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8 Subtle, Subversive Books with Vulvas on the Cover

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Ashley Holstrom

Staff Writer

Ashley Holstrom helps make books at Sourcebooks. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color. Newsletter: Crooked Reads. Twitter: @alholstrom.

I don’t know about you, but I absolutely adore the nuance in book cover design — especially when those designs contain vulvas. It’s the most beautiful part of the body, if you ask me.

None of these covers are explicit medical diagrams or anatomical closeups. They’re all works of art, either in the form of outlining the shape of the reproductive system in flowers or hand gestures, or in subtle allusions using shapes like buttonholes or flowers. They’re nuanced reimaginings of those medical diagrams.

Turning vulvas into art is nothing new — hello, Georgia O’Keeffe and her giant, in-dept flower portraits — but it’s always a delight to let your eyes relax to see a hidden meaning, or to focus in on details that are like blaring neon signs saying, “Yep, it’s a vagina!”

It’s no surprise that books with vulvas on the cover tend to be in a similar tone. Medical memoirs about female health, microhistories, feminist calls to action for menstrual justice, and novels about shameful or shameless sex are the norm here.

Basically, if I see a vulva on a book cover, I’m going to pick it up. Here are eight of the best ones I’ve come across.

Cover of Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain

Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain by Abby Norman

Abby Norman endured undiagnosed endometriosis for years. Her leg went numb and she lost 30 pounds, yet when she went to the doctor, they sent her on her way with a prescription for antibiotics. She took matters into her own hands, poring over medical journals to figure out what was wrong with her and to expose the ways in which women’s pain is brushed off as all in their heads.

Design by Pete Garceau

The Fifth Vital Sign book cover

The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack

The Fifth Vital Sign posits that your menstrual cycle is just as important as your pulse, temperature, respiration rate, and blood pressure. It’s a comprehensive guide, almost like a textbook, to what a normal cycle looks like, how to manage pain, and how to plan for pregnancy. It feels silly to say, but Lisa Hendrickson-Jack’s book is a vital one for anyone with a menstrual cycle.

Design by Simon Avery

period power cover

Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement by Nadya Okamoto

This book is perfect for young people who menstruate — because it’s not only women, y’all — and honestly, also for those who don’t menstruate, too. Period Power is an accessible book full of information about the culture, history, and privilege surrounding periods, and the ways we can make the world a better place for those who bleed.

Design by Krista Vossen, illustration by Rebecca Elfast

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas cover

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

This dystopian novel might be a bit hard to swallow. Abortion is illegal, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and embryos have the exact same rights as fully formed humans. Red Clocks is the story of a group of women in a small Oregon fishing town: a single woman who wants to have a baby on her own, a mother of two in a shitty marriage, an adopted child who winds up pregnant, and the homeopath who’s put on trial for helping these women.

Design and illustration by Lauren Harms

Shmutz by Felicia Berliner cover

Shmutz by Felicia Berliner

Raizl wants to get married, but in her Hasidic community in Brooklyn, arranged marriages are the norm. And she has a secret. While working on a personal computer to finish her college degree, she tumbles into an addiction to online porn. She’s torn between the traditional and modern worlds she inhabits, and worries she’ll never find someone to love her. But there’s nothing wrong with being a sexual being! Shmutz is the story of her journey to that truth.

Design by Laywan Kwan

tampa cover

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Tampa brings you inside the mind of a sociopath. Celeste is a 26-year-old middle school teacher who has no shame about her attempts at seduction of a 14-year-old student. Her only focus in life is her pleasure — she doesn’t even have any close friends. The blurb compares Celeste to Patrick Bateman of American Psycho, and I agree.

But you have to admit that’s a clever and enticing cover.

Design by Jon Gray

Vagina Problems by Lara Parker cover

Vagina Problems: Endometriosis, Painful Sex, and Other Taboo Topics by Lara Parker

Lara Parker, editorial director at Buzzfeed, dropped a personal article about her experience with endometriosis one day, and then her life changed. Telling the world about your vagina and sex life — or lack thereof, because it’s too painful — tends to do that. Since she was 14, she’s dealt with this pain and a slew of other pelvic floor conditions. But doctors brushed off the pain as regular ol’ period cramps until she fought against them for their ignorance. Vagina Problems is an intimate look at Parker’s life with vaginal physical therapy, seizures, diet, wardrobe malfunction, mental health issues, and more on her journey to comfort.

Cover design and illustration by Jonathan Bush

you don't have to like me by alida nugent cover

You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding Feminism by Alida Nugent

Alida Nugent’s feminist essay collection is the perfect gift for any 20-something coming into their own path to activism. Her voice is fierce and she puts to words the things many women deal with every day that we don’t think much of, like older women discussing our bodies, our hair, our clothing, our makeup, our choice to have babies, our anything, really. Giving this book a gorgeous flower vulva is the perfect design choice.

Design and illustration by Kelsey Dake

Want more subversive cover designs? Don’t miss this list of sexy fruits on book covers, sorted in rainbow order for your viewing pleasure.