Calling a Spade a Spade: Vagina is a Vulva

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Mum has a favourite story that she likes to tell.

When I three, and my brother five, she took us to a local take-away shop to get chicken and chips for dinner.  She was wearing a green jumper that her friend had knitted for her.  At the bottom were two tassels, knotted at the end.

My brother started.  He looked at the tassels and said that most logical thing that his five year old mind could think of:  ‘Mama has a penis!’

Being younger than my brother and easily impressed, I copied him and soon we were both dancing around mum, chanting ‘Mama has a penis! Mama has a penis!’  in the middle of a crowded take-away shop.

Considering it’s her favourite story to tell, I doubt she was very embarrassed.

Mum grew up in post-war Germany.  She wasn’t taught anything about sex or her body and everything she knew was learnt in the school yard.   When it was her turn to raise children, she looked forward to being able to teach my brother and I about sex and our bodies, because it was something she’d missed out on and believed every child should know.

I remember she taught us penis, vulva and vagina.

Then she waited for us to ask the ‘hard questions’ and was disappointed when it never came, because we’d already been taught by school.

When my best friend became mother to a beautiful boy, I was surprised that she shied away from calling his penis by the technical term.  I asked why, and she said she didn’t want her toddler to call his penis a penis because it wasn’t ‘cute.’  She also stopped him from playing with his penis, because ‘it’s not right’.  I pointed out that it came from curiosity about his own body and she said that she wanted him to remain her baby boy for longer, as though knowing your own body makes you grow up too fast.  I don’t understand it.

I believe that you have the right to raise your child how you wish, but I also believe in calling a spade a spade.

How can your child learn about their body if their body parts are given infantile names?

How can your child learn about their body if they are taught to be ashamed of their body?  I can understand being confronted by your toddler touching themselves, but a child is a curious little person and they’re only just discovering the world and themselves.  If you tell them not to touch themselves, aren’t you also inadvertently telling them that they should be ashamed of what they have?

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that given a general reluctance to call body parts what they actually are because I recently discovered that there are people who are confused about vagina versus vulva.

In a 2012 post on Jezebel.com, Lindy West writes about how she doesn’t care that the word to describe your outer genitals is actually vulva, not vagina.  She says that vagina is funnier.

She also says:

I write for a general-interest, humorous lady-blog, where every single reader knows exactly what the fuck I mean, in context, when I say “vagina.” And I’m going to keep saying it. Because WHOOOOO CAAAAAARES?

I care.  I call a vulva a vagina because yes, that seems to be the popular name. I also know the difference.  But it turns out that not everyone knows the difference and that’s worrying!

It’s worrying because what the hell happened to sex education?

In a recent article on Huffington Post, seventeen year old Jacqui Beck discovered that she has MRKH Syndrome, a condition where she was born without a vagina, cervix or womb.

Reading the comments on both Huffington Post other sites, it was scary to see that there are a fair few out there who don’t understand where the vagina is.

So here is a very basic anatomy FYI for adults:

Vulva:  the external part – this is what you see looking in the mirror.  Not vagina, because unless you can see inside yourself, you’re actually looking at your vulva.

Clitoris:   Your clitoris is inside the lips (the labia), of your vulva. It’s a little button full of nerve endings; though the degree of sensitivity varies from woman to woman, when stimulated the right way it can produce orgasms.  In humans, the clitoris is not used to urinate.  The fluid which comes out during orgasm comes from the urethra, but doesn’t contain urine.

Urethral Opening:  Is located between the clitoris (above) and vaginal entrance (below) and is where the urine comes out.

Vagina:  The vaginal entrance is the opening before the anus.  It’s a tube which goes up to the cervix and in turn, the uterus.   The vaginal tube is a muscular, ribbed tube, which expands during child birth and sex.  Something I wish I’d been told is that not all women can have an orgasm through penetration alone.

What I don’t understand is why we call it the vagina.  How is it a more acceptable terminology and where did it come from?

I asked almighty Google, who didn’t know either.

Is this ignorance because we aren’t interested in learning about the female body and the functions it plays?   Are we so ashamed of ourselves that we don’t learn what it feels and looks like, and shy away from the correct terminology?

Like my best friend said, her son knowing the word penis isn’t cute.

Is it cute when a grown man or woman says ‘pee pee’ instead?

Is it cute if your doctor calls it a wang or beaver, instead of penis and vulva?  Would you be wondering about your doctors’ qualifications?

I read somewhere, I don’t know where, that several mothers encouraged their children to say ‘private parts’ instead so that they don’t have complaints from other parents that their child is using words like penis or vulva/vagina.

You do not create a monster if your child knows the correct terminology and knows where those parts are.  You will not create a sex crazed, pregnant delinquent if your child knows what their body parts are called, and what they feel like.

Chances are that if they don’t know their body, or about safe sex, then they will take matters into their own hands and find out through practice what pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases are.

But it’s ignorance that does that, not knowledge.

For me, I would rather teach my children that yes, it’s okay to call your body parts by the proper name.  Yes, it’s okay to touch yourself and know your body.  There’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Just remember there is a time and a place and in public is not the place.

Since I’ve managed to go off on a tangent again, have a look at V is for Vulva by Harriet Lerner, she says it so much better than I can in a more structured way.

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2 thoughts on “Calling a Spade a Spade: Vagina is a Vulva

  1. Thanks for visiting my site! I got curious and had to come check you out – you are one smart cookie! My mom made sure to teach us the adult words for our body parts at early ages. It helps kids grow into intelligent adults later.

    I’ll definitely be a regular reader, and hope to hear from you again soon 🙂

    Like

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