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Behold the Vagelfie

Flare / February 2016

Are women ready for their extreme close-ups?

The moment man invented the camera phone, he also invented the dick pic. From porn stars to politicians, Tinder strangers to boyfriends on business trips, D shots are so ubiquitous they’ve become a part of the culture. The Net has generously gifted us with a 500-dick-pic mosaic of Donald Trump; the blog Dicture Gallery dresses penises in bow ties and sunglasses. And you can scarcely swipe right on dating apps without seeing a phallic photo. Like it or not, we are truly in the era of the dick pic.

Which is what makes the Svakom Gaga camera vibrator, the first-ever vagina selfie stick, so fascinating. The tool launched in the U.K. last March and looks like your garden-variety vibrator, only with one crazy feature: a built-in HD camera at one end, plus LED lights and connectivity that allows it to sync to FaceTime. “The closer you get, the more detail you can see,” says a much-circulated, widely hate-watched promo video of the insertable device that lets you record your orgasms and take more panned-out stills. The Independent called the Svakom Gaga “the nightmarish child of an endoscopy and a vibrator” and Marie Claire ominously noted on its launch that “suddenly the world is a scarier place.”

The device revived ages-old vitriol and fear of the female organ. Women have been long socialized to see their lady parts as ugly and unclean—if they see them at all (when was the last time you grabbed a mirror to have a look?). Case in point: when I told my female friends I was writing about vagina selfies, most shuddered at the mere suggestion. “Nobody taught me my genitals were gross, but somehow I picked it up in the culture just the same,” says Elise Chenier, a professor who studies the history of sexuality at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.. “Sex has been a subject of empowerment for men and shame for women.”

This ubiquitous sense of shame might be why the so-called Fappening of 2014, in which hackers leaked dozens of private celeb nudes, threw many young female stars into damage-control frenzies while the Biebs’ papped parts helped fuel his comeback (despite his threats to sue). It’s why angry exes can blackmail and humiliate women with “revenge porn” but according to a Match.com study, 42 percent of men are so crotch confident that they don’t mind if you forward their dick pics to your friends. It could even be why I’m so casually using the wrong words for my own anatomy.

“It’s actually a vulva selfie,” corrects Chenier, when I call to ask her about vagina selfies. (Anatomy lesson: the vagina is the inner canal, while the vulva’s every- thing on the outside, including the labia majora and minora, and the clitoris.) There’s no cutesy nickname yet—Twat shot? Pussy pic? Velfie? Kittygram? Instavag? V-pap? Snatch snap? Vagelfie?—but the Svakom Gaga sold out within days of its release, suggesting there’s bound to be one soon. Vulva fear and loathing be damned.

Rebecca Harrison, a 30-year-old student in Toronto, tells me, “I just woke up and took one first thing this morning.” She snaps and sends about two a week to her boyfriend, who receives them while he’s at the office. They’re not for his pleasure only, she says. “I get off on these pictures too. It’s like lingerie. I don’t just put it on for him; I put it on because it makes me feel sexy.” Harrisons ends them only to her committed partner and deletes the images afterward—but exposure isn’t her worst fear. “If my vagina ended up all over the Internet, I’d be most upset that I wasn’t getting paid,” she says.

Your most intimate part may be the best one to shoot from an anonymity standpoint, because it includes far less context than a topless, duck-faced shot. This could be one reason women are cropping in closer.

Crystal Hutchinson, a 25-year-old model from Barrie, Ont., says she took her first vulva shot at 18 (“young, but legal,” she laughs) and sometimes sends them to boyfriends. “Vaginas are not all that good looking to me,” she admits, “but seeing it through a guy’s eyes is so different.”

“How so?” I ask. To answer that, she directs me to a lucky recipient of one of her pics. “Women are like flowers. There are so many different kinds, and they’re all beautiful,” he says, seeming genuine. He says he’s never once sent Crystal a dick pic, in part because she’s never asked and, in part because “there’s nothing pretty about a penis,” proving women don’t have a monopoly on body shame. Maybe that’s the bright side to all this private-part portraiture: psychologists say the fastest way to dissolve your darkest shame—vulvar, penile or otherwise—is to expose it to the light, so to speak. Well, here comes the flash.