Bodies

Our relationship with our body, and how we understand it, changes over time. As soon as we are born we start learning and exploring our body and how to use it. We also start noticing how different our body is from the bodies of other people, and how every single body is different. Sometimes we get messages from caregivers, media or peers about bodies, some of them true and some of them untrue.

During adolescence, bodies go through a change called puberty, which for some can feel very difficult. Click here for more information on puberty and changing adolescent bodies.

Our relationship with our body can be complex and may include a mixture of positive and negative feelings. Our personal experiences in the world affect how we understand our bodies; because of this we may have complicated feelings about our own self-acceptance and self-expression.  For example, we may have received messages from our caregivers that a certain body type is more valuable than another. We may have seen advertisements that shame certain bodies and highlight others. Perhaps we have heard the message that diversity is good and valuable. These different messages and experiences can have a great effect on how we see our own bodies.

SERC believes that all bodies are good bodies, that there is no such thing as a perfect body, and that the idea of a perfect body has been used to harm and discriminate against people.

Below we talk about three different types of bodies – female bodies, intersex bodies and male bodies. Though we use these words here, we know that many people do not use these labels for their own body, and we strongly support people using whatever language for their own bodies that make sense for them.  These are just easy categories for us to talk about sexual health, and we recognize that these bring limitations.

At birth, people are often categorized into either female or male. Some bodies are categorized as intersex; bodies which have facets of both female and male genital anatomy – the parts between the upper legs. Some of these anatomy parts may be internal (inside the body) are cannot be visibly seen on the outside. We are happy to see that this category of sex is being more understood and more legally documented around the world.

When a newborn baby has a visible vulva area, they are usually classified as female. Usually these bodies hold internal organs including a cervix and uterus, and usually these bodies grow breasts during puberty. Unfortunately this categorization is usually given without much examination, and as such many intersex people are wrongly classified as female at birth.

When a newborn baby has a visible penis and testes, they are usually classified as male. Usually this categorization is given with only a quick visual examination, and as such many intersex people are wrongly classified as male at birth.

When a body is born with unclear genitals, or have visible parts of both male and female anatomy, they may be classified as intersex. This means that the line between the traditional classifications of female bodies and male bodies is not true for this body. This body may have a penis on the outside but a uterus on the inside, or a vulva on the outside with internal testes that you can’t see, or it might hold another combination of unique characteristics. Intersex bodies are normal and natural.

All bodies are unique, and no two bodies are exactly the same (even identical twins are different because of their unique experiences). There is not one perfect way to have a body; there is no perfect skin color, weight, body shape, body size, or anything. All bodies are good bodies.

When making decisions about your own sexual health, it is very helpful to understand body parts and how each of your body parts works. Sometimes putting two different people’s body parts together comes with some risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Some of the body parts to know about are:

Vulva: a vulva can be found on female bodies and some intersex bodies, between the legs and around the vaginal entrance. The vulva is comprised of a number of different body parts including the labia, the clitoris and the vaginal opening. Some other words people use for this area are pussy, lips, clit and others. Here is a picture of a vulva (remember, every vulva looks different):

An important thing to note is that some people have experienced female genital cutting, and as such their vulva might look different than the picture above. Female genital cutting is a traditional practice common in some parts of the world. Nobody should feel ashamed if they have experienced female genital cutting; their body is a good body and they can still experience sex and sexuality in whatever way feels good to them. Click here for more information on female genital cutting.

Important things to remember when touching someone else’s vulva area:

  1. Be sure to have consent before engaging in sexual touching
  2. Vaginal fluid can be found around the vulva, especially when the owner of the vulva is sexually aroused. Sexually transmitted fluids can live in vaginal fluid. To reduce the risk of STI transmission when touching a vulva, the sexual partner(s) can use gloves on their hands, an external condom on a penis or sex toy, or a sex dam when performing oral sex. Click here for more information on STIs and safer sex.
  3. There is a chance of pregnancy if sperm from a penis comes near the vaginal area, including the vulva. Click here for more information on how to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy.

Vagina: a vagina is the area between the vulva and the uterus in female bodies and some intersex bodies. It is protected inside of the body. Some people enjoy having things put into their vagina such as penises, fingers or sex toys. Here is a picture of the inside organs which include a vagina:

 

Important things to remember when touching someone else’s vagina:

  1. Be sure to have consent before engaging in sexual touching.
  2. Vaginal fluid can be found in and around the vagina, especially when the owner of the vagina is sexually aroused. Sexually transmitted fluids can live in vaginal fluid. To reduce the risk of STI transmission when touching a vagina, the sexual partner(s) can use gloves on their hands, an external condom on a penis or sex toy, or a sex dam when performing oral sex. Click here for more information on STIs and safer sex.
  3. There is a chance of pregnancy if sperm from a penis comes near the vagina. Click here for more information on how to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy.

Breasts: breasts are on the upper area of the chest on many bodies. Usually there are two breasts on each person, and one nipple on each breast, but every person is different. Breasts grow to different sizes on people once they reach puberty and the size it grows to depends on a lot of things, including hormone levels. All breasts are good breasts, and there is no perfect breast or perfect breast size.

Breasts are a part of the body where cancer can grow, and because of this it is important to regularly monitor them for any changes. If you see anything change, we recommend talking to your health care provider as soon as you can. Check your breasts regularly; look for lumps or bumps, changes in the nipples, skin puckering, any changes to size or color, hard skin or discharge; these may all be signs that something is wrong. If you are a female over 50, it is suggested you have a mammogram at least every 2 years, or more often if your health care provider recommends it. See www.breastcheck.ca for more information. If you live in Manitoba and do not have a health care provider you can get one by calling 1-866-690-8260.

