Art of Woman

IGAD - International Gynaecological Awareness Day

I’m so excited to announce the inaugural celebration of IGAD (International Gynaecological Awareness Day) in Canberra!! This is a day to build awareness of women’s intimate health.

There is still embarrassment and reluctance by many people to frankly discuss diseases and problems with our sexual organs, even with health professionals. Some women find that problems with their vulva or periods are not investigated thoroughly because they are not visible. Some women suffer for years in silence as a result.

SHFPACT (Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT) are hosting an event celebrating women’s intimate health. Tim Bavinton, the executive director was so impressed with my art, he suggested that I exhibit my work in the SHFACT Training Room as part of the IGAD celebrations. This is a great honour.

IGAD will be opened by Professor Frank Bowden at 7:30pm, 10th September and the exhibition will run from 12-23rd September. Prof Bowden is the professor of medicine at ANU and has recently published a book, Gone Viral -The Germs That Share Our Lives.

My art photos will be for sale as signed limited edition (25) prints, on archival rag paper. When I exhibited at PhotoAccess last year, I donated to endometriosis research and this year when I exhibited in Sydney in March, I donated to UN women Australia. During this exhibition at SHFPACT, I will donate 5% of sales to SHFPACT and 5% to endometriosis research.

International Gynaecological Awareness Day, a day to realise how intricately and wonderfully God made women - and God made all parts of women good.

Download the invitation.

Sex, Faith and Marriage, Sunday 22 August 2010

Last night on ABC TV Compass interviewed three couples from three faiths, Hindu, Muslim and Judaism. They were asked about their beliefs regarding sex.

The Jewish couple spoke about how menstruation impacts on their sex lives. Orthodox Jews do not have sex during a woman’s period, nor for seven days afterwards. The time of menstruation is significant in Jewish ritual and a woman learns that her body is sacred and that sex is sacred. The husband and wife do not sleep in the same bed during this time. Then, after 12 days without any contact with her husband the wife has a ritual bath called Mikvah and is blessed, cleansed and made ritually clean. She is then ready to return to the marriage bed and resume sexual relations. Often there is a sense of excitement as she returns home ready to greet her husband. Her desire has been rejuvenated.

There are many misconceptions surrounding Mikvah. It was wonderful to see how this ancient tradition is practiced in a modern society. Each women’s privacy was respected and hygiene was strictly controlled.
I loved the passionate way that the wife, Timmy described her experience of being in separate beds, “It makes you yearn to be with your partner.” Kalman describes the husband’s view, “That’s the time to rejuvenate. Because you are forced to instil a control, you are forced to draw close to each other emotionally, you talk to each other.” This periodic separation deepens the relationship!
I’m sure the monthly break in sexual demands is rejuvenating for both husband and wife. She is not pressured to be constantly available and he does not suffer as much rejection because the rejuvenation time is understood and he does not make needless advances.
Personally, I would find the 12 days without contact every month extremely difficult and I do not observe this practice. I do however take breaks on my own visiting friends and relatives and have done so throughout my marriage. When I return home from a break, we are excited to see each other, we are attentive to each other and our relationship is rejuvenated.
The Mikvah ritual is a refreshing contrast to today’s modern western culture which is over sexualised. Western culture puts a lot of sexual expectations on relationships. Men feel pressure to prove their manhood and women feel pressure to be constantly sexually attractive and to acquiesce to the lustful demands of their partners even when they feel no desire themselves.
One example of these attitudes is the book “365 nights: A Memoir of Intimacy” by Charla Muller, Berkley Publishing Group, 2008. ISBN: 9781741964240.

Charla Muller wanted to give her husband a memorable and significant gift for his 40th birthday. She decided to give him sex every night for one year, the “gift”.
It was an amazing effort. I agree that the “gift” was motivated by love for her husband, but it is also based on the assumption that a good wife is constantly sexually available.

This assumption makes a woman a sex object at the whim of a man’s lust even within marriage. This has the potential to become exploitative of women, meeting only the man’s needs without any consideration for the woman’s experience. Even Charla defines sex in terms of his ejaculation (P72). Unfortunately, many men loose respect for women once their lusts are satisfied. If the husband expects his wife to be constantly sexual availability then sex becomes the wife’s obligation and her refusal is taken as a rejection of his manhood. He may take any sexual rejection so badly that he becomes coercive or even violent as a result.

Charla admits that her husband felt rejected, writing, “I know you’re avoiding sex and it bums me out … I’m your husband for Pete’s sake, not some cheesy college guy looking to get lucky.” (P215) The assumption is that a wife should not refuse her husband.

Perhaps if Charla was permitted rejuvenation times, she would say yes more often. Instead, she puts in a marathon effort gives her body as a “gift”.

