There’s this game people always play: “What’s the one thing you would do if you could go back in time?” Most people will tell you they would go back in time and kill Hitler. It is a solid, if uninspired, answer. I play this game a little differently. If I could go back in time, I would travel back to 2004, find my middle school self, and explain to her the ins and outs of vaginal discharge. I would take my all access ticket through time and I would use it to explain pussy juices to myself, just really give myself the lay of the land in the downstairs department. I would take my young self by the shoulders, look her straight in the eye, and say, “This isn’t going to make sense to you right now, but it is of the utmost importance: A vagina is not a dry piece of toast. It is a motherfucking Reuben.” While this answer was unappreciated by the TA running an icebreaker during the first discussion of Religious Studies 101, it is one that I stand by to this day. And with that, may I present Vaginal Discharge: A Timeline.
Fall 2004: I am in 7th grade and perched precariously upon the precipice of puberty. No titties to speak of, my period won’t come for years, and I have grown a pube. A single pubic hair, full length and right in the middle, like a lone stalk of corn. Whenever people ask, “When did you know you were becoming a woman?” I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know, probably the moment my pussy looked like a cartoon baby.” Enter: vaginal discharge. “Well, this is new,” I thought as I waddled from gym class to the bathroom to mop up my soggy underwear for the third time, “I’m leaking.” Kickball kind of loses its charm when you’ve got a full-blown monsoon in your jeans.
Winter 2008: I’m a junior in high school and up until this point I have been 100% certain that I am the only person on the planet whose underwear look like a Jackson Pollock painting at the end of the day. How I envied the other girls my age. They all had cooters so dry they could safely store loose saltine crackers in their pants. Meanwhile, my basement was flooding 24/7. The other girls were all on the Teacup Ride together and I was alone at the top of Splash Mountain. In my school’s defense, we did have Sex Ed. in middle school, and I’m fairly certain they covered discharge at some point, but I think I must have been too overwhelmed by learning the mechanics behind how boners work to absorb any more new information. Before that, I was under the impression you just had to cram a flaccid dick in like when you stuff a sleeping bag back into its carrying sack. So, I’m sixteen years old and I’m sleeping over at my friend’s house. We were about to begin another lengthy session of convincing lonely perverts in Yahoo chat rooms that we were 25-year-old Floridians, when I looked down at the floor of her messy room and lo and behold, there was a pair of dirty underwear. A pair of really dirty underwear. Dirty like my underwear got dirty. And just like that, I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t a freak after all. (Spoiler alert: I still was, just not in the way I had originally thought.) The worst part was that my girlfriends and I had talked about everything else. We’d covered periods, and handjobs, and shaving, and yet none of us had been able to work up the courage to be like, “Yo, sometimes do your drawers get a little soupy?”
Fall 2010: I’m a freshman in college. It is Sunday morning after Halloween weekend and the night before I had drunk a considerable amount of spiced rum for what would be the first and last time. I woke up like corpse being reanimated in my boyfriend’s bed, completely naked except for the mustache from my Snidely Whiplash costume stuck to my boob. After a quick trip to the bathroom to dry heave, I began to search for all pieces of my outfit, which I had thrown all over the room like the rose petals of a rookie flower girl. I managed to collect all my things except for one: my underwear. After twenty minutes of unfruitful searching I found myself trudging back to the dorms with my boyfriend’s boxer briefs sticking out past the hem of my short black dress. That’s right, I wasn’t just Snidely Whiplash. I was Sexy Snidely Whiplash. Any costume can be sexy if you believe in yourself. And if you have a slutty face. I spent the rest of the day horrified at the idea of my boyfriend finding my underwear. I had never had any intention of letting these two meet without my intense supervision and the thought filled me with embarrassment. Why hadn’t I burned them or stuffed them in my mouth and swallowed them whole? When I returned to his apartment that night he told me he had found them under his bed and presented them to me neatly folded on his desk. “Oh my god, he knows,” I thought as I snatched them up, “He knows I am a human woman with the bodily functions of a human woman!” How many times had I woken up to the sound of my own fart? I would lie there in the dark, my heart beating out of my chest, a cold sweat upon my brow, but he never woke up. How many bladder infections had I given myself because I hated peeing at his house? (Two, the answer is two.) And now, to be betrayed by my own crusty panties? It was unthinkable.
Summer 2014: It is the summer after I graduated college and I see Obvious Child. The film follows a female comic named Donna, played by Jenny Slate, and the plot deals with abortion in a really positive and practical way. However, what stood out to me the most was that this was the first movie (or media of any kind) I had ever seen that so much as acknowledged the existence of discharge. The film opens on Donna telling a joke about being tired of hiding what her vagina does to her underpants: “They look like little bags that fell face first into a tub of cream cheese and then commando crawled their way out.” Later in the film, we even see her cream cheesy undies when she grabs them off the pillow the morning after a one-night stand. It rocked my world. I had heard every dick joke in the book. I’d seen movies where cum was used as hair gel, for Christ’s sake. And yet, this was the very first time I had heard a joke about discharge. In the world of comedy, and the world at large, dick is universal and pussy is niche.
Spring 2017: It is now. I am 24 and at peace with my drippy cooch. A vagina is like a lemon. Cut it in half and wrap it in a paper towel. If that paper towel is completely dry when you come back, that’s not a very ripe lemon. And there’s always some guy on Craigslist who will buy that old paper towel if you’re looking for some walking around money.