When Dorrie Lane, a self-proclaimed "vulvalutionary," started teaching sex education classes in 1993, she was appalled at her students' lack of knowledge about female anatomy. "Most of the people in my workshops couldn't use the correct words, and they didn't know where anything was," says Lane.
It occurred to Lane that she had never seen a three-dimensional representation of the vulva. "There were plenty of penises around," she says, "but I couldn't find any vulvas." She experimented with an empty toilet paper roll and a pair of red knee-high stockings and created the first vulva puppet. Six years later, Lane is still making puppets in her kitchen, but now they are handcrafted, scented works of art made of velvet and satin. She uses them during her workshops and sells them through her Web site.
Lane leads sex education and AIDS-prevention workshops through community groups in San Francisco, and teaches gynecological education at Stanford's and UCSF's Schools of Medicine as well as at Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine. "Before taking my workshop, many of the medical students have only studied vulvas on cadavers," says Lane. "They tell me that my workshop is one of their favorite classes."
During Lane's workshops, she uses her puppets to encourage participation. She holds the puppet up and shows participants what a vulva looks like in its unaroused state. "I might say something like, 'This is what Hilary Clinton looks like while she is working in the White House,'" says Lane, putting her hand in a puppet named Alaghom and pulling the lips closed. "Then I show what Hilary would look like in a moment of pleasure, perhaps with Bill, perhaps on her own," Lane opens up the outer lips of the puppet to expose the inner labia and all the puppet's parts in all their glory. Alaghom, named after a Mayan goddess, happens to be made of leopard-print velvet and Prada green satin, hand-beaded with tiger's eye and jet-black beads.
"I'm a great advocate of masturbation," says Lane. "One of my puppets was given as a gift to a woman who had never touched herself. Once she had the puppet, it opened up a whole new level of sexuality for her. She blossomed. My puppets are a great tool to help women and their partners become more sexually aware. They have a G-spot. It's right here," Lane says, putting her finger into the front of Alaghom.
During workshops Lane passes her puppets around and gets her students to smell them. Parts of the puppets are stuffed with lavender. She gets her students to use the puppets to tell their vulva stories. "Everybody has a vulva story," says Lane "We all came from one. In fact, some of my best vulva stories have come from gay men."
Lane feels that her puppets are particularly effective in helping people get beyond the shame and embarrassment often associated with the vulva, especially when she works with community organizations who train teenagers to be peer counselors in sex education and AIDS awareness. "At first there's a lot of giggling," says Lane. "The girls are extremely embarrassed, but the puppets help them get over that." When the teenagers tell their stories, the girls will talk about menstruation, or about being virgins, or perhaps share an incest story. The boys often use the puppet to tell conquest stories.
"When the boys start to show off and brag," says Lane, "I say 'That sounds like the story of a penis. Now can you tell us the story of a vulva?' They usually do."
Lane says that she puts a little bit of magic into every puppet she makes. A Japanese man ordered a puppet made out of an antique silk kimono, named after the fire goddess, Fuchi. The customer lived in Kobi, where an earthquake hit the day the puppet was scheduled to arrive. Despite the devastation caused by the earthquake, Fuchi arrived on time. "Magic," says Lane. "Both the puppet and its new owner were unscathed."
Rachella Sinclair is a freelance writer and novelist in San Francisco.