It’s a firmly held belief that many of our mythological stories are based on some degree of truth, be it Arthurian legend or more recent American folktales like Johnny Appleseed or John Henry. These larger than life tales evolve from small grains of truth. Similarly many of the monsters and mystical beasts from mythology spawn from out own inner demons and secret fears. One such common phobia throughout cultures is the myth of vagina dentata. This fear has largely come to light recently because of the film Teeth, written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, that was recently released on DVD. Teeth is about a teenage girl, played by Jess Weixler who discovers she has vagina dentata (Latin for “toothed vagina”). From there, you can probably imagine where the story goes, but as far-fetched as the idea may seem, vagina dentata may be more than just a premise for a B horror movie.
The History of Vagina Dentata
And no, teeth of the vagina is not something that women actually suffer from, however, it is an actual psychological fear with references in different cultures, spanning thousands of miles and across thousands of years. The myth of vaginal teeth is often associated with the fear of castration in men, and is most often falsely attributed to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud actually believed quite the opposite, he theorized that man’s latent fear of a women’s genitalia was because to a young boy a vagina is an example of castration and not the cause of castration. Vagina dentata, however, has its roots in folklore throughout the world. One ancient Chinese proverb spoke of a woman’s genitalia as being both the gateways to immortality, but also the executioner of man. In Greek mythology, vagina dentata was represented by Gorgon, a female snake monster with often depicted with huge menacing fangs. Several deities represented vagina dentata in ancient Egypt as well as Native American folklore.
Modern Context of Castration Fantasy
The myth has very much less to do with teeth mutations and more to do as a cautionary tale warning men of the dangers of intercourse with strange women. The film Teeth uses the myth as more of a female empowerment against male antagonists. The historical studies never put it in this context, it was always seen from a male prospective. The movie definitely puts a new cultural context on a very old primal fear.
To date, vagina dentata is not something taught in dentistry school, however, it is interesting how the fear has evolved in modern society. While teeth cloning and other tooth related technologies are changing the face of dentistry, dentists thus far have little to be concerned about when it comes to vagina dentata. Therapist, on the other hand, might have much to consider. The myth’s frequent representation in various forms in so many different cultures does lead one to question if there’s any truth or if it’s something all in our minds?