Genital selfies have their own set of rules. Picture: Pexels

It was Thanksgiving, and Matt Silver was sitting around a table with his family when his 24-year-old girlfriend texted. “It was the first time we’d been apart,” he said. A full-frontal bare vulva popped up on his screen; he fumbled and the phone landed faceup under his 10-year-old cousin’s chair. (He retrieved the phone with his foot.)

The V-selfie, though very much here, is perhaps less insistent. Shared on dating apps or in texts, it has been sent to create longing and a sense of intimacy: a missive of lust and promise to lovers, or would-be lovers, who are separated.

“You’re giving a piece of yourself,” said Silver, whose new long-distance girlfriend of two years (they met on Tinder) took seven months before she sent her first intimate portrait from her bedroom in Hong Kong in shimmering morning light, with a glimpse of a Buddha in the background.

Her V-selfies, he said, are “bold, courageous, beautifying, radiant and captivating when there’s a story and based on a conversation that led up to it. It’s not just an image. It shows an element of trust.”

Like everything else, the new intimacy — wooing, connecting, arousing and even cuckoldry — is virtual.

The vulva has been occasionally flashed in real life as performance art. The artist Deborah De Robertis exposed her genitals, glamorously framed by her shimmering gold sequined dress, in front of Courbet’s painting at the Musée d’Orsay in 2014 (the viewers applauded) and more recently bared her vulva in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, accompanying the display with a chant.

The smartphone has democratised and arguably cheapened, like so much else, this particular form of expression.

Twenty-five years before Kim Kardashian West revealed her waxed mons venusto draw us in to the allure of her KKW Body fragrance, Madonna straddled a mirror gazing at herself in her 1992 book “Sex,” writing, “Sometimes I sit on the edge of the bed and spread my legs. And stare into the mirror and wonder what others see.”

And then there’s Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues.”

Now singing the praises of female genital pride is Regena Thomashauer in her book “Pussy: A Reclamation.” After being buried under 5 000 years of “patriarchal conditioning,” Thomashauer writes, “she is ready to re-emerge.” Her therapeutic advice involves a hand mirror and frequent peeks and greetings of “Hello, gorgeous!” to the region in question.

Millennials are doing more than taking a peek. Many are happy to share.

Sach Dev, 29, a television news producer who writes philosophy, emailed: “Penises themselves are poised for a more straightforward viewing. Vaginas are more nuanced, and both their pictorial encapsulations and the reasons for sharing them might correspondingly brim with dimensionality.” Either way, he wrote, he thought it was “high time” for the “proud and voluntary baring of feminine mystery.”

The New York Times