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The vagina dentata appears in the myths of several cultures, most notably in several North American Indian tribes. Erich Neumann relays one such myth in which “A meat-eating fish inhabits the vagina of the Terrible Mother; the hero is the man who overcomes the Terrible Mother, breaks the teeth out of her vagina, and so makes her into a woman.” 
The vagina dentata has proven a captivating image for many artists and writers, particularly among surrealist or psycho-analytic works (see below for just a few examples).
The myth express the threat sexual intercourse poses for men who, although entering triumphantly, always leave diminished. There may also be parallels between the myth and ancient marriage laws that protected women as the property of a man. To this day in several parts of the world if a man is caught raping a woman he is punished by castration.
Although this myth obviously relates to the fear of castration, it is false to attribute it to Sigmund Freud as many have done (see below). Freud never mentions the term in any of his psychoanalytic work and it runs counter to his own ideas about castration. For Freud the vagina signifies the fear of castration because the young (male) child assumes that the woman used to have a penis and now does not. For Freud the vagina is the result of castration, not the cause of it.
Barbara Walker has speculated that this myth gave rise to the medieval European depiction of the opening of Hell as a giant mouth. The tale is frequently told as a cautionary tale warning of the dangers of sex with strange women.
Vaginas with actual teeth
In rare instances, teeth may actually be found in a vagina. Dermoid cysts are formed from the outer layers of embryonic skin cells. These cells are able to mature into teeth, bones, or hair, and these cysts are able to form anywhere the skin folds inwards to become another organ, such as in the ear or the vagina. The actual vagina is of course not able to bite, as the pubococcygeus muscles are not as strong as a human jaw.
In 2005, inventor Sonette Ehlers unveiled the "rapex", an anti-rape female condom the inside of which is lined with microscopic barbs that hook onto the rapist's penis and can only be removed surgically. In an article about the Rapex condom, Ehlers says that she was inspired to invent the device after meeting a victim who told her "If only I had teeth down there."
Examples in popular culture and literature
- One adaptation of this myth within a Western context comes from the motion picture Liquid Sky, in which one of the protagonists is said to have been given the power to kill her lovers by extraterrestrials.
- On an episode of Saturday Night Live's popular sketch Wayne's World, Wayne (Mike Myers), returns a sarcastic remark made by a female guest with a comment about her "major vagina dentata!"
- An example can be found in the book Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. In Snow Crash, the teenage girl "Y.T." mentions several times (usually when she sees a man sexually aroused by her) that her "dentata" will protect her from rape. It's clear that if she is to engage in consensual intercourse, she needs to take it out. Late in the book, when she forgets to take it out:
- "...a very small hypodermic needle slipped imperceptibly into the engorged frontal vein of his penis, automatically shooting a cocktail of powerful narcotics and depressants into his bloodstream."
- Mentioned in the book "Hyperion" by Dan Simmons, when a protagonist has sexual intercourse with the bladed demon "The Shrike".
- A brief mention of this myth is in Stephen King's book Christine.
- An urban legend that circulated during the Vietnam War concerned prostitutes who, working with the Viet Cong, were supposed to have implanted glass knives or razor blades into their vaginas, which they used to injure GIs (however, see above).
- In Yoshiaki Kawajiri's Yoju Toshi (known in English as Wicked City), the hero narrowly avoids castration when the Spider Woman demon attempts to take a bite during a bout of sex.
- In Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods a young African girl prevents a rape by claiming to be a witch with a toothed vagina. At another point a prostitute is revealed to be a god when she envelops a man's entire body in her vagina.
- A more bizarre version of the vagina dentata appears in artist H.R. Giger's designs for the titular creature from the film Alien.
- There is also a depiction of this in the books by Julian May set in the Pliocene epoch (The Saga of Pliocene Exile) in which the Firvulag females were so equipped.
- A character encounters a vagina dentata up close and personal in K. W. Jeter's novel Dr. Adder.
- The web comic strip Queen of Wands included a musical tribute sung to the tune of Hakuna Matata to the phenomenon.
- In the South American Indian Toba-Pilaga myth of "the origin of women" a group of women with toothed vaginas appear from the sky and steal the men's meat from their roofs, though eventually the men "get the better of the toothed vaginas", as do the men in a similar Wichí myth.
