It all happened when I started reading stories about women having cosmetic surgery on their labias.

The labia, a part of a woman’s body most of us never think about unless for some reason something is irritating it, is now something more and more women are having surgery on to make it look “neater.” And women want this, despite the fact that unlike wrinkles, a large hump in your nose, a weak chin or small boobs, there is no real way for anyone to tell what your va-jay-jay looks. After all, most of us aren’t Hollywood starlets with paparazzi cameras pointing up at our yahoos when we step out of limos. If your lady parts are healthy and functioning properly, why on earth would a woman go have an unnecessary surgery when most people won’t even have sex with the lights on?

I blame porn, as, once again, a woman’s worth is being measured in her outward appearance. Only now it’s spread to her unmentionables.

Earlier this year I joked with sports writer Bomani Jones that: “Between old Britney (Spears) and new Lady Gaga, never has vagina been more boring … Internet porn, leaked celebrity crotch shots and Gaga have told all of Victoria’s Secrets and solved the mystery of the va-jay-jay. Seeing vagina has gotten so common people now have unrealistic expectations for it. Giving birth to new life and bringing pleasure to millions aren’t enough anymore. Now it has to be detachable and do tricks. Put on tap shoes and perform a professional quality Paso Doble on Dancing with the Stars.”

The “lady-est” of lady parts is now everywhere. It’s out. And like every other lady part, it’s up for judgment and, woefully, falling short.

Studies show that an over-abundance of pornography available on-line has started to affect our views of ourselves, women and sexuality, even getting to the point where a certain segment of men would actually prefer to watch pornography than pursue and have sex with an actual woman. After all, in an image fueled addiction, you can find ever more shocking images to titillate yourself. And these are the images women, both of the regular and “professionally pretty” classes are competing against in a looks obsessed culture.

It’s pretty much the difference between a 1990s era Beyonce in a Tina Knowles special mini-skirt and a 2009 Beyonce sans pants, in the middle of a no-pants (or shirt) arms race with Rihanna, Lady Gaga and every other female recording artist in the world who is encouraging strangers with telephoto lenses to give them unsolicited pelvic exams while dancing.

And all those women, whose looks are one part nature, one part science fiction are still competing for eyes in a world where women with similar bodies are naked, doing unmentionable things for the low, low price of free wi-fi access.

From New York Magazine:

Our younger sisters had to compete with video porn in the eighties and nineties, when intercourse was not hot enough. Now you have to offer—or flirtatiously suggest—the lesbian scene, the ejaculate-in-the-face scene. Being naked is not enough; you have to be buff, be tan with no tan lines, have the surgically hoisted breasts and the Brazilian bikini wax—just like porn stars. (In my gym, the 40-year-old women have adult pubic hair; the twentysomethings have all been trimmed and styled.) Pornography is addictive; the baseline gets ratcheted up. By the new millennium, a vagina—which, by the way, used to have a pretty high “exchange value,” as Marxist economists would say—wasn’t enough; it barely registered on the thrill scale. All mainstream porn—and certainly the Internet—made routine use of all available female orifices.

I feel sorry for the first few women who settled down to have sex with that first wave of guys who spent more time with the processed images of perfectly pink and symmetrical stunt vagina than real life lady crotch and actually uttered the words, “This doesn’t look right. I don’t think I’d like to have sex now.”

Or, I feel sorry for the woman who watched porn, either on her own or with her partner, saw an “science fiction” va-jay-jay and wondered why hers did not look the same. It’s like a perversion of a perversion. The “Inception” of perversion, in fact.  Studies show the more time spent looking at fashion magazines the more women find wrong with their faces, bodies and weight. But what happens when women start comparing themselves to re-touched cheesecake models and porn stars?

I still remember the first time I saw hardcore porn when in college and almost started crying as I asked my friend if men actually expected women to do “that.” I was still a virgin and wanted to know if I was expected to suddenly turn into a voracious, unashamed, insatiable sex lioness with perfect abs and little inhibition. I knew I could not compete if any guy expected that of me or my body.

Real life is not supposed to be porn since porn exists in the same special effects-filled, heightened reality of Hollywood and celebrity. Yet, sadly, sci-fi sex is what we are more and more expecting of ourselves, leading us – men and women – to enjoy our own very real intimacy less and less. How can we appreciate the softness and warmth of our own healthy bodies if we’re constantly worried about how we look with the lights off? How can we enjoy sex if we’re expecting it to come with the kind of pyrotechnics that would have directed by Michael Bay in the credits? We don’t expect our morning commute to look like “The Fast and the Furious,” but more and more we expect women to obtain the same body perfection as someone whose  whole job is to look sexily unreal, then have that unrealness pushed further into the uncanny valley with Photoshop.

It’s a war you can’t win. A war that most of us would be better off not fighting and focusing on self-acceptance instead.

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