How Whitney Cummings Went from Pretending Her Vagina Didn't Exist to Pampering It with Eye Cream
After spending a huge chunk of her life dealing with internalized misogynies and shame, the comedian has finally learned to love what she's got.
When Whitney Cummings was growing up in the '80s and '90s, vaginas were shrouded in mystery, holding a status similar to that of "He Who Must Not Be Named." Seriously, everyone she knew called the reproductive organ cringey nicknames such as "cha cha" and "chee chee" — never the legit anatomical term. Even though she received "the birds and the bees" talk, the metaphor only made her more confused about her body, the comedian tells Shape. And in the drugstores she visited and the magazine ads she glanced at, the messaging was clear: Vaginas are dirty, smell rank, and need to be shaved and douched, she explains.
"I just got to the point where I was so afraid to say the word 'vagina' or even sort of acknowledge that I had one because I was meant to be embarrassed of it," says Cummings. "When I went to my first health care provider, I couldn't even say it — I couldn't even ask the questions I wanted to ask."
That meant Cummings had to figure out her lady parts all on her own — a difficult task when the public depictions are anything but real. She expected blue liquid to come out of her vagina during her first period, since that's what was used in Maxi Pad commercials. Unsurprisingly, she thought the blood that actually appeared on the pad meant she was dying, says Cummings. She even sneakily peeked at other women's pubic regions in the gym locker room to see how her's compared, she admits.
"I think I also did a lot of experimenting in private and trying to understand in private because I thought I must be weird, I must not be normal, and I think a lot of women go through that," says Cummings. "There was a lot of shame involved and unnecessary preoccupation with thinking I was a freak."
Not having an intimate knowledge of your own vagina — or the confidence to freely bring it up in conversation, especially with medical professionals — can have serious repercussions. Since the Catholic schools she attended didn't tell her the ins-and-outs of sex, Cummings didn't know what to expect during her first time, nor did she know that it might be painful, she says. And more importantly, "if women can't talk about their vaginas, how can they ask for birth control?" she adds. "How can they ask for reproductive rights?"
When Cummings started doing stand-up, a gig that encourages comics to jump into taboo topics, her comfort level with the word "vagina" suddenly shifted. The first time she uttered it on stage, the audience gave her a mix of cheers, groans, and eye rolls, she says. "I think on a very basic, instinctive level, I knew [in the moment] that this word has power," Cummings recalls. "If this upsets people, if this makes people uncomfortable or cringe, there's something really powerful about it… so I just made a commitment to say 'vagina' as much as I had to until the next generation could comfortably say it and be proud of it."
That's why Cummings partnered with Annovera — an annual birth control ring — to launch the Just Say Vagina campaign, which aims to encourage open and honest conversations about birth control and, ultimately, ensure folks don't feel shame or embarrassment about their vaginas like she used to.
The first tip Cummings has for those who aren't yet appreciating their vagina and prefer to pretend it simply isn't there? Masturbate. "When I was just having sex in the beginning, I was like, 'What is the fuss about?' because I had no idea what I needed in order to have orgasms — I didn't know how my vagina worked," she says. "But then you learn how to masturbate and take control of your pleasure, and you're like, 'Okay, this thing is a magic miracle. I get it now.'" (Related: Why You Should Always Masturbate During Your Period)
Now, Cummings treats her vagina with the same TLC as someone would tend to their face. She gently pats her nether regions with toilet paper, rather than wiping, so she doesn't accidentally over-exfoliate her delicate areas, she explains. And yes, she pampers her pubic area to a luxe moisturizer after every shower. "I'm not even joking, I do put eye cream on my vagina," Cummings says with a laugh. "I know it's wild. I just do a little pat-pat with my eye cream or the body lotion that I'm using and then walk around baby naked for a little while to give it some time to soak in, and I have no complaints." One of her budget-friendly go-tos: Palmer's Cocoa Butter body lotion (Buy It, $5, amazon.com).
(FTR, docs typically don't recommend using scented products near your vulva since they can be irritating, and you'll want to be careful not to put any products up your vagina, as they can mess with the natural, protective bacteria there. But if slathering on a coconut-scented lotion makes your skin feel like a baby's butt and you don't experience any unpleasant side effects, have at it.)
What finally stopped Cummings from resenting her vagina and viewing it as a chore, however, was finding the birth control that worked best for her. (FYI, she uses Annovera.) Before the comic made the switch from oral contraceptives to the annual ring, she had to call the pharmacist in every city she was staying in to make sure they stocked her pills and was forced to take her dose hours late if she accidentally put her pack in her checked luggage, she says. "I didn't even realize how much anxiety I was carrying because I also had irregular periods, and I was just in a constant state of stress," says Cummings. "Women are working now — we can't spend all day worrying about that stuff."
Of course, it's been a long time coming for Cummings to develop this vagina-first mentality. But considering all the sh*t vaginas put up with — from days spent sitting cross-legged in tight jeans to the constant contact of scratchy thongs — this self-care should always have been a priority, she says. "I spent so much time not honoring myself and my body, not being proud of it, seeing it the way I thought other people perceived it, and [dealing with] all these internalized misogynies and shame," she says. "Now I'm like, okay, I'm in my late-thirties and I'm going to cherish it. I'm going to take care of this thing. I'm going to have a kid at some point, so I'm sure it's going to go through a lot of trauma, so let's take care of it now."