- There is a vagina dentatis theme throughout the novel "Christopher Unborn" by Carlos Fuentes. Indeed the state of Mexico surgically implants jewel-encrusted teeth into the vagina of a young girl chosen to be the country's new iconic figurehead. Later in the novel a suitor successfully couples with her by wearing a wooden condom.
- In the popular list of "50 REASONS WHY RETURN OF THE JEDI SUCKS" on the internet, the 50th and final reason is "The Sarlaac Pit as Freud's Vagina Dentate".
- Charybdis of Greek Mythology refers to a monster, usually represented as a hole in the ocean, which would daily suck and expel water (and anything else) down into its chasm. Odysseus' ship falls victim to it and its partner, Scylla.
- The Kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man's Chest has a mouth that resembles the vagina dentata. SPOILER: Jack Sparrow leaps into it at the end, simultaneously piercing it with his sword.
- In the South Park episode "Red Hot Catholic Love", when Father Maxi asks why the Catholics must molest children, it is revealed that there exists a sect of Catholicism composed of aliens, and that the females of the alien species have a vagina "lined with thousands of teeth" making sexual intercourse with them extremely unpleasant.
- In Russell Hoban's novel Riddley Walker, the mythical personification of death is characterized as the female "Auntie" with "teef between her legs".
- In Mario Vargas Llosa's book, The Way To Paradise, the vagina dentata is mentioned in a brief flashback of Paul Gauguin's encounters with a famed South American whore, whose vagina is called perrito (Spanish for "little dog") by the locals. Rather than castration, the rumoured teeth provide a pleasant tickling sensation.
- In Josh Zmijewski's book, A Scale Of Stars, there is a vagina dentata-like race of females who use their vulvas to feed on the external genitals of males of other species, by some accounts even consuming some of their internal organs, such as prostate and bladder, if they are particularly hungry, as well. Their victims are also infected with a stem cell like retrovirus during the feeding which causes them to grow replacement female organs, including a uterus and breasts, afterward. It was implied that the victims once became vagina dentatas themselves, but now simply become ordinary females.
- In David Lynch's film Blue Velvet, the camera pans to and fixes on an object resembling a vagina dentata. The object hangs near a bed on an otherwise empty bedroom wall.
- In Blade Trinity Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds' character) refers that one of the female vampires has her vampiric teeth in her vagina.
- Also, a late 70s American punk rock band was called Vagina Dentata.
- In Pink Floyd's movie The Wall, an animated sequence features the protagonist, Pink, being confronted by a vagina-shaped creature which opens to reveal menacing teeth.
- The role-playing game Tribe 8 features a secret society in the Magdalene tribe known as the Dentata. Their symbol is a heart featuring a set of teeth in the center, which strongly resembles a depiction of vagina dentata.
- In the movie Analyze That, during a rorschach test, Robert DeNiro compares an inkblot to a "pussy with teeth".
- In the Japanese Hentai Film School of Darkness 3, a plant woman bites off a man's penis with her vagina during sexual intercourse right before she drains him of his blood.
- In the Japanese animé cartoon Wicked City, a man takes a woman home from a bar only to find that her vagina grows teeth before intercourse.
- Neumann, Erich; Translated by Ralph Manheim (1955). The Great Mother, 168, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
- Dixon, Robyn (2005). Controversy in South Africa over device to snare rapists. URL accessed on 2006-03-16.
- Aeire (2004). Queen of Wands. URL accessed on 2006-03-16.
- Lévi-Strauss, Claude; Translated by Doreen Weightman and John Weightman (1975). The Raw and the Cooked: Introduction to a Science of Mythology: I (Le Cru et le Cuit), 113-114, New York: Harper Colophon.
- Vebber, Dan (2001). 50 REASONS WHY RETURN OF THE JEDI SUCKS. URL accessed on 2006-03-16.
- Stephen J. Ducat. 2004. The Wimp Factor. pp. 115-149. Boston: Beacon Press.
In Will Self's Italic textCock and BullItalic text (1992), Carol has grown a penis below her vagina, which empowers her to dominate her husband, Dan, in the sexual acts. The vagina dentata (toothed vagina) also threatens the phallic power and masculinity of her husband. The mysterious darkness inside the female genital is complicated with the surrealistic appearance of the penis on a woman's body. The teeth is actualized by the female's penis, which threatens the penis of her husband in return. For the detailed passage in the novel, refer to p. 53 of the novel (1992, London: Penguin).
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