A Vagina Dialogue

My lady parts are like an iceberg; what one can see is only a fraction of what’s down there.  (And there’s a whole climate change aspect to this analogy but let’s skip that for now.)  Like most women, most of my life I inaccurately referred to the whole shebang as my vagina.  Actually, vaginas are on inside, invisible to the naked eye – literally invisible when you’re literally naked.  The vagina is not the part you see, shave, wax, or get caught on the edge of bar stools.  It’s not what pees, itches, or makes with the camel toe.  It’s not what hurts when you put on a thong, or tingles when Colin Firth makes that face.  My friends and I are reasonably intelligent women, yet all our lives we’ve referred to our ‘down theres’ as vaginas, which is a bit like referring to your Porsches as crankshafts. (When people post, as they inevitably do, photos of food that look like female genitalia, the titles are always something like “Food Just Straight-Up Looking Like Vaginas“, when they look like the ‘Porsche’ portion, not the “crankshafts” at all.)

Adene Sanchez / Getty Images

Most women’s vaginas are startlingly alike.  It’s like they say in Car and Driver, “unless you are driving an ancient two-stroke Saab, your engine works on the same basic principles whether you’re wheeling a Ford or a Ferrari.”  (By the way boys, however ancient, our “Saabs” require more than two strokes.  Just saying.)  Don’t get me wrong, I am not dissing the vag, far from it.  Underneath our vulva icecaps, our vