Pussy Bites Back: Vagina Dentata Myths From Around the World

From India to Chile, it seems almost every culture has its own toothed vagina horror story rooted in castration anxiety.

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Jun 15 2017, 4:12pm

Stories of the mythical vagina dentata (Latin for toothed vagina) exist in virtually every culture. While many of these tales are cautionary for men to beware where they put their dicks lest they lose them, other and far more disturbing versions involve non-consensual penetration of women in order to remove said teeth.

Men's fears of castration compounded by an inherited cultural belief of sexual entitlement function as foundational pillars of masculinity, and patriarchies respond by attempting to control women's "dangerous" sexualities and bodies. Respective wars on women around the world are deeply rooted in the persistent myth of the toothed vagina and what it represents. Here are 10 notable examples from around the world:

Read more: The Things Women Have Hidden in Their Vaginas

1. Austria

The term "vagina dentata" was first coined around 1900 by misogynist psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to describe the idea of "devouring or being devoured" manifesting as the equation of the mouth and the vagina. But that idea can be found in the annals of history before Freud. His term would be co-opted decades later by feminist Freudian revisionists to indicate the acute castration anxiety and generalized fear of women that has become the cornerstone of phallocentric human culture.

2. Greece

While not an actual toothed vagina, the Greek figure of the Gorgon is representative of the concept. In media representations, Medusa has a gaze that turns a man to stone, a hugely fanged mouth, snakes for hair, and a serpentine lower half. Barbara Creed writes in The Monstrous Feminine: "The terror of Medusa is thus a terror of castration that is linked to the sight of something." Because it's not just that our sex organs are scary. Women in general are terrifying.

"Medusa" by Peter Paul Rubens via Wikimedia

3. India

There are so many stories of men vanquishing vagina dentatae in India that The Washington Post theorized these tales as one root of the country's rape epidemic. In the Indian state Madhya Pradesh, one of the most popular tales involves a Brahmin who is convinced his love interest is a possessor of a toothed vagina. He hires four men of lower castes to kidnap and remove the woman's nether-teeth. After their work de-fanging and veritably taming the woman through trauma is done, the Brahmin marries her. And they lived happily ever after. (Probably not; I hope her teeth grew back.)

4. South Africa

Like in India, there are many stories of toothed vaginas throughout the African continent. Some argue that these stories are the backbone to the practice of suppressing women's sexuality through female genital mutilation. In response to South Africa's alarming rates of rape (one of the highest in the world), Sonette Ehlers invented the Rapex, the "anti-rape condom" replete with rows of teeth.

5. Japan (The Ainu)

A Shinto tale recounts how a demon hid teeth in a damsel's vagina. She unwittingly castrates two grooms on their wedding nights before taking matters into her own hands and fashioning a device to remove the fangs herself. This is one of the few stories from around the world where a woman takes control of her own body instead of being non-consensually penetrated by men seeking to remove offending dentatae. The iron phallus she created is enshrined in Kawasaki, and many sex workers leave offerings and prayers there to protect them in their line of work.

The Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) is held each spring at the Kanayama Shrine. Photo via Wikimedia

6. New Zealand (Māori)

In Māori history, the trickster god Māui decides he's going to make humans immortal through the underworld goddess Hine-nui-te-pō's vagina: He turns himself into a caterpillar and crawls into her vagina while she's asleep, thinking that exiting through her mouth would reverse the process of birth and death. But the Pīwakawaka (bird) witnesses begin laughing at this foolish notion and Hine-nui-te-pō wakes up, killing Māui with her obsidian vagina dentata and cursing humans with mortality.

7. Chile (Mapuche)

The indigenous Mapuche of Chile have a chilling saying: "A woman of striking appearance has a biting vagina." In other words, a whole new way to experience Instagram and social media.

8. Russia

In "The Folklore of Northeastern Asia, as Compared with that of Northwestern America," Waldemar Bogoras writes about hearing the tale of a beautiful young woman who is married off to a gross, old man. In order to avoid having sex with the guy, the young bride puts a fish head in her vagina so its teeth will cut him every time he tries. The husband is traumatized, she "calls him a fool for not knowing that young girls' vaginas usually have teeth," and she lives the rest of her life without having sex with him. That's a different kind of happy ending.

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9. America (Ponca)

In The Handbook of Native American Mythology, the Ponca story "Teeth in the Wrong Places" tells the story of one of the trickster Coyote's many sexual encounters.

Coyote comes upon a woman and her two beautiful, dangerous daughters rumored to be man-eating all over the countryside with their toothed vaginas. After spending the day with the family, Coyote is invited to spend the night sleeping between the woman's two daughters. After the younger daughter reveals that the woman is a witch who gave both of the young women vagina dentatae, Coyote kills the older daughter when she attempts to bite him with her vagina. He then kills the witch, and "knock[s] out" the younger daughter's vagina dentata, "leaving just one blunt tooth that was very thrilling when making love."

10. England

Before you leave thinking that toothed vaginas are all fictions, let me present the case of the dermoid cyst, or cystic teratoma, which caused actual teeth to grow inside the uterus of a British woman. The specimen is now on display in the University College London's Pathology Collection and is exactly as frightening as you'd imagined.