PUTTING THE VULVA TO PARLIAMENT: Anne O Nomis

Anne O Nomis is an archaeologist, art historian, sex historian, mother of a 2 year old daughter and author of "The History And The Arts Of The Dominatrix", who is currently taking on the House of Representatives to challenge the censorship guidelines that affect the portrayal of female genitals in Australian media.


Anne's first attempt to petition was rejected due to the "offensive language" used in the write-up; specifically the use of the words "vulva" and "labia", etc. She challenged the Petitions Committee in Canberra over this absurdity and won - they agreed to remove these anatomical terms from the government firewall. Last week, her online petition has been passed and is now live online for anyone to support.

Demasque has interviewed Anne to find out more about the petition, why it is important and what her hopes for a successful campaign could lead to. The petition and it's formal wording can be found at the link below.


Portrait of Anne O Nomis in Venetian mask. Photographer Kristyna Hessova

How long is the petition running for? Do you have any specific goals for during the time that it is active? The petition is running until 17th October 2018 – so we still have a few weeks yet to rally up the folks to sign. I am hoping to get 1000 signatures. The link for anyone wanting to sign it is: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Petitions/House_of_Representatives_Petitions/Petitions_General/Sign_an_e-petition?id=EN0724


What has the response been to the petition so far?

I have been so touched by the support of my friends, colleagues and the BDSM and Sex Geekdom communities – who have all rallied to my aid to sign and support this petition, and forwarded it onto their contacts.

What would be the greatest outcome for the petition in the long-term? What do you think would be the most likely outcome?

I intend to change the law. That is, to force the government to review and rewrite the Guidelines for Classifications of Publications. In doing so, to alter the terms to ensure that the labia minora, clitoral hood and other genital features are not having to be air-brushed out of M-rated publications. In turn, I hope that we will see much greater diversity in the range of normal healthy vulvas in the sealed sections of Cosmo and in soft porn. I also hope that the government will also ensure that all sex education at school includes a range of images of normal healthy vulvas. This will better educate people to the wide range of appearances of vulvas, increase confidence of women that their own vulva is beautiful and completely normal, including the roughly half of all women who have labia minora longer than their labia majora.


This is important for women of all ages, but most particularly so for young women going through puberty, during which time their vulva may undergo some changes in appearance along with other changes at puberty. Ironically this is the time at which they currently don’t get to see images of normal healthy vulvas due to the current situation with the law around M-rated material. As at present they’re only seeing vulvas similar to the plastic barbie dolls, or a closed clam shell.

Do you think that the petition will have some sort of broader effect on the general gender equality issues in Australia that are presently at large? Absolutely, I think it will have a broader effect if the law can be changed. I see it as very relevant in today’s climate alongside the context of the #MeToo movement and discussions around equality. It’s very interesting that the censorship is hinging on the terms “discreet genital detail”, with an inference that women’s vulvas with more fleshy lips of labia minora or clitoral hood protrusions are somehow indiscreet; too loud, too prominent, too flagrant, too sexual. Interestingly, representations of male genitals don’t have to undergo any equivalent air-brushing to meet the censor’s interpretation.


Anne O Nomis seated with riding crop. Photographer Lucky from Hustle & Bank.

Was was the lead up in planning for the petition? What sort of avenues are you pursuing in trying to get the word out?

To be honest, the ridiculously old-fashioned law has been annoying me for a while. What was holding me back from doing something was that I hadn’t wanted to have to be the one to put my name to it and put in all the effort by myself into changing the law. I was a bit of a coward. I have a 2 year old daughter, and have to deal with mothers at her daycare, and social judgment of family and people I know. When I got my first break and went overseas for a holiday, one of my realizations was I need to be braver and get over my fear of social judgment, and to summon up the courage to do something and accept whatever the consequences of being “outed” by having my name to it might be. Once I got to that point, I was able to move quickly with my full conviction and lioness energy. I knew I had a broad background of skills which could aid me in this. I studied legal history at university, alongside my studies in art history and archaeology, which included representations of nudes. I knew I should use my profile as a well-known author with contacts in the BDSM community to rally some support, to do some good.


Can you tell us about the stage in which you challenged the Petitions Committee over the rejection of the petition due to “offensive language”?

Ah, yes. I wrote the petition through the official House of Representatives petitions system on the government website - and it wouldn’t go through. A notice came up "Please refrain from using offensive words in Petition Request". I tried repeatedly, and even tried changing the wording somewhat, but the same thing occurred. I then tried phoning the Petitions Committee in Canberra, and left a phone message. I then wrote a formally-worded email. I explained that I had attempted to write and submit a petition, but that it would not go through supposedly for “offensive words”. I explained that there was nothing offensive in it, that it used anatomically correct words and terms, and I requested a list of all the offensive banned words, to be able to examine and get legal advice on the matter. I made it very clear in writing and on the phone that I wasn’t going to back down on my petition.


