Uninhibited, funny, and chock full of must-have knowledge about safer sex and sexuality, Hooking Up gives you a tour of female anatomy plus frank talk on a slew of meaningful issues concerning sexual activity and intimacy. Revealing her own experiences and sometimes humorous mishaps, Amber covers topics ranging from safer sex and avoiding sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy to being comfortable with your own body; being aware of stereotypes surrounding female sexuality; and understanding guys' bodies, emotions, and their insecurities. She teaches you how to avoid being pressured into sex and equips you with the tools to be safe and responsible if you engage in sexual activities.
All medical information has been reviewed and endorsed by both preface writer Margaret Higham, MD, medical director of Tufts University Health Service, and Diana L. Dell, MD, Duke University Medical School, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who wrote the foreword.
In a voice that is both informative and engaging, Amber will educate, entertain, and empower you-or a young lady you care about- to deal wisely with the questions, decisions, and consequences that surround sex and intimate relationships.
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About the Author
Amber Madison (Somerville, MA) is a recent graduate of Tufts University, where she studied human sexuality through a degree in American Studies and Community Health. For two years she wrote a weekly column in Tufts Daily about sexuality, safer sex, and relationships. Cosmopolitan magazine, US News & World Report, and other publications have profiled her in regard to her column, and her work has been featured on University Wire (www.uwire.com).
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Hooking Upa girl's all-out guide to SEX & SEXUALITY
By amber madison
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2006 Amber Madison
All right reserved.
Chapter OneVaginas What the Hell?
A vagina can be annoying, and there's just no two ways around it. It bleeds, it smells, it's hairy; it's not particularly pretty, sexy, or easy to understand. Why should it get a starring role in your sex life? Your vagina must have lied and cheated its way in between your legs because it's clearly unqualified for the position.
But qualified or not, it's there, and you're stuck with it-like a weird hand-me-down from a distant relative. "Thanks, Great-aunt Gerta, I can really use one of these!" Yet, unlike an antique chamber pot, you can't shove a vagina to the back of your closet and forget about it. If you ever plan on being sexual, you have to become familiar and somewhat comfortable with your vagina. Imagine hooking up if you aren't: "Don't get your face too close; it smells weird"; "Oh, my God, there's hair there?"; "Keep trying, baby-I think that's the hole."
The bottom line is that understanding what's going on with your vagina is the first step to being comfortable with sex and the key to having enjoyable sexual experiences. This chapter is about becoming familiar with all of your vagina'sdifferent parts and coming to terms with how it looks, acts, and smells.
The Way Your Vagina Looks
When I came out of my mother's womb, the doctors said I was the hairiest baby they had ever seen-well, maybe not in so many words, but at least that's how I imagine it. I have always been slightly insecure and completely neurotic about how visible my dark hairs are on my pasty white skin. So when I started to grow pubic hair, I was really pissed. More hair? You've got to be kidding me.
When I got older and found myself in situations where someone else was going to be in contact with my pubic hair, I felt that I had to take some sort of action. But what kind of action was I supposed to take? What do most girls do with their pubic hair? Do they trim it, shave it, wax it, or just let it go au naturel? Do they take it all off just to be safe, or do they keep it all on to avoid looking prepubescent? I had no idea.
So after years of deliberation and different "hair styles," I decided to spend an afternoon doing pubic hair research. I went into Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with four rough sketches of different ways that a girl could keep her pubic hair.
Drawing 1 represents a woman who keeps her pubic area as bald as an old man's head. Drawing 2 represents a woman who removes all her pubic hair except for a little strip in the center ("the landing strip"). Drawing 3 represents a woman who removes all the hair outside of her panty line. And drawing 4 represents a woman who doesn't groom her pubic region at all. I showed these drawings to a hundred women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two and asked them to anonymously write down which one looked the most like their own pubic hair. These were the results:
As you can see, girls do a lot of different things with their pubic hair. There is no wrong way to wear your pubes (and no right way either). If you're feeling pressure to remove your pubic hair out of fear that a guy will be grossed out if you don't, remember that pubic hair is supposed to be there; even though it may seem unsightly, it is just hair.
I mean, think about the hair on our heads. We obsess about how beautiful and sexy it is. We "ooooh" and "ahhhh" over someone's "gorgeous locks" and will even pet someone's "silky tresses." And yet the second a hair is growing somewhere else on our body, it's "disgusting," and it has to go. But the hair around a vagina isn't that different from the hair on a head (except it's maybe a little curlier). So if you're stressing out about your pubes, keep in mind that hair in and of itself is not overly apelike or gross; it's just that sometimes we get thrown off by the location. The bottom line with your pubic hair is that it's your vagina, so keep it as hairy (or as bald) as you like.
Changing The Look of Your Vagina
If you decide that you want to remove some (or all) of your pubic hair, you have a few choices: hair-removal cream, shaving, or waxing. (Theoretically you could pluck the hair out with tweezers, but that could take a really long time and be pretty painful.) Shaving is definitely the easiest option. The only downsides are that the hair is only gone for a day or two, and some girls find that shaving gives them razor burn (a rashlike skin irritation). To help prevent getting razor burn, you can try running your bikini area under warm water for a few minutes before shaving and using a high-quality razor and some shaving gel.
