For most adult women it still feels uncomfortable to think too much or talk about our vagina, or vulva – whichever one it is you really mean. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that for a large portion of my life I could barely utter the words vagina, vulva or labia aloud. I was conditioned to think of them as crude or dirty or shocking, guided to avoid using them – now I think WTF? How are we, adult women in 2019, still afraid to use the correct words for our genitals?
Instead we spend our lives encouraged call it by one of its many creative (and presumably less offensive?) pseudonyms: flower, minnie, floof, nunny, front bottom, tuppence, fairy, lala, bits, privates, lady zone, down there, muff, love tunnel, peach or cookie to name just 16 of the seemingly hundreds of words more acceptable to use that the real ones! That’s without reaching out into the scores of sexual or offensive names also reserved for the ‘V zone’.
Truth is that we grow up with the less than subtle message that it’s only really okay to explore or understand (let alone enjoy!) our genitals if we are male. The way men speak about their most prized possession is so very different to the way women do – there’s often a mix of pride, competitiveness, familiarity and above all, normality for them. From baby age its laughed at and seen as ‘typical ‘male behaviour’ for boys to touch their penis’s, but when little girls do the same it seems to create great discomfort. As babies especially it is simply an innocent exploration of their body, no different to touching their feet.
Women have been shoehorned into feeling like we should be embarrassed about, rather than celebrating this magnificent part of our bodies, that being comfortable touching ourselves at any time – during our teenage years of sexual exploration, during menstruation, during childbirth or for pleasure – or even talking about our bodies, is not okay. I mean I have known women too worried about touching their own vagina to use a non-applicator tampon, too worried about the shape of their labia to allow their partner to even look down there or unable to use medically correct names when talking with healthcare providers.
So listen up. I am giving you permission here and now, to get comfortable. With the language, the sight, and even the sensations of your vagina. To rid yourself of the fear of judgement for knowing, and LOVING your body. After all isn’t the vagina an amazing piece of our anatomy, a place where we can find great pleasure, bring forth new life, it can grow and shrink in a similar way to a mans penis but it is rarely celebrated for its awesomeness! So, for yourself, for your friends, and possibly most importantly – for your daughters… or other people’s daughters for that matter – just call it by its name, there’s no shame.
I think it was having a daughter that made me see all of this nonsense for what it was. Realising that I didn’t want her growing up with the same feelings of shame and worry, I knew that I had to model this to pass it on. That she would either learn the names, or the shame, from my words and actions. The more we buy into beating around the bush with naming body parts (excuse the pun!) the more we continue the cycle for the next generation.
Most experts in education or sexual abuse now advocate for teaching the correct terminology from a young age, after all a child in a busy preschool setting saying ‘Uncle Tommy touched my cookie’ hardly has the same instant impact as ‘Uncle Tommy touched my vulva’ does it? There is so much room for misinterpretation with these alternative terms which can be eradicated by ensuring girls grow up knowing the correct words and feeling empowered to use them and claim ownership of their bodies. There is also evidence to suggest sexual predators are less likely to target children who use the correct terms in the first place – at the end of the day it indicates that the child has open conversations with care givers, that they know their whole body is theirs, and that these conversations and words are not something which need hiding.
With this information comes empowerment and conversation that is likely to remain open as children grow up. Teenagers who feel able to speak with their parents or caregivers openly are more likely and able to remain sexually safe and grow into adults confident and capable care of their reproductive and sexual health. How can a woman discuss clearly with her midwife or doctor any changes or worries about her vagina pre or post birth without using these words for example? Adults who feel comfortable in their own skin, and unashamed of their sexual organs are more likely to enjoy a balanced and fulfilling sex life too.
Basically just call it your vagina, or your vulva, depending on what you are actually talking about. I promise it wont hurt as much as you expect, and the ripple effect can only be for the better.
If you decide to book with me for a private or group hypnobirthing course, be prepared to get comfortable with the word vagina. You’ll also be hearing perineum, breasts and uterus too. Get used to it if you’re about to become parents – there’s much more of this to come!