By Martha French
CN: Detailed discussion of consent and pornography, brief mention of abortion
Lucienne Jacobs, a 2nd year Classics student at Christ’s, started the Instagram account @vive.la.reVUVLVAlution during the first lockdown, with the intention of creating a platform for the discussion of female sexuality with friends and peers. Since then, it has amassed over 400 followers, and covered topics such as libido, catcalling, and body hair. Most recently, Lucienne collected stories from followers about their experiences on any and all kinds of contraception, resulting in a brilliant resource series explaining the pros and cons of everything from various combined pills to condoms to the vaginal ring. Over the holidays, I caught up with Lucienne to chat all things sexual health and social media.
Martha: What inspired you to start the account, and why did you choose to run the campaign on Instagram?
Lucienne: Well, I have always been interested in sexual health and sex positivity. It started from just being the one in my school friendship group who disclosed everything, who didn’t shy away from any topic despite its taboo. But this interest manifested itself in quite a passive manner at first: it was mainly liking posts on Instagram or sharing them on my story etc, but I had never thought of making content myself. I guess I was just afraid of trying something and failing, and the subsequent embarrassment that comes along with it.
But over lockdown, a video was posted by Buzzfeed titled, “Why I Always Hated My Vagina.” This video was about an employee’s journey towards accepting her vulva, which she claimed to be non-conforming to the general “standard” of vulvas. By this, it was assumed she referred to having what social media have begun calling an “outie” vulva, where the labia are longer than what is deemed to be “normal” (although this, of course, is nonsense). I was incredibly moved by this video, not only because of the strength it must have taken for the employee to air her largest insecurity on a huge public platform, but because her insecurity was also my insecurity. In the video, she shares articles about girls as young as nine years old enquiring about labiaplasty (the procedure to reduce labia size), and I was instantly taken back to my teenage self, sitting in front of a computer screen, looking up the cost of the procedure, or scrolling endlessly through Reddit feeds questioning “what do boys think of longer labia?” hoping to, at some point, find a comment which didn’t include the words “beef sandwich.”
Firstly, the video made me question why we’re not taught about these things in our education system, and what else has been ignored by schools purely because they’re slightly taboo. Yet, this video also comforted me. It reminded me that I’m not alone in this insecurity, and that’s what caused me to begin my account. I didn’t just want to inform, but I also wanted to comfort. I wanted to do the same thing for other girls as she had done for me: remind them that they’re not alone in their insecurities, and to create a safe-space where anything and everything to do with women’s health and sexual experience can be spoken about.
I chose to create the account on Instagram mainly because I found it the easiest way to access people. Initially, it was just an account for all my female/non-binary friends to follow, where I would just do very low-key posts, but it’s become a little more than that now. I guess Instagram also worked well with my target audience, since my posts are primarily for young people.
Martha: What were your first experiences with sexual health education? How much were you self/peer taught?
Lucienne: So, my official sex education began in primary school, but that was barely anything, mainly anatomy at that stage. We then had a PSHCE day once a year from Year 7-10 regarding sexual health. The main thing I remember from those days is learning how to put a condom on a plastic penis and being shown pictures of the effects of different STIs, but that was in Year 9, and realistically, who’s having sex when they’re 13? I definitely wasn’t.
So, my school was pretty pathetic when it came to sex education. I might be wrong, but from what I recall there was no mention of pleasure, no mention of varying appearances, no mention of consent. I learnt other things from speaking to friends, but I also had to learn a lot from the internet, and by internet, I mean porn, which I can tell you was not the way to go. Because of the ubiquitous “designer vagina” aesthetic found in porn, my insecurities were exacerbated. The industry also undeniably offers a very warped form of sex, one which is often aggressive, even violent, which I think no doubt has impacted my view of sex to this day.
Martha: What does it take to make a post?
Lucienne: Ok so, this makes me sound all high and mighty, and I really don’t want to come across that way, but I’d like to think all my posts are special in some way. When starting the page, I almost viewed it as a product to be sold – it needed a USP (Unique Selling Point). I found that there were lots of sex positivity Instagram pages, and I didn’t want to just post random screenshots of tweets from people, or articles written by others. I wanted my account to be personal and intimate, I wanted to make posts people would actually read and engage with, posts which come from my own opinions and my own voice. Each post, therefore, is thoughtfully constructed. They take research, they take thought, and perhaps most importantly, they take emotion. I like to truly feel something as I write, whether it’s anger, pride, insecurity etc.
Martha: How has it been balancing the account with your degree work and other extra curriculars? Have they informed each other or is it a bit of a battle to keep on top of everything?
Lucienne: If I’m being completely honest, it’s been challenging. I posted only once during Michaelmas term, because I just couldn’t find the motivation to carry on. Particularly under the current circumstances, I was just completely overwhelmed with work and actually staying sane. I’m quite ashamed of how badly I dealt with everything, but then again, I don’t want to make myself feel bad when I know some sacrifices had to be made for my own well-being.
I think because of the nature of my posts and also my perfectionism, I just found it really hard to write. I would finish my work for that week, essays and translations etc, and I would just lack energy to write something else. Perhaps it’s a slightly pathetic excuse, I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m definitely trying to work on.
One thing I’ve done to help, however, is link the account to an extra-curricular by joining the Student Union Women’s Committee! This means I can start weaving Vive La ReVULVAlution into my weekly routine.
Martha: What have you learnt from running it, personally and from the responses of others?
Lucienne: Ah! So much! I’ve mainly learnt just how rubbish our education system is at providing information on women’s health! For example, I remember doing a post about vaginal discharge, and the number of boys who subsequently told me that they had no idea it existed staggered me.
Martha: What are you proudest of?
Lucienne: This might sound cliché, but genuinely any post which has impacted another person, which has spoken to them, and somewhat comforted them. I have had so many people messaging, thanking me for speaking out about something which they had always felt insecure about, and that always warms my heart.
Also, a friend of mine started her own activism account, having been influenced by mine, and it’s really successful (much more successful than mine aha) so that’s something I’m really proud of!
Martha: A lot of your content is based around testimonies from other young women, how important do you think anecdotal advice is?
Lucienne: I think it’s so important, because it’s tangible. When you hear manufactured, formulaic advice from a doctor or teacher, it can sometimes feel detached. But when it’s someone you know, or someone who’s the same age as you, or the same gender, it makes for a much more relaxed environment. For me, anecdotal advice is completely genuine, and it has no agenda, it is merely someone’s personal experience.
Martha: What needs to change amongst the student community in terms of conversations and practices surrounding sexual health? What about on a societal level?
Lucienne: I think, generally, just more conversations need to happen! It links to your next question too, because on a societal level, I believe we first and foremost need to break the taboo around sex, and the way we do this is to speak about it as much as possible. Sex must no longer be spoken about through whispers, or giggles, it needs to be spoken about in larger public settings.
Martha: What advice would you give to anyone trying to engage in sexual health activism on social media?
Lucienne: Again, it sounds cliché, but genuinely just speak your truth. I think something which my followers really value is how honest I am with them, and I think with a topic which is so hushed away, you need to be as loud and as open as possible.
Martha: And finally, what’s next for the account?
Lucienne: I have quite a few posts planned, looking at abortions, the morning after pill, the “contract” of sex! I should be getting them out in the next few weeks. Also, I’m bringing the campaign to Cambridge through the WomCam committee, and I hope to set up a few events and webinars (COVID-permitting!)
You can follow @vive.la.revulvalution here.
Featured image: illustration by Lucienne.