In May 2013, the Secret Cinema transformed a 14-storey office block into the dystopian world of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Guerilla Science – always eager to bring science to new habitats in unexpected ways – brought a range of creations to crank all the levels up to red. 


“Now, my darling, if you’re looking for something for next season, I’m doing a special on the Autumn Winter Collection,” cooed our russet-haired Dr Curtain, pointing at one of a hundred squares on a giant patchwork vulva quilt.


“Might I suggest this model? It not only will keep you warm and snug during the cold winter months, but is also fantastic for bike riding.”

In the soft red light of the Curtains of Love, shoppers sipped cocktails as they pondered the range of vulvas from our catalogue.


“Or perhaps you’re looking for something for everyday wear? This is a popular one. All neat and tidy, tucked up and out of the way, we think of it as the little black dress of vulvas.”

“I like that one!” a woman said pointing at a sparkly vulva.

“Yes, that’s the perfect one for a Saturday night out!” enthused Dr Curtain. “It’s the one I’ve got on at the moment actually. Now darlings, I’m doing a three for two offer, so don’t feel like you need to settle for just one.”

Plastic surgeons today offer “designer vaginas” that lean towards a single size and shape: the “clean slit”, a homogenized look popularized by lad’s mags and porn. Labia minora that have the audacity to extrude beyond the outer lips are trimmed. As Dr Robert Stubbs puts it: “Women don’t want to compete with men with something large between their legs; they want something small, neat and tidy and tucked up out of the way.”

Dr Bernard Stern of Florida is even less subtle with his marketing, displaying a vast range of “before” and “after” shots of modified labia on his website. The gallery, I should warn you, is not behind a firewall, and rather graphic. You have been warned. Click here. Enjoy!

If that made you feel a bit queasy, we recommend giving ten minutes of your life for the spoof video, Privatize Those Privates by Dr Vajayjay.

If the plastic surgeons of today offer a uniform look that renders us all the same, who knows what the future holds?

In the dystopic setting of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, the rich have gone bananas for cosmetic alterations (even more so than today): peeling, slicing, carving and cutting are all the rage. What would surgeons have to offer discerning shoppers in the way of vulva enhancements?

If today’s fashion dictates uniformity, surely tomorrow’s trend setters will push for the mass manufacturing of diversity?

The structure of the female anatomy – the labia minora, clitoris, labia majora, and mons pubis that together comprise the exterior structure, or vulva – is so complex, vaginal designers will surely have plenty of material to work with.

Perhaps long inner lips are what you fancy – for extra nerve endings and sensation?

Or maybe a glow-in-the-dark clitoris? Easier for him to find!

Are you buying this vulva for yourself or for somebody else?

Whatever tickles your fancy, you were probably sure to find it within the Curtains of Love.

I was first introduced to the homogenization of vulva, the natural diversity of labia, and the commodification of our lips eight years ago when I was tasked by the magazine Shameless with penning a cover story about vaginal plastic surgery, a practice that was not widely known at the time.

Pondering the shape of women, and what exactly merits the term “sexy”, I printed out 40 photographs of before and after shots from Dr Stern’s website, and looked them over during a dead hour at the bar where I worked. Peaches, a giant, tattooed security guard, sauntered past and looked over my shoulder (hardly difficult, as he stood about two feet taller than me).

“WHAT are you READING?”

“Um, it’s research for an article.”

“Oh MAN… is she getting her labia reduced? That’s so sad dude.”

“… really?”

“Oh god, I think it’s so sad when women do that,” he said, picking up my printouts and flicking through them. “See that, [pointing at a very long pair of labia minora] THAT is sexy.”

“… yeah?”

“Oh god yes! Voluptuous.”

Intrigued by his preference, I did a bit of research – and discovered that in fact, Peaches was not an isolated outlier. Many men prefer long lips.

Their term of endearment: “the curtains of love”. The name always stuck with me.

In fact, some enthusiasts take their ardent love of labia even further, advocating the deliberate lengthening of the lips with weights and stretching exercises. You can peruse photographs – and instructions! – on Again: it’s more than a bit graphic. Click with caution.

Labia lengthening fetishists have borrowed their technique from a number of African cultures who prefer the lips of their women long.

They, however, are not the norm among their African counterparts: far more common is female genital mutilation, in which the clitoris and/or inner lips are removed, almost invariably without anaesthetic – or consent. More than 140 million women today are living victims of FGM.

Many critics have drawn parallels between the tissue reduction prescriptions of plastic surgery practitioners and female genital mutilation. Now, the two are undoubtedly very different: affluent western women who can afford to fork out $5,000 for a cosmetic intervention obviously do not suffer as children who lose their clitoris against their will.

Yet it is interesting to note that one of the very few studies that have looked at women undergoing labiaplasty from an academic point of view found that “the labia of all participants were within normal published limits”.

Now, please take note: not for a moment do we judge women who seek cosmetic surgery because they truly and always have found their labia to be a source of misery rather than happiness. There are an enormous number of such women – the stories of a few are brought to life in the wonderful Wellcome Trust supported film Centrefold. Every woman has the right to choose what they look like.

Nonetheless, the parallels are obvious: among purveyors of FGM and the “clean slit”, there is considered to be a “right” and a “wrong” way to look.

This goes against our nature: women come in a diversity of shapes and sizes. Variation is the norm – and the inspiration for the unparalleled quilt, a co-creation of the Daughters Of Eve and the Shoreditch Sisters. I cannot possibly thank both groups enough for their generosity in lending us the remarkable piece – and for coming down to host Bespoke Vulva Workshops, teaching our willing audience members how to sew a designer vulva of their very own.

Women are all different, so why not celebrate our differences? This is what makes the quilt such a wonderful conversation piece: every one is completely different from all the others.

Taste is, of course, a personal matter, and everyone has their own opinion. A male friend of mine, when inquiring about my latest project had simply this to say: “Why would anyone cut off their labia… long lips are nice.”

For my part, I had two favourite vulvas. One, a masterful piece of crochet work – which I later discovered was created by the hands of a 91-year-old woman.


My other favourite: the one with George Osborne’s face in it. Obvs.