It is a firmly held belief that many of our mythological stories are based to some degree of truth, whether in Arthurian legend or more recent American folk tales like Johnny Appleseed or John Henry. These larger-than-life stories evolve from tiny grains of truth. Similarly, many of the mystical beasts and monsters in mythology arise from our own inner demons and secret fears. One of those common phobias in all cultures is the myth of the vagina dentata. This fear has come to light largely recently because of the movie Teeth, written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, which was recently released on DVD. Teeth is about a teenage girl, played by Jess Weixler, who discovers she has a vagina dentata (Latin for “dentate vagina”). From there, you can probably imagine where the story goes, but as far-fetched as the idea may seem, vagina dentata can be more than just a premise for a B horror movie.
The history of the vagina dentata
And no, the teeth of the vagina are not something that women really suffer from, however, is a real psychological fear with references in different cultures, spanning thousands of miles and thousands of years. The vaginal teeth myth is often associated with the fear of castration in men and, more often, falsely attributed to the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Freud actually believed the opposite, he theorized that man’s latent fear of a woman’s genitalia was due to the fact that for a child a vagina is an example of castration and not the cause castration. The vagina dentata, however, has its roots in folklore around the world. An ancient Chinese proverb said that a woman’s genitalia was both the gateway to immortality and a man’s executioner. In Greek mythology, the vagina dentata was represented by Gorgona, a female serpent monster often depicted with huge menacing fangs. Various deities represented the vagina dentata in ancient Egypt, as well as Native American folklore.
Modern Context of Castration Fantasy
The myth has much less to do with tooth mutations and more as a warning warning men about the dangers of sex with strange women. The movie Teeth uses the myth more as female empowerment against male antagonists. Historical studies never put him in this context, he was always seen from a male perspective. The movie definitely puts a new cultural context on a very old primitive fear.
To date, the vagina dentata is not something that is taught in dental school, however it is interesting how fear has evolved in modern society. While tooth cloning and other tooth-related technologies are changing the face of dentistry, dentists thus far have little to worry about when it comes to vagina dentata. The therapist, on the other hand, may have a lot to consider. The frequent representation of myth in various forms in so many different cultures leads one to wonder if there is something true or if it is something that is on our minds.