to their vaginas.

In short: the simple and stick-like penis just can’t compete with the vagina and its associates such as the labia, cervix and – that button of icing on top – the clitoris. No wonder males have traditionally feared the vagina.
The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History, a recent book by Emma Rees, explores this age-old fear and its reflection in culture. “There’s no pussy-footing around, either – Rees drops the C-word in the first chapter and doesn’t stop, fascinated by the taboos and attitudes we’ve built up around it,” according to ‘Sort of an Encyclopaedia Genitalia’.

The use of the C-word – or, for example, chut in Hindi, or bwenye in Kenyan slang – reflects a “deep-rooted fear of vaginas and their owners,” argues Rees.

Boys should spend more time fearing their own ignorance. In the recent viral video ‘Men explain vaginas’, the men failed miserably at explaining the different parts of a medical model of the vagina. Only one of them said something true: “It’s a very complex organ.”

Vaginas against disease

Many global myths depict vaginas as dirty holes. And indeed, the vagina is home to countless micro-organisms. However, up to 90% of the cells found in a human body are foreign microbes. Most are friends who help us with such things as digesting milk and fighting disease.

Our disrespect for the vagina and its “microbiome” – which have co-evolved together over the last 150 million years – may be the cause of the worldwide rise in allergies, asthma, juvenile diabetes and obesity over the last 50 years, theorizes Dr. Martin Blaser in ‘Modern medicine may not  be doing your microbiome any favors’.

“As far as we know, when the baby is inside the womb it is apparently sterile. The big moment of truth is when the membranes rupture, the water breaks, and the baby starts coming out. And that's where they first get exposed to the bacteria of the world, and the first bacteria they're exposed to is their mother's bacteria in the birth canal. So as labour proceeds, the babies are in contact with the microbes lining their mother's vagina and, as they're going out, they're covered by these bacteria. They swallow the bacteria; it's on their skin…”

These bacteria then go on to form the basis for the baby’s own microbiome. But what happens when these microbes are wiped out by antibiotics administered during childbirth? Or skipped altogether when the baby is delivered via a Caesarean section?

You could project that if they didn't acquire these organisms or they didn't acquire them normally or at the normal time, then the foundations might be a little shaky,” the doctor warns.

Lab vaginas

“Vaginas grown in a lab from the recipients' own cells have been successfully transferred to the body for the first time. The surgery was carried out on four women who were born without vaginal canals because of a rare condition,” according to ‘Engineered vaginas grown in women for the first time’.

The four teenagers suffered from Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome (MRKH) which affects around 1 in 5000 women. They were unable to have penetrative sex or menstruate.

"But after the operation, they were able to function normally. They had normal levels of desire, arousal, satisfaction and orgasm," said a researcher.

And will these women be able to reproduce? “They haven't tried but they can ovulate. So there is no reason to suspect that they cannot."

It’s a miracle. 

Do you have any historic vagina stories you want to share? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.

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