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The Unholy Trinity of the 3 Ss: Silence, Shame and Stigma.

Female sexuality has been plagued by a variety of conflicting messages over the centuries. Showing female sexuality is acceptable only if it is owned by an ‘other’ in someway, and re-packaged back to us. This has led to us interpreting our own feelings and sensations through the lens of what has been deemed as ‘acceptable’. Acceptable examples include: the male gaze, shaping female sexuality as performative; commodification through the ‘taming’ of our physical forms; the narrowing of acceptable female sexual experience. These have all served as filters to make female bodies ‘safe’, ‘tamed’ and under ‘control’ (but who’s control?).

The female form, which is sexualised by others and then reflected back to us, is considered acceptable (think topless images in otherwise conservative (small ‘c’), if populist, publications), but is often criticised though pejorative ‘slut shaming’ if ownership originates at its source, ie with those identifying as females.

For girls growing up into adulthood this messaging can be very confusing, let alone for all adults currently living inside this paradigm. We must try to critically question why this is accepted as the norm, where this message became an acceptable one and, therefore, why is female sexuality feared? There’s a lot to pick apart.

In Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In a World Designed for Man, Caroline Criado Perez showed us how many safety tests and medical research projects have been designed and carried out for male bodies as the standard, with the assumption that female bodies will behave in a sufficiently similar way.

Where are women’s bodies in the picture? Women’s autonomy?

The unholy trinity of Silence, Shame and Stigma surrounding women’s bodies and in particular any part which could be, but is not necessarily, sexualised is so endemic in societies that often we might not quite sure why we feel this way.  Subtle messaging, that we are now becoming better at recognising, is repeated and witnessed thousands of times throughout each person’s life. It is so entrenched that to step outside of that feels like we are endangering ourselves. It is a risky, stigmatised and shameful experience.

And so, often, women stay in silence about matters that are important to their health and wellbeing, such as their inmate health, their sexual pleasure and preferences. This is one of the bastions still yet to be breached, for those that identify as women, of all ages. Other gendered allies are very welcome here.

The silence is enforced by the stigma that society infuses, and that stigma also produces a weighty ton of shame for these topics.  Together, this is a recipe for women not only finding it difficulty to seek medical help, but also for communicating to partners about their pleasure.

You may have guessed it already, but Into the Wylde wants to help break down that silence, shame and stigma – to normalise our sexuality, our agency over our own bodies and empower us to own our own pleasure and have the energy and power to stand up when we need help with our intimate wellness.

Although this is a bigger task than an individual can undertake by themselves, if you want to start feeling more comfortable with this yourself, one possible way to take baby steps is to get used to saying the names of female genitalia out loud. Language is important and to take ownership of the medical terminology for those part of our bodies as women can be challenging but powerful. Practicing saying vagina, vulva and clitoris in the privacy of your own space can make it easier for when you need to refer to them to someone else. So if this feels relevant for you, give it a go.  They might be small steps, but they are powerful ones.