Why is it so difficult to talk about vaginas?

Just uttering the word “vagina” makes some people cringe. Take, for example, this online video advertisement made by Kotex. In the video, people applying for a job are given inkblot tests during their interviews. However, the inkblots are rigged to resemble genitals! Watch how squeamish the job applicants become when it comes to female reproductive anatomy

 According to the video, “72% of women feel society is more comfortable talking about penises than vaginas.” I’m sad to say that this statistic doesn’t surprise me much. In many parts of society, male sexuality is simply more expected—and respected—than female sexuality. You can see evidence of this unfair double standard cropping up all over the place. Apparently, vaginas are difficult for folks to discuss:

  • To many people, the word “vagina” feels clinical or intimidating, while “penis” is just silly. This clip (which is captioned) from 500 Days of Summer is a good example of how goofy the word “penis” can be. Anyone want to play the game using the word “vagina”? Anyone…?
  • Tampon ads don’t even use the word “vagina”! How do they manage to talk about the comfortableness and fit of a tampon without ever mentioning the vagina itself? That’s like advertising a toothbrush without talking about the mouth.
  • Men can talk about masturbation but women can’t. A Sex, Etc. poll found that 42% of people feel that masturbation is a taboo topic for girls to discuss, but not for guys to discuss. What’s up with that? In reality, it’s totally okay for women to masturbate, just like men—so why can’t they chat about it as much?
  • TeenSource.org doesn’t have a “vagina” blog tag. I find it ironic that, while trying to tag this blog post, the only relevant tags were “body issues,” “masturbation,” and, you guessed it, “penis.”

If we want women and men to feel equally empowered to speak up about their bodies and desires, I think we need to change the way we talk about anatomy. After all, if someone has trouble simply saying the word “vagina,” how is he or she supposed to communicate to a partner about what feels good or what’s not okay to do? The next time you’re chatting with a friend or partner and the topic of “lady bits” comes up, I dare you to use the word “vagina” instead. Maybe it will help destigmatize the vagina and make it easier for women—and men!—to speak up about masturbation, periods, sex, boundaries, and desires.