When a woman has no desire, sex becomes a chore, a performance or even a transaction. Charla tries to gloss over this aspect of her “gift” but it is clear that she has had enough during the last few weeks of the “gift”.

“Geez, do you think you could try a little bit more?” He said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
He sighed. “Could you pretend you’re interested in this? I mean could you woo me a bit?”
Try? Woo? What does he think I’ve been doing the last eleven months of my life?
(P234-235)

It is clear that her husband has continuing expectations. A husband with the expectation that a good wife is constantly sexual availability is generally not very appreciative.

What Charla has done may have been good for her marriage, but it is a potentially dangerous precedent to use as an example to emulate. It sets up unrealistic expectations of marriage in men because many women will not be able to achieve this amount of sexual availability due to a whole range of justifiable reasons.

There does seem to be a gulf between men’s lusts and women’s capacity. As Charla writes, “Brad will want sex and will resent having to ask for it. I will not want to have sex after two babies and fifty-four workhour weeks and will resent having to have it.” (P243)

Charla describes women getting Doctor’s certificates as a way of extending postpartum sexual abstinence. (P75) Surely a ritual time out is better than this deception?

Judaism gives sexuality a structure that honours the needs of both men and women. The Mikvah looks like a peaceful place where women can be refreshed and recover their energies and the 12 days of abstinence makes the husbands more appreciative of the physical and sexual side of marriage after the 12th day finally arrives!

You can read another review of 365 Nights here and two radio interviews by Amy Freese of Designher Living on WSRadio.com - 03 and 04.

"Period Piece" a success

My recent solo exhibition, “Period Piece” was a success. Many people came to the Huw Davies Gallery to see it. The photos generated some animated discussions about women’s bodies and about menstrual health. Many women were deeply touched to see images that articulate how they feel on the inside. There were even some men who had discussions with me and developed some understanding of the deep impact menstruation can have on a woman’s life. It was very encouraging to realise that my art photos had communicated sensitive issues so effectively.

During my research for this exhibition, I was alarmed and shocked by the extent of suffering that women with Endometriosis experience. Endometriosis can be an extremely debilitating disease and it is not well understood. Many women suffer in silence because this disease is so unseen. One of my aims is to articulate this pain in a way that affirms the dignity of the suffering women and promotes further research into treatments.

I pledged a portion of the sale proceeds to be donated to Endometriosis research. Several images sold permitting me to donate $186 to Endometriosis research.


The opening night of “Period Piece”

Anatomy For Beginners - SBS

On Tuesday evening 18 May, I watched a programme on SBS TV, “Anatomy For Beginners”.

This has been a fascinating series of documentaries showing how our bodies work by dissecting plasticised cadavers and by skilled painting on live nude models. Presented by pathologist Professor John Lee, Dr Gunther von Hagens expertly and deftly dissects the human body in a way that shows how the various organs and systems connect.

I watched the episode titled “Reproduction” and was amazed at the intricacies of the inner working of a woman’s body. Dr von Hagens had a series of foetuses in different stages of development. I was looking forward to the different phases of the womb during the menstrual cycle.

Yet not one word was spoken about menstruation! How can a programme about human reproduction ignore menstruation??? Menstruation is fundamental to both woman’s fertility and her sexual availability. We were told the full workings of ejaculation. Why not menstruation??

Dr Gunther von Hagens dissected a womb yet did not explain about the lining and preparation for implantation, nor the menstrual cycle that cleans and replenishes the womb.

This oversight confirms to me that there is still a great deal of silence and denial of menstruation. Despite our scientific culture, there is still an unwillingness to acknowledge this important part of a woman’s body. Menstruation occupies up to one quarter of a woman’s life during her fertile years. This is a lot of time and it impacts on a woman’s life in important ways.

But Professor John Lee and Dr Gunther von Hagens did not think it important enough to even mention during an episode devoted to reproduction!!

You can see the episode here.

Labiaplasty

Last night I watched “Hungry Beast” on ABC TV. This program, presented by plucky young people, picks out interesting and controversial snippets of news and themes. To quote from their website, “ It covers everything from the silly, to the serious, to somewhere in between; always from a different perspective.” Last night was an article about labiaplasty. You may view this online on the following web address. I am writing this link out in longhand, separately because the clip contains images of genitals and talks about genital surgery. These images are rated as M15+ and if such material offends you, do not click on the link;
http://hungrybeast.abc.net.au/stories/labiaplasty

There were two aspects to the report;
  1. the censorship laws that allowed full frontal nudity only if labia are not visible
  2. the increase in the number of real women having plastic surgery to cut off their perfectly normal, healthy labia.

The censorship laws are accommodated by some magazine editors by manipulating photographs of women and trimming their labia digitally within Photoshop. The women models remained healthy and intact, but of course the image is a construction, not a true representation.

