Hey it’s a feminist blog, you knew it was just a matter of time before I got all second-wave-y. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that it is worth the effort to teach my child the correct terminology for female genitals. The more I read about it the less I can justify ‘vagina’. That family doctor is going to seriously die. Vulva, here we come.
I’ve now interviewed hundreds of mostly white, middle-class parents and the vast majority misused the word vagina to refer to “everything girls have.” Many educated parents reported they had never heard the word vulva. And the many parents who were knowledgeable about the correct words gave the most imaginative reasons for not using them: “Telling my daughter about her clitoris is like telling her to go masturbate.” “Vulva is a medical term, and I don’t want to burden her with words that her friends don’t know.” “Vulva and clitoris are technical terms” (this one from parents who taught their young daughter about ovaries and fallopian tubes).
Misuse creates shame
Surely we need to look beyond such excuses and get beyond our discomfort with female anatomy and sexuality. The persistent misuse of the word “vagina” for everything “down there” impairs the girl’s capacity to develop an accurate and differentiated representation or “map” of her internal and external genitals. The fact that the girl’s own exploration of her genitals is not corroborated by accurate language also creates body shame and anxiety about sexuality.
Still not quite ready for vulva pride? Try this. She’s every part of wonderful.
Not ready for any of this sudden rush of vulva talk? Be glad I didn’t do the “C is for…” post and just back away slowly, try this post instead.