Another hair-removal option is using a depilatory cream. Like shaving, hair-removal creams get rid of hair for only a couple of days and can also cause skin irritations. Even though the irritation will last only a day or two, the hair will be back by the time the rash is gone. If hair-removal creams and shaving irritate your skin, then you probably want to wax.
Waxing is more painful and expensive than shaving or using a cream, but it does last longer (anywhere from two to six weeks). If you want to try waxing, and you've never done it before, I would suggest going to an experienced bikini waxer. The first time that I wanted to wax, I made the mistake of trying to do it myself. It was a complete disaster. I dripped wax all over the microwave, the toaster oven, and the kitchen floor. My pubic hair looked like it was attacked by a mountain lion, and all my friends called me "mullet crotch" for the next month.
Going to a professional bikini waxer usually guarantees a good waxing job, although it can also feel a bit awkward: like the elephant in the room that no one is talking about. Here you are, chatting it up with a woman you've never met, while she pokes around your vagina and assesses your pubic hair. Some girls get paranoid that their waxer is going to be secretly grossed out or start gossiping about their pubes the second they leave the room.
If you're worried about the impression that your vaginal area will make on your waxer, you have to keep in mind how many pubic areas waxers see in their careers. There's no way that yours is going to stand out. It's not like your waxer is going to run into you at the mall and think, "Oh, I remember her-she had some intense pubes." Bikini waxers don't get grossed out or shocked; being around vaginas is their job. So they've likely seen it all.
Words from the Wise (Tips from a Bikini Waxer)
"You get the best wax if your hair is between a quarter and a half of an inch long when pulled out straight. You probably don't want to get waxed during your period because it tends to hurt more. I've done this thousands of times, so, although it may feel uncomfortable to you, I'm totally used to it."
"All those Parts"
Unlike guys, we aren't required to have an intimate relationship with our genitals. We don't have to hold our vaginas to ensure our piss hits the toilet. And when we look down, our genitals aren't flopping around for us to inspect. As a result, some women go a lifetime without ever touching or looking at their vagina and know it only as an upside-down triangle of hair. If you have never examined your vagina, I encourage you to take the plunge and inspect "all those parts."
Note: Technically, the entire area is called the "vulva." (The actual vagina is only one hole.) However, since most people use the word vagina to mean the whole area, in this book I use the term vagina to refer to the entire area as well.
1. Mons: The cushion over your pubic bone that protects your internal organs. Helpful hint: If you ever decide to wax your pubic hair, removing the hair from your mons will probably be the most painful. (This is one reason that many girls leave the area untouched).
2. Outer lips/labia majora: The outer folds of skin (the hairy ones) that protect the rest of your vagina.
3. Inner lips/labia minora: The soft, fleshy, sideways-mouth-looking thing on the inside of your outer lips. Helpful hint: Your inner lips may be larger or smaller than your outer lips. Also, your inner or outer lips may be larger on one side than they are on the other. Everyone's vaginal lips look different, so if you have seen someone else's vagina and it looks completely different from yours, there's no need to be alarmed.
4. Clitoris: The hard spot at the top of your vagina where your inner lips come together. Helpful hint: The clitoris is very important for sexual pleasure, so make sure you figure out where yours is (most likely you'll have to direct guys there in the future).
5. Urinary opening/urethra: The hole where your pee comes out. Helpful hint: If bacteria get pushed into this hole, they can cause a urinary tract infection (which is often very painful). Make sure to keep this area very clean.
6. Vaginal opening: The opening to the deep hole that extends back to your uterus. (This hole is your literal vagina-the one a penis goes into when you have sex, and the one that blood comes out of when you're on your period.) Helpful hint: Because of all the flaps of skin, the opening to your vagina may not be completely obvious. Don't be alarmed if you stick your finger inside of your vagina and it feels a little chunky as opposed to completely smooth. It's natural for a vagina to have slightly protruding bumps.
7. Hymen (a.k.a. "cherry"): The layer of tissue that partially blocks your vaginal opening. Helpful hint: Even if you are a virgin, you may have already "popped" your hymen (a hymen doesn't actually "pop," but tears). Many girls' hymens are torn by being fingered, masturbating, using a tampon, or even falling onto the bar of a guy's bike. Some hymens bleed a lot, and others bleed only a little, so you may pop it and not even know. Some girls' hymens are so small that they don't actually "pop" at all. Either way, not having your hymen intact doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your virginity.
8. Anus: The hole where your poop comes out.
Vaginal Exploration Made Easy
* Step 1: Wash your hands. A pretty good rule of thumb: if you're going to be poking around your vagina, make sure your hands are clean. You can also use this opportunity to give yourself a pep talk in the mirror. Like getting the lyrics wrong when you're singing along with the radio, looking at your vagina is one of the few things that can feel embarrassing even if no one else is around. So assure yourself that there is nothing deranged or disgusting about exploring your own body.