Unfortunately the publishing of these altered images gives the public the impression that labia are not normally visible. Normal women are seeing their genitalia as ugly and in need of modification. The plastic surgeon called it “surgical improvement”! Of course he would, it helps his business to call it improvement. I am horrified by this. Surely labiaplasty is genital mutilation. All surgery carries risk, infection, poor workmanship, healing problems, scarring, loss of sensation, even death from complications. This is a lot of risk for something that is not even a true representation of women and is totally unnecessary.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect the population from damaging sexuality, not promoting genital mutilation!

There is also a possible connection with pedophilia. Sexually immature girls have small labia that are not visible from the outside - “a single crease” to quote the Photoshop artist. When a woman reaches puberty, she grows breasts and labia. These are normal secondary sexual characteristics of womanhood. The censorship laws are requiring adult women to look like little girls! If men become habituated to these images, it is a small step to finding under age girls themselves sexually arousing and desirable.

Censorship laws are supposed to protect under age girls, not turn them into objects of desire!

Our culture already sexualises under age girls to a great extent causing enormous suffering to women. This is one more example. You can read more about the sexualisation of girls in, “Getting Real” edited by Melinda Tankard Reist, published by Spinifex, 2009.

Human Papillomavirus vaccine and virginity pledges

Last week in "The Canberra Times" there was an article about mothers refusing to give their daughters the Human Papillomavirus vaccine. The vaccine protects against Human Papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer. Approximately 20% of mothers believed that the vaccine would induce their daughters to become promiscuous. It is very sad that even in this age of high technology and scientific advances, 20% of the population confuses health with morals.

Surveys of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy rates done on young people who vowed abstinence interestingly show they have similar instances of sexually transmitted diseases as the control group who did not vow abstinence. The explanation was that teens vowing abstinence may have been practicing manual, oral or anal sex in order to remain technically virgin, but were not practicing safe sex. These other sexual activities can transmit sexual diseases.

Vaccinations are an insurance to protect against a bad event happening. To suggest that vaccines will induce bad behaviour is like saying that people who receive a Tetanus vaccine will go and hammer a rusty nail into their foot! NO. But if they accidently tread on a rusty nail, they are protected from Tetanus. It is a health issue.

It is also like seat belts in a car. Seat belts have been compulsory in Australia for decades. We wear them to protect ourselves in the event of an accident. People drive because they want to go somewhere. There is no evidence that people drive more often or become worse drivers in cars with seat belts. It is a safety issue.

Most people including teens participate in sexual activities because they are in a relationship. They do not think about their health status at the height of passion. Therefore any safe sex practices, including vaccinations, will reduce their exposure to harm. Vaccinations and safe sex practices are health issues.

Virginity pledges and abstinence promotion is a good thing and aims to empower teens to responsible sexual relationships. Problems arise when abstinence promotion comes without education on sexual health, disease protection and contraception. We all need sexual health because we all have sex organs.

Sexual health and christianity part 2

The entry I wrote yesterday was about a guest speaker that visited my church. The usual preaching at my church allows much more room for individual thought and for God to guide and direct. The sermons emphasise christian morality and integrity..........

The Bible is quoted and Jesus' actions are discussed. There is a special time during each service after the sermon/message where the congregation is invited to think about the issues and how God is speaking to us individually. We even have special message cards that people can fill in if they want to discuss things further with the pastors or elders. So the church I attend does not demand specific actions. It offers direction and guidance. This approach allows each of us to have a personal and dynamic relationship with God. We are able to respond to God individually.

Our church does support sexual health along with all types of healthy living. For example; three of our women supported a calendar that raised funds for Women's Centre for Health Matters. Many of our missionaries support sexual health and hygiene, helping mothers and babies, and supporting several homes for children with AIDS/HIV. Of course, safe sex practices will reduce the need for orphanages.

Sexual health and Christianity

Yesterday at church a guest speaker described 'safe sex' as an encouragement for promiscuity!! This is an outrage!! Safe sex is a health issue. People can become very ill and die from lack of knowledge in this area. Lack of knowledge also leads to further transmission and even more people suffering. To have knowledge that can protect against deadly diseases and to withhold that knowledge is morally irresponsible. Those people are in part responsible for any subsequent suffering or death.

We all know that washing hands reduces transmission of diarrhoea. If we recommend the washing of hands, does that make people more prone to gluttony or obesity because now they can eat without getting sick??? Of course not!!

If we recommend hand washing then we will have a healthier community.

If we recommend safe sex then we will have a healthier community.

What is more important, a condom or a person's life? What is more important, a vaccine or a person's life? What is more important, a contraception or a person's life? I chose a healthy life!

I am glad the Australian government is promoting the vaccination of girls and young women under 26 against human papillomavirus which causes cervical cancer. See link for more info, HPV

We all need sexual health because we all have sex organs.