In demonstrating just how little many women know about their anatomy, Netflix’s Sex Education has shone a light on an important issue.
Warning: this article contains spoilers from episodes one-three of Sex Education S3.
After months of waiting, the hotly-anticipated third season of Sex Education has finally landed on Netflix.
The third series of the hit show – which is known for shining a light on a variety of important and relevant subjects, including sexual assault – has been the subject of much excitement over the last year and a half, with the release of first-look images and an action-packed trailer only adding to the anticipation.
Despite only landing on Netflix on Friday, the show’s third season has already been met with plenty of praise from critics and fans alike, especially for its portrayal of the non-binary experience and rejection of the male gaze.
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But there’s another, smaller storyline from the third episode of season three which also deserves some attention: Aimee’s discomfort surrounding her vulva.
The storyline begins when, in an attempt to process the trauma surrounding the sexual assault she experienced last season, Aimee visits Otis’ mother Jean to talk through some of the issues she’s been facing.
Left to her own devices while Jean sorts out an argument between Otis and Ola (who moves into the Milburn household with her father, Jakob), Aimee stumbles upon an educational model of the vulva Jean has in her therapy room, which she’s observing when Jean re-enters the room.
“Um, my vagina doesn’t look like this – one of my lip bits is longer than the other,” she says, as Jean closes the door.
“Well, it’s just an educational model,” Jean replies. “The external part is called the vulva, and the lip bits you’re talking about are called the labia, and they come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. There’s a fascinating website I could direct you to that highlights the wide variety of different vulvas if you’re interested.”
Later on in the episode, we see Aimee checking out that website (www.all-vulvas-are-beautiful.com, if you were wondering) and taking a look at her vulva in the mirror while she’s sat on her bed, after which she concludes hers looks like a ‘geranium’.
Not knowing what a ‘normal’ vulva looks like leads to many women feeling embarrassed by their genitals
While this may not be a big moment in the series or even the rest of the episode, it sheds light on an important issue: how many women don’t understand their own anatomy.
According to the results of a YouGov survey from 2019, which asked women and men to identify the different parts of the female genitalia, almost half of women could not label the vagina (45%) with 43% of women also unable to label the labia. And in another study of 1000 women from 2016, 60% failed to identify the vulva (the name for the entire outer part of the female genitals, including the vagina and labia).
Not knowing what a ‘normal’ vulva looks like and the fact that there are, as Jean correctly identifies, many “shapes, sizes and colours,” also leads to many women feeling embarrassed by their genitals – a fact which can stop them from seeking life-saving treatment for fear of a medical professional seeing their body.
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Indeed, according to a 2018 survey from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, 34% of women aged 25-35 said they would delay a cervical screening appointment because they were embarrassed by the appearance of their vulva, with 38% saying they would do so due to concerns that their vagina didn’t smell ‘normally’.
With all of this in mind, seeing Aimee educated about her body by a professional – and taking the time to explore her anatomy – is seriously powerful.
It may seem small, but it’s an issue that affects a hell of a lot of women – and we can only hope that seeing this storyline play out will inspire other women to get to know their bodies, too.
Sex Education season 3 is now available to stream on Netflix
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