Males can also get breast cancer so it is important for everybody to check their bodies regularly.

Some people might like their breasts to be touched or sucked on by other people. Sometimes a person who is lactating (producing milk inside their breast, usually due to pregnancy) enjoys having their breast milk sucked on and ingested by a consenting partner. Here is a list of things to remember when engaging in sexual activity involving breasts:

  1. Be sure to have consent before engaging in sexual touching
  2. Be aware and protect any cuts or scratches in the breast area. To prevent infection, cover the area with a sterile band aid or sterile cloth, and try to avoid touching the skin around it directly.
  3. Breastmilk has the potential of carrying sexually transmitted infections. Consider getting an STI test before allowing others to taste your breastmilk.

Clitoris: the clitoris is part of the vulva, which can be found between the legs on the female body and some intersex bodies. The clitoris is at the top end of the vulva (closer to the belly button) and is usually protected by a clitoral hood. The clitoris is usually extremely sensitive to touch and many people like having it touched or licked by their sexual partner(s).

An important thing to note is that some people have experienced female genital cutting, and as such their clitoris might look different than the picture above. Female genital cutting is a traditional practice common in some parts of the world. Nobody should feel ashamed if they have experienced female genital cutting; their body is still a good body and they can still experience sex and sexuality in whatever way feels good to them. Click here for more information on female genital cutting.

Here is a list of things to remember when engaging in sexual activity involving the clitoris:

  1. Be sure to have consent before engaging in sexual touching
  2. Vaginal fluid can be found around the clitoris, especially when the owner of the clitoris is sexually aroused. Sexually transmitted fluids can live in vaginal fluid. To reduce the risk of STI transmission when touching a vulva, the sexual partner(s) can use gloves on their hands, an external condom on a penis or sex toy, or a sex dam when performing oral sex. Click here for more information on STIs and safer sex.
  3. There is a chance of pregnancy if sperm from a penis comes near the vaginal area, including the clitoris. Click here for more information on how to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy.

Uterus – the uterus can be found inside, connected to the vagina in a female body and sometimes intersex bodies. The uterus is the part of a body where a fetus might grow if an egg cell meets a sperm. This process is called the pregnancy process. Click here for more information about the pregnancy process.  If somebody discovers they are pregnant they have options of abortion, adoption or parenting. Click here for more information about those choices. No pregnant person should be forced or pressured into any of these decisions.

Penis – the penis is an external sex organ, located outside of the body near the area where the legs meet on a male or intersex body. The penis is a long and narrow part of the body and is usually located above testicles (or balls). Other words people might use for their penis is dick or cock. Many people like to have their penises touched, stroked or licked, or to put their penis inside of  vaginas or sex toys. When the person who the penis belongs to becomes sexually aroused, blood may flow to the penis quite quickly, causing the penis to become stiff or hard; this is called an erection. During sexual arousal the penis might expel fluids out of its tip; this process is called ejaculation. The substance that comes out of the penis during ejaculation is called semen; another word people use for ejaculate is cum. Semen usually carry sperm, so if the semen comes close to the vagina or vulva there is a chance pregnancy could happen. Click here for more information on pregnancy. It is also important to know that if a person has a sexually transmitted infection, the infection can be passed onto another person if they touch the infected person’s semen with their mouth or body. Safer sex supplies can be used to reduce this risk; click here for more information.  Here is a picture of a penis (remember, every penis looks different):

Here is a list of things to remember when engaging in sexual activity involving the penis:

  1. Be sure to have consent before engaging in sexual touching.
  2. When sexually aroused semen will probably come out of the top of the penis. Sexually transmitted infections can live in semen. To reduce the risk of STI transmission when touching a penis, the sexual partner(s) can use gloves on their hands or an external condom on the penis. Click here for more information on STIs and safer sex.
  3. There is a chance of pregnancy if sperm from a penis comes near another person’s vaginal area. Click here for more information on how to protect yourself and others from unwanted pregnancy.

Testicles – Testicles are often located outside of the body of male or intersex person, below the penis in the area where the two legs meet. Testicles usually form in pairs, and many people refer to them as balls because of their appearance. Here is an interior diagram of testicles:

For intersex people, their testicles might be internal, on the inside of their body. All bodies are good bodies.

Testicles are part of the male reproductive system and are sometimes part of the intersex reproductive system. Testicles produce sperm which is ejaculated or expelled out of the penis during sexual activity. Some people like their testicles touched or licked, or to use a sex toy on them.

If you have testicles, it is a good idea to check them regularly for any changes including lumps or tenderness. If you notice any changes it is a good idea to talk to your health care provider about it as soon as you can.  See cancer.ca for more information. If you live in Manitoba and do not have a health care provider you can get one by calling 1-866-690-8260.

Anus – The anus is the opening to the intestines, protected within the buttocks. Some people call it their bum hole. Some people really like their anus to be touched or licked by another person or with sex toys. Also, some people feel good when things are put into their anus such as a penis or a sex toy. The important thing to remember when touching someone else’s anus is that, if the owner of the anus has a sexually transmitted infection, that infection has a chance of being passed onto another person through touch or licking. In order to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections, safer sex supplies such as external condoms, internal condoms or sex dams can be used. Click here for more information.