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Prude at Penthouse

Of course I had seen a naked woman before. As a child, I’d flipped through the pages of my older sister’s European fashion magazines where small-breasted models posed languidly on uncomfortable surfaces in black-and-white. I had entertained myself with the Technicolor genitalia illustrations in my grandmother’s medical textbooks that made the crude machinery of the human body look bright and beautiful. I had caught flashes of porno films being played on hand-me-down television sets at college parties. The bleached and waxed and puckered actors were as titillating as oiled-up rubber chickens, a ridiculous sight gag. And, obviously, I had seen my own body, which by my 20s had become like a well-studied map of a foreign country — a land familiar, boring even, yet strange, distant.

But inside Penthouses pages was the first time I had intimately viewed the intricate underworld of a female genitalia in all its slippery, complexly layered glory. A close-up shot of a woman’s vagina, or vulva, as new-wave feminists might prefer I call it, was what the Penthouse editors liked to call a “kidney shot,” for its almost medical, vaginal-speculum view. I stared in horror at the varying lengths and shapes of the fake-tanned models’ labia minora — some twice the length of the red, fleshy lobes that hang underneath a turkey’s neck, while others were less generous and remained tucked neatly inside their relentlessly groomed, almost sparkly, outer parts.

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