If you are a woman or have a female-assigned body, you probably know this personally: There is a lot of bad information out there on the internet about your reproductive system.
Zoe Mendelson certainly does. A few years ago, she got into a debate with a man she was seeing over a pretty basic question: “Can all women squirt?” As one does, she took to Google to settle the uncertainty. “I was reading all this bullshit, so I went into medical journals trying to figure it out and I couldn’t understand anything,” says Mendelson, a freelance journalist based in Mexico City (who, disclosure, has written for Fast Company). “I realized I didn’t know any of the parts they were mentioning, or where they were in my body.”
Mendelson’s search for a straightforward answer mirrored the experience so many women have in seeking information about their health and bodies. The fact that doctors often dismiss or downplay women’s health concerns is well documented. When it comes to issues of reproductive health—pain during sex, heavy periods, debilitating cramps—the response “it’s normal for you” is commonly used to shut down questions.
But Mendelson wasn’t settling for it. Frustrated with the lack of clear information available online, and the inscrutable diagrams accompanying it, she reached out to her friend, the artist María Conejo, with an idea: To make a crowdsourced, accessible, information-packed online resource specifically about the female anatomy and reproductive system. That resource, called Pussypedia, launched on July 1. It’s available in both Spanish and English, and Mendelson and Conejo worked with a diverse array of over 100 artists and journalists to pack it with information. Everything published on the site is “hyper fact-checked,” Mendelson says, by gynecologists and medical researchers (though it is not, they emphasize, a substitute for an in-person medical opinion). They also include curated and vetted information from elsewhere on the web, like medical journals, but pick the most essential and comprehensive to avoid the “internet wormhole” that Mendelson descended into during her own Google search. Initially funded on Kickstarter, the whole process of assembling Pussypedia took just under two years.
Mendelson and Conejo use the term “pussy,” they say, because it’s both comprehensive and inclusive. The word “vagina,” which is most commonly used, refers only to one specific part of the female reproductive system. Through the resource, they want to “reclaim” the word pussy to signify “some combination of vagina, vulva, clitoris, uterus, bladder, rectum, anus, and who knows maybe some testes,” the co-creators write on the site, siting the lack of adequate language for the female anatomy. They also note that while they are both cisgender women, and the resource relates specifically to female-assigned anatomy, “the site’s focus on genitalia aims to address this specific information gap, not to suggest that this part of the body defines sex or gender,” the founders write. “To be clear, our pussies do not make us women. Many people with pussies are not women, and many women do not have pussies.” Mendelson and Conjeo add that as lacking as the information is for cis women, it’s even more nonexistent for trans, non-binary, and intersex people, and emphasize that the work in Pussypedia is a beginning, and could expand to incorporate resources for far more genders and expressions.
But they’re working to make the information that they present as accessible as possible. The bilingual aspect is especially important to for the resource’s reach, Conejo says. Growing up in Mexico, “we didn’t have any sex education, or if we did, it was from a religious perspective,” she says. “Women are raised with so much shame about their own sexuality, and if they feel there’s something wrong with their body, they learn not to talk about it.” Creating a resource that women can look to, without judgment, for answers, was crucial, she says, and Conejo and Mendelson hope that Pussypedia proves useful for women from a variety of contexts.
Because it’s online, the resource is designed to be ever-evolving. But there are several core features that Conejo and Mendelson wanted to ensure were in place when it launched. One is an interactive, 3D model of the whole reproductive system, to remedy the unintelligible 2-D diagrams Mendelson encountered on her own information search. And there are plenty of articles addressing complex issues like infections and painful sex, debunking trends like vaginal steaming (probably not a good idea, despite what Goop says), and delving into the often-distressing history around reproductive rights and women’s healthcare. The whole resource, Mendelson and Conejo hope, is intended to make anyone with questions about their body feel like someone is listening—and most importantly, offering up the information they need, no judgment attached.