- The world’s first Vagina Museum opened in London’s Camden Market earlier this month.
- The museum was crowdfunded into existence in 2017 when more than 1,000 members of the public donated almost £50,000 ($US65,000).
- I went to pay it a visit on Wednesday afternoon, and it was suprisingly busy.
- Although the information in the exhibition was important, it was very text-heavy and a little dry.
- The gift shop was the highlight for me, and I felt the rest of the museum could have been more interactive and fun.
- Still, I’ll definitely be back to catch the next exhibit, and I left with a vagina pin proudly on display.
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I’m looking at a giant tampon covered with glittery blood, a crocheted clitoris, and more drawings of vaginas than I could shake a sanitary towel at.
But I’m not in a surreal dream about my imaginary burgeoning career as a performance artist – I’m at London’s new Vagina Museum, the first of its kind in the world.
It’s only recently that vaginas have been in the public discourse, so I was excited to visit. I don’t remember learning much about vaginas in school beyond the standard childbirth and periods – although the time when I was made to slide a condom over a bright purple dildo in front of the whole class is worryingly fresh in my mind. My main memory of sex ed is watching an educational video of a cesarean and afterwards hearing the teacher telling us the baby being born was her. I’ve never seen so many horrified expressions in one room.
There was no mention of female pleasure, no information about any sex other than the penetrative heterosexual kind, and worst of all, no instructions about how best to take care of the female body.
The Vagina Museum was created to fight this attitude. It was crowdfunded into existence in 2017 when more than 1,000 members of the public donated almost £50,000 ($US65,000).
Now located bang in the centre of Camden Market, the museum, which began as a series of pop-ups around the UK, is a step towards having a permanent location – it currently has the lease for two years.
I went to visit during the day last Wednesday. Here’s what it was like.
After checking Twitter and discovering there had been a wait time of 30 minutes at the weekend, I was worried I’d have to line up to get in. But once I had woven my way through the punks, tourists, and stalls selling novelty t-shirts that populate Camden, I strolled straight inside.
Still, for a grey Wednesday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised by how busy it was. There was a steady stream of people of all genders and ages there to see the first exhibition, entitled “Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How To Fight Them,” which covers misconceptions about vaginas and everything gynaecological, from sex, appearance, and cleanliness to periods and contraception.
A thrilled gallery assistant told me that on its first open weekend 2,000 people turned up, meaning a one-in-one-out system had to be put in place as only 80 people can be inside at a time.
Upon entering, the first thing you see is the amazing gift shop.
The museum’s mission, values, and supporters are also on proud display in this area, so no one feels excluded or unsure about what they’re about to see. The mission behind its creation is simple, according to its website: “There is a penis museum in Iceland. Which is pretty cool. But there is no vagina equivalent anywhere in the world. We were pretty miffed (muffed?) when we learnt this but we thought, there’s only one way to rectify this.”
As you might expect, there are a LOT of vaginas in the gift shop. Every style, every colour, every shape. In a world where women’s sexual organs are often hidden or talked about shamefully, it was very refreshing to see visible representation.
An artist of the month is featured in the gift shop, too. This month it was Charlotte Wilcox, a UK-based illustrator and designer. Her beautiful bespoke prints are available for £15 ($US19) each.
There are vagina greeting cards…
… including some that might feel a bit awkward to send.
There are also vagina quizzes, with stickers available for those who get the answers right…
…and generally any other kind of memorabilia you could imagine, from t-shirts to badges to tote bags. There are also books by women available to buy.
Needless to say, I loved the gift shop.
The exhibition itself began with an introductory poster explaining why the museum was necessary. “Just under 50% of the world’s population has one. Most of us came into the world through one. Yet vaginas and the rest of the gynaecological anatomy are still a taboo subject,” it reads. This information set the tone for the whole exhibit.
There was information about pregnancy and contraception…
… sometimes with shocking facts, such as that people used to douche with Coca-Cola in the belief it would stop a pregnancy.
Periods are clearly an important part of having a vagina, and the museum gave them plenty of coverage.
One of the more shocking parts of the museum was a case full of vaginal cleaning products.
Some of the products included tightening creams, soaps, and douches — none of which are healthy or necessary.
Also, did you know that the pH of a vagina can bleach your underwear? I didn’t!
It was fascinating seeing a diagram of the clitoris — something which I really feel should be taught in schools. Women deserve to be informed about their body parts.
Overall, the museum was a lot less interactive than I expected it to be, though. The rise of Instagram-friendly museums like the Museum of Ice Cream had me expecting it to be much less information-heavy and equipped with as many selfie opportunities and pose-able props as possible. However, the museum was mostly comprised of poster boards. One of the few more interactive exhibits was this layered glass model of female anatomy.
The information was, at times, quite dense, too.
The Vagina Museum is an LGBTQ+, intersex, and trans ally, and is aiming to appeal to everyone — including cis heterosexual men. There was a sign about the trans day of remembrance, which I thought was sensitive and great to see.
However, while I loved the inclusive nature of the museum, I felt that they could have done a better job of making it less, well, dry. The very presence of the museum is inspiring conversations in the press and on social media, but if there were exhibits which invited people to work together or talk to each other, the conversation could be opened up even more.
I can understand why they chose to keep it old school. Instead of solely trying to attract influencers to post about what they’re doing with props like the below, they’re trying to educate and help inform people about a serious topic, and likely don’t want to appear frivolous.
However, the exhibition wasn’t large, and could have been less text-heavy. One of my least favourite parts of traditional museums is standing around reading the signs, and that’s pretty much all there was to do here. The message of the Vagina Museum is really important — it just could have been more fun.
I asked some of the visitors what they thought, and their feedback was more positive, though. Andrea, 28 from Italy, loved what he was seeing. “I want to be informed about anatomy and consider myself an activist, so it’s important that the museum is out here busting down misconceptions about vaginas,” he said.
Marie-Louise Kerr, 40 from Oxfordshire, had heard about the museum on Twitter and had followed along with its progress. She was thrilled to see it finally open and successful. “I was intrigued, and am pleased they’re educating everyone,” she said. “People don’t understand their own anatomy — here they can learn.”
Big fans of the museum can even become a member of the “clitorati” for £50 ($US65), proceeds from which go towards maintaining and improving the museum. As well as the main exhibition, the museum space will be used for performances and events, such as a feminist book club and comedy performances.
The museum quotes a YouGov survey which discovered that 52% of the British public couldn’t describe or visually identify the vagina, the labia (47%), or the urethra (58%), so the Vagina Museum is fulfilling a crucial function. The awareness it’s raising is fabulous, and the public certainly agree, visiting in droves. However, this knowledge gap problem shouldn’t be down to a crowdfunded museum to fix.
While I would have loved more fun and theatrics involved — after all, vaginas are endlessly surprising and entertaining — I’ll definitely be back to catch the next exhibit. I also left with a vagina pin proudly on display.
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