Ever since I heard about the plans to set up the world’s first bricks-and-mortar Vagina Museum in Camden, London, I’ve been so excited to see it happen. As a society we’re so reluctant to talk about vaginas (well, I’m personally not, but people often look uncomfortable when I bring up performing in the Vagina Monologues when I was at university, or anything to do with periods!), and I was really keen to see how a space like this could put the vagina on display and start conversations about it. The Vagina Museum finally opened its doors inside Camden Markets this month, and so my friend T and I went along to take a look.
The team behind the Vagina Museum actually starting running their project back in 2017, as a series of pop-up exhibitions at events such as health conferences around the UK, and earlier in 2019 they embarked upon a fundraising effort in order to be able to open their first premises. The museum is small; currently it is literally just one room, with an exhibition and a (brilliant!) gift shop. It gets busy – we went in just after opening time on a Sunday morning and it was already packed – so if you’re able to visit on a weekday rather than a weekend, I’d recommend doing so.
The current exhibition – Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them – uncovers the truth around some of the most common misconceptions about the vagina, from today and yesteryear. There are diagrams, information boards, artwork and a baffling array of products such as “virginity soap” and “intelligent tightening” cream which are and have been on sale to vagina-owners (spoiler: don’t use these).
I loved the sculpture of various menstrual products covered in glittery red blood; making something pretty out of a natural process which is so often considered disgusting.
Even as someone with a vagina who has always considered themselves fairly au fait with it, I learnt something new from this exhibition; namely, that back in the 1950s and 60s women in the US used to douche with Coca-Cola if they had had unprotected sex, due to a widespread belief that it could prevent pregnancy (again, do not do this!).
After viewing the exhibition, we of course headed over to the gift shop to pick up a few things. There are badges, pens, postcards, some fantastic greeting cards and prints, mugs, tote bags, books and more to commemorate your visit and help to support the museum. The Vagina Museum is free to enter, but do consider buying something and/or leaving a donation, in order to help keep it going.
There are plenty of jokes flying around online about the existence of a Vagina Museum, and the museum itself is fun, funny and positive in its atmosphere, but there’s a serious side to this exhibition, which underlines the reasons for which the team set the museum up; misinformation and lack of understanding about vaginas can lead to unsafe practices and dangerous situations – it’s easy to laugh at the idea of women swigging bottles of Coke around up there, but soft drink is full of acid and sugar (as the information board points out, Coca-Cola can rust metal…). Think back to the sex education you received at school; unless you went to a girls’ school (and perhaps even that didn’t make a difference), how comfortable were your teachers with even saying the word “vagina”? Again, I would consider myself pretty open and knowledgeable about my own anatomy, but I think I would have struggled to complete the diagrams on the worksheets available for visitors to have a go at (apparently you get a sticker if you get it right!). As small as it may be for now, the Vagina Museum is starting something really important and powerful.
Their website reveals that there are plenty of upcoming events planned at the Vagina Museum (I love the sound of the monthly book club!), and given how popular it appears to be already, I think that it is surely going to grow and develop successfully. I will certainly be keeping an eye on what’s going on, and heading down there again to check out future exhibitions.
The Vagina Museum is a must-visit for anyone coming to London. In its current space, the museum is so small that you probably need only half an hour to view the exhibition, browse the gift shop, and have a chat to the friendly staff and volunteers, so it’s a very quick and easy item on your itinerary while you’re exploring the markets and alleyways of Camden (and a very worthwhile one too). And if you’re not heading to London any time soon, but you’d still like to support the museum, then it is possible to donate online.
How to find the Vagina Museum: the address is Unit 17 & 18 Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH. It’s inside Camden Markets; use Google Maps to find the exact location (although if you’re as directionally-challenged as I am you may still get lost – another reason to try to visit at a less busy time of the day/week!). Chalk Farm and Camden Town Underground Stations (for the Northern Line) are both a few minutes’ walk away, and Camden Road Station (for the London Overground) and bus stops for various routes from North and Central London are all within easy walking distance too.
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