* Step 2: Find a private room and a mirror. Since your vagina is underneath you, in order to look at it, you have to straddle a mirror (a task that doesn't ease the awkwardness of the activity at all). To make yourself the most comfortable, make sure that there's no chance of someone walking in on you-that could be very embarrassing. "Hey, Pops! I'm just exploring my vagina! Of course I washed my hands!"
* Step 3: It's not an alien. The first time you see what your vagina looks like can be a little shocking. The folds, the hair-it can look like it just stepped off a flying saucer. But don't freak out. All vaginas look a little funky if you haven't really seen one before. Yours is not deformed or especially strange; it's just a vagina.
* Step 4: Figure out what's what and what's normal. Look at the diagram of the vagina, and find each part on yourself. You might also want to make a mental note of what your vagina looks like normally. That way, you're more likely to recognize any bumps or irritations that could show up as a result of a vaginal infection or a sexually transmitted disease. (For more about what goes wrong with vaginas, see "Infections and the Gyno," p. 31, and "Sexually Transmitted Diseases," p. 87.)
The Way Your Vagina Acts
At a birthday party in seventh grade, one of my friends dared to admit that she often found a small, creamy spot in her underwear. She asked us all: "Do you guys ever notice white stuff in your underwear at the end of the day?"
We all responded immediately: "Yeah! Like when you wear dark-colored-"
"I had no idea that anyone else got that!"
"What do you guys think it is?"
Well, we all had noticed it, and I'm sure my friend's confession was a complete relief for everyone. I know it was for me. I thought that I wasn't wiping myself well enough when I peed or that something was leaking out of me. When I heard that other girls got white stuff in their underwear, I no longer felt like a twelve-year-old freak that needed to wear diapers.
Having "white stuff" in your underpants is completely normal. "White stuff" (discharge) is just your vagina's way of cleaning itself. And like everything else that has to do with vaginas, it varies from person to person. Your discharge may be whitish, clear, yellowish, stringy, or flaky. You may have a lot or a little. Most likely, the amount and consistency of your discharge will vary throughout the month.
When you're hooking up with someone your discharge serves as a natural lubricant, so that a finger or a penis can slide into your vagina more easily. You may be startled by how much lubrication your vagina produces when you're turned on. I remember noticing it the first few times I seriously made out with a guy-the bottom of my underwear was completely soaked. I was scared that if a guy felt it, he would think I peed in my pants.
As unnerving as "getting wet" can be, it happens to every girl when she gets sexually excited. Even if you get really wet and leave a little mark on a bed or a couch, it's completely normal. And you don't have to worry about what guys will think because the majority of them know what's happening and feel proud when a girl is wet (since it means he's turning her on). As for the guys who don't know, they'll have to figure it out pretty quickly or else risk being called the "idiot" who knows nothing about girls or sex. Vaginas are supposed to lubricate, so a little (or a lot) of white stuff in your panties is nothing to be self-conscious about.
To me, the scariest thing about having a vagina is knowing that it has a smell. I used to freak out about the smell, and I was terrified the first few times a guy had intimate contact with my bare pubic area. What if he went around school and told everyone I had a smelly vagina? The thought was horrifying.
It's natural to assume that any smell coming from your body is a bad one because most are (the smell of your armpits, your feet, your farts, and your burps). But the smell of your vagina isn't bad (unless you have an infection)-it's just a smell.
Still, many girls believe their vagina is a dirty or disgusting place just because it has a smell. To mask the smell, some girls buy perfumed sprays or douches (scented water that you squirt up your vagina to "clean it out"). But any type of perfumed product that you put in your vagina can irritate the sensitive tissue and alter the pH. Altering the pH of your vagina promotes infections, and having an infection may actually cause your vagina to smell bad. So if you're concerned about vaginal odor, using scented products or douches is actually counterproductive. If you really want to have a perfumed pubic area, then you can try washing your pubic hair with shampoo (just don't stick the shampoo into your vagina). (For more thoughts on smell, see "When Someone Goes Down on You," p. 82.)
Accepting Your Vagina
Being comfortable with your vagina does not mean that you have to love the way it smells, or decide that it's so good looking it should grace the center of a nudie magazine. It means saying, "Sure, vaginas look a little funny, and, yeah, they have a smell, but that's OK, and that's normal." And if you didn't have a vagina, you would have a penis-which would be equally as funky. (Hey, at least we don't have to worry about hard-ons and ejaculation.)
The more familiar you are with your vagina, the less scary it seems. And there's no reason for you to be freaked out, grossed out, or embarrassed by part of your own body. Whatever may bother you about your vagina, remember that it's what makes your sex life possible. So if you're interested in sex, you have to be interested in your vagina.
Excerpted from Hooking Up by amber madison Copyright © 2006 by Amber Madison. Excerpted by permission.
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