To the credit of the Secretary at the Petitions Committee in Canberra, Renee, they took the matter seriously. It was decided that the Petitions Committee would review the issue at their next meeting, and when that occurred a few weeks later, it was decided by them that they would remove anatomical words from the government firewall. So, that was my first win in the battle. I was told that it would take some time to do, but actually to their credit they actioned it very quickly – within a few days. I was then able to re-submit the petition again online, and await the decision of the Petitions Committee as to whether they would accept it. They did, on Wednesday last week, and it went live on the Government website that afternoon.

At the time of writing, you have already achieved over 500 signatures to the petition. Can you tell us about the momentum in support the petition has received so far?

Yes, 500 and counting! That was achieved within 5 days, and we have 28 days total. Thank you everyone who’s signed it already! I expect there may be some slow-down as all my easy-target friends and contacts have signed it now, so we really need to keep the publicity and pressure on to make sure that number continues to grow and grow.

Venus from Hohlefels, carved from mammoth ivory, c 35,000 - 40,000 BCE. Wikicommons image, by Thilo Parg.

Why do you think the existing censorship guidelines regarding female genitalia currently exist?

Honestly, I think the current censorship guidelines reflect conservative and sexist views, and certainly not a modern sex-positive and gender-inclusive attitude towards sex organs or genital diversity. I would say also, as an archaeologist and art historian, that there are bigger social ramifications at stake - which is to say that societies and religions which sought to control women and female sexual behavior are the ones that insisted on minimizing women’s vulvas and smoothing them over like the plastic between the legs of a barbie doll. You don’t see that, for example, in Upper Paleolithic art, in the Venus figurines such as the Venus of Hohle Fels, in which the breasts, vulva and labia are clearly delineated.


The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and so on, - had very prominent pubic triangles, with darkened pubic hair and genital features with textural emphasis. Women’s vulvas were proudly displayed; part of women’s power, associated with the Goddess, linked to sexuality, fertility, radiance, healthy vigor and abundance. Whereas the control around depictions of female genitals and them being smoothed over occurred in societies in which women were the property of their father and then owned by their husband - to whom they had to submit and obey, and had very few rights or status in law.


In what ways do you think the adult entertainment industry will be affected if/when the petition is successful?

I would hope that there would be a trickle-effect into the adult entertainment industry, that a range of vulva appearances were normalized and seen as positive. That would mean in turn that adult entertainment actresses would feel more empowered to resist pressure to undergo a surgical labiaplasty for their adult work. And that it would begin affecting body positivity towards the diverse range of appearances of vulvas. Although I’m not naïve enough to think that my petition is a complete “fix”, of course; there are always more complex and multiple factors in play. But I certainly think it’s a start in the right direction.

After the petition ends, what is your next step?

Aside from trying to gain as many signatures as possible, the parallel effort I must make is to try and rally support from inside the House of Representatives, to have a representative speak to my petition in parliament. To give it floor time, if I understand correctly. I believe that the relevant people within government have an obligation to reply to the petition in writing. My hope is that it will trigger a serious review of the wording, and bring about a positive change. If that doesn’t happen - I’m conscious that the current government is conservative - I hope that it will incite outrage from people around Australia and become an issue which factors into election campaign issues, so that the next government may address it on their own back. Meanwhile, I am writing an important book to give back a missing three thousand years of female figurines, sex Goddesses, sex songs and literature which have been suppressed in museum vaults and deliberately mistranslated to “save our blushes”, as one conservative translator justified his actions. I am busy compiling that research and seeking museum permissions from around the world, as I did for my first book (‘The History & Arts of the Dominatrix’), and learning the lyre harp so that I can sing the ancient sex songs and present the archaeology in my talks. My hope is that it will help aid sex positivity, in which the female in that tradition enjoyed self-praise of the vulva, and enjoyed sexual pleasure with her lover.


Anne O Nomis photoshopped against parliament. Photographer Lucky from Hustle & Bunk. Parliament House Wikicommons image by Con Tassios.

You can find out more about Anne on her website - www.anneonomis.com - and on social media via the handle @AnneONomis. LINK TO THE PETITION: https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Petitions/House_of_Representatives_Petitions/Petitions_General/Sign_an_e-petition?id=EN0724