Vulva & Vagina

Using the word "vagina" incorrectly obscures women's sexual pleasure and continues the myth of The Mystery of Female Sexuality. Mysticism should not be confused with ignorance or censorship - Mary Katharine Tramontana

Vulva & Vagina

image by: Women Help Women
     

 

Girls, this is a big one. You've been swanning around talking about your vajayjay like it's your best friend and you regularly refer to your vagina like it's got its own set of morals and standards. No matter how you treat your pubic region and regardless of whether your ex-boyfriend gave it a creepy name, you've probably been describing your own genitalia wrong for so long.

Your "vagina" is not your vagina. It's your vulva.

So last week we told you about the tantalising new array of 'vagina' emojis that hit our smartphones ready for you to flirt away the day, but it turns out we were a little inaccurate about them being vaginas. Of course they did feature vaginas (the sex/birth/period hole, to say it the glam way), but something was a bit off. And it wasn't just the blue "vagina" emoji.

After the publishing of the article, we swiftly received an email from a kind sexologist rightly correcting the use of the word "vagina". Why? Because broadly, the emojis aren't vagina emojis after all. They are VULVA emojis.

Self-described sex positive clinical sexologist of Empowers Me, Emily Power Smith pointed out that what we were referring to as "vagina" emojis were actually "vulva" emojis. She told us: "The vagina is the birth canal and the birth canal only. All the rest - the labia, clitoris, mons are parts of the vulva." At best I've been ignorant; at worst, just wrong. And I've even read Naomi Wolf's book Vagina!

The vulva vagina paradigm

We live in a time where fannies are repeatedly scrutinised and analysed. Those we see in mainstream porn conform to a tight (soz) standard and parts of female genitals are frequently airbrushed if not totally photoshopped out of magazines and advertisements.

Even a documentary about the rise in labiaplasty surgeries was named The Perfect Vagina when it really should've been The Perfect Vulva (because labia is part of the whole vulva). So it's no wonder we're all a little bit confused.

According to Smith calling vulvas vaginas "is like calling a face a mouth, or a pair of testicles a penis", which quite frankly are pretty weird things to do. But why should we care whether our girly anecdote is about a vulva or vagina?

I can get a vajazzle near my pubes, but nobody's criticising the whole concept which really should be called a "vulvazzle". That totally doesn't have that ring to it anyway. There are plenty of women getting "vajacials" without a care in the world about the terminology they're using, and isn't, like, everyone with one calling their whole nether region, labia included, their "vagina"?

You'll be glad to know there is more to this than some fancy pants, know-it-all grammar nazis ruining all your past articles about girl genitalia. Smith says labelling our own genitals wrongly is actually disempowering females everywhere and something needs to be done to correct its use between friends, in schools and, of course, in the media.

Knowing the correct words to describe our own anatomy can actually have a huge influence on our wellbeing. "If a female of any age needs at any time to describe an injury, infection or pain in their genitals it lowers embarrassment and confusion if they can use the correct terminology," Smith tells me. "It is also important when communicating to a partner about one’s sexual pleasure."

But how are we supposed to implement the right words when already half of the world describes their own collective sexual organs falsely? Can't we just change the dictionary so that "vagina" is slang for vulva? Not exactly.

Smith says children that use the right terminology will not only be grammatically correct, but will feel more confident and secure, especially if they need to tell an adult about any trouble they've encountered down there. So it's time we ditch the old and change our ways.

Terminology 101

Well then, we better make sure you're in the know about what bit is what. We're doomed if I try to explain this via an article so I'll forward you to the Labia Library which has a fun interactive vulva anatomy map so you can get the full low-down on who's who down there.

Though it's not just the vulva-owners amongst you who need to be informed. All genders should top up their vagina, clit and mons pubis knowledge so there are less awkward "wait, which bit is your labia minora?" moments and more well-informed experiences. You can thank me later.

Lydia Morrish, Chick-Chat: Your Vagina Isn't Actually A Vagina, It’s A Vulva, Konbini, 2015.

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Last Updated : Friday, December 13, 2019