There are many ways to grab someone’s attention, but nothing does it like putting the word “vagina” on a pink poster across a college campus.
The debut of Dixie State University’s Vagina Project Feb. 18 in the Zion Room of the Jeffrey R. Holland Centennial Commons building was almost too much of a success. People began pouring into the conference room lingering by the artwork in the back, grabbing a bite to eat from the food table and, if they could, finding a chair to sit in. Otherwise, some people had to stand around the edge of the room.
The Vagina Project started as a simple idea conceived by Nancy Ross, an adjunct art instructor, and Christina Duncan, a sociology instructor, who wanted the event to be modeled after “The Vagina Monologues,” a play written by Eve Ensler. The idea was to include the experiences and thoughts of people a little closer to home and to engage in discussions about women’s bodies and sexuality.
Submissions for artwork, poetry and stories opened in November to anyone who wanted to contribute to the cause. Some of the featured artwork on display came from Katrina Anderson’s “Mormon Women Bare” photograph project.
On her website, Anderson explains her motivation behind “Mormon Women Bare” by sharing some stories she’d heard about young girls and Brigham Young University students being chastised by their peers for not dressing modestly enough. She stated “Mormon Women Bare” is meant to combat “extreme” attitudes that can accompany the “modesty culture” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Mormon women have an added layer of complexity and heavy expectations: while being warned against becoming ‘walking pornography,’ we also face immense pressure to be attractive and fit,” Anderson stated. “…Even though Mormonism teaches our destiny is to become like our embodied Heavenly Parents, the hyper-focus of modesty leaves many of us feeling disconnected and ambivalent about our bodies.”
Psychology professor Dannelle Larsen-Rife kicked the evening off with a presentation of her study called “Our Bodies, Our Experiences.” She explained there’s very little research that looks at the correlation between body image and sexual attitudes. So she and a team of student researchers set out to answer a question: “What impact does our body image have with sexual attitude and sexual behavior?”
Lyndsey Craig, a freshman psychology major from Lexington, Ky., helped Larsen-Rife in her research and presented the results of the research. Their findings proved body dissatisfaction is, in fact, associated with a lower frequency of sexual activity.
“It’s enlightening,” Craig said. “I know other women feel dissatisfied with their bodies. I’m insecure as it is, so it’s enlightening to know that I’m not alone.”
Like many of the participants, Josh Decker, a junior Spanish major from St. George, attended the Vagina Project to receive extra credit from his psychology professors. But he walked out with a little more insight on sexuality than he was expecting.
“I think an event like this is important,” Decker said. “A lot of the things we feel we shouldn’t talk about are actually good things we can learn from. The Mormon culture is so focused staying away from premarital sex. So, it’s good for Dixie because, as a university, we want to talk about everything and not leave anything out.”
Another student expressed relief that there is finally an outlet for college students to openly discuss sexuality, body image and sexual attitudes. Rhonda Spencer, a sophomore psychology major from Salt Lake City, said people may chuckle at the vagina frosting cupcakes served at the event, but they don’t realize they’re already taking a step outside their comfort zones on the subject.
“It takes down some walls that need to be taken down,” Spencer said. “The stories were so broad and personal with all the different aspects of sexuality. Women have a much broader sexual experience than men do. Our bodies and sexual experience are much more complicated.”
In the closing remarks, Ross expressed her gratitude toward everyone who participated. The crowd lingered as people greeted fellow classmates and grabbed the last of the pink vagina frosting cupcakes. With a bit of guts and brave faculty members, The Vagina Project could see its second year in the spotlight.