As It Happens

World's first Vagina Museum set to open next month in London

The world's first Vagina Museum will put a spotlight on "everything from the ovaries and the uterus, to the clitoris and the labia and everything in between," says founder Florence Schechter.

'This is a part of the body that we think should be celebrated,' says founder Florence Schechter

Florence Schechter is a comedian and founder of the world's first Vagina Museum, opening in London's Camden Market in October. (Nicole Rixon/Vagina Museum)
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Transcript

The world's first bricks-and-mortar museum devoted to female genitalia is set to open in London in October.

Comedian Florence Schechter is the museum's founder.

She told As it Happens host Carol Off that it's her hope the museum's exhibits will create discussion and help to curb inhibitions around gynecology that many people — including women — develop.

Here is some of their conversation.

Florence, is the world ready for a vagina museum?

I think if it was ready, it would be too late to make one. I think kind of the whole reason that we're making it is because it's needed, you know?

So we still get a lot of giggles and a lot of people saying, "Oh my God, I can't believe you're doing that!" But that's kind of why we need it really too. Because it's such a taboo subject.

And if it wasn't a taboo subject then why would we be doing it?

Well, what do you think you can accomplish with a vagina museum?

Well, what I'm hoping is to really destigmatize this part of the body.

It's a really taboo topic — and that has lots of real-world consequences. You know, like people being too embarrassed to go to get their cervical smears, and people not being able to talk to their doctors.

It becomes very difficult to talk about it, which has this impact on your life.

Museums are used by societies and communities to showcase what they think is important. And so, by having a vagina museum, it's us as a community coming together and saying, "This is a part of the body that we think should be valued and should be celebrated."

Vagina Museum founder Florence Shechter, right, with museum volunteer Jasmine Evans. (Nicole Rixon/Vagina Museum)

We have interviewed the founding director of the Penis Museum, which is in Iceland. And you know that he collects phalluses of all animals — including people. Do you actually have specimens of vaginas on display in your museum?

We won't have any specimens. But we might in the future. The museum's quite small because this is just our first premises.

And so, our exhibitions are going to range from everything from science and health, to arts to culture to — you know, social history. So there'll be lots and lots of different types of things on display.

Sigurður Hjartarson tells As it Happens host Carol Off about his quest to find a human penis for his Icelandic Phallological Museum. (Originally aired August 28, 2007) 6:32

You have a crowdfunding campaign and a video where you're dressed up. Can you describe to people how you're dressed up?

Yeah. So we put on what is essentially a vulva suit. It was like a dress-up costume where it turns your whole body into a vulva and your head is the clitoris. It was a lot of fun. Very warm.

Now, what you're saying is something very important, because it's a vulva costume. And there is always this discussion about that people don't know that there is a vulva and a vagina. And so your vagina museum also includes vulvas, I presume.

Yes exactly. Yeah. The name was quite difficult, because the museum is going to be about everything from the ovaries and the uterus, to the clitoris and the labia and everything in between. So the most accurate sort of name would actually be the Gynecological Museum.

But obviously, that sounds super gross. Like who would go to that, except like, medical students? So we were trying to think, "What can we use that's actually accessible?"

And we got down to vagina and vulva — where vagina is just like the "tubey" bit, where you put things up and then babies come out, nine months later. Although you can put all sorts of things up there.

And then the vulva is the outside bits — so it's what you see on the external genitalia.

What we found is that very few people know the word "vulva."

So if we were to call it the Vulva Museum, a lot of people would just kind of ignore it. They would say, "Oh, I don't know what that is — it must not be relevant to me," and walk on by. 

And the people who would know what it is, well, you know, they already know a lot. So they're not really the people who need that education.

Detail of art exhibited at London's Vagina Museum, which opens in October. (Charlotte Willcox/Vagina Museum)

Do you think that women, as well, don't know the difference between a vulva and a vagina?

Oh, loads. Loads. I read a stat that one in five women in the U.K. don't know that they pee and menstruate from different holes.

I think that there's a huge lack of knowledge. There was a study done by a charity called The Eve Appeal that only half of British women aged — I think it was 18 to 25, or 26 to 35 — could actually label the vagina on a diagram of internal anatomy. I mean, half.

OK. So you decided to call it the Vagina Museum — that's the "tubey" bit, as you call it. And your first exhibit is called Muff Busters. So what can we expect from that show?

So our first exhibition is Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them.

And it's all going to be exploring those myths that we hear about so much — you know, like, if you have loads of sex, your vagina will get really loose. And you can tell if someone's a virgin by like how long their labia are.

You know, all these kind of myths that pervade this part of the anatomy. And then the exhibition will explore what these myths are, what's the truth behind them, why they persist and how we can try and fight them.

At the gates to London's Camden Market, where the Vagina Museum is set to open. (Nicole Rixon/Vagina Museum)

But if you're saying that women even are embarrassed or just not able to deal with the fact that they have these parts, and even get them examined by a doctor — if people are so shy about their anatomy, why do you think they'll go to your museum?

Something that I've really found in the past two-and-a half years that I've been doing this project is that people are desperate to talk about these kind of things. And they just do not know, like, where is a safe place to talk about it?

They feel like if they talk about it with their friends they'll be ridiculed. If they go to their doctors they'll be humiliated.

And so, when they see the vagina museum, then suddenly these like floodgates open of, like, years and years of conversations that people have been desperate to have, and nowhere or no one, to have them with.

So I think that's why people will visit — it's because I think people are crying out for a place to talk about these issues in a safe way.

Interview produced by Morgan Passi. Q&A edited for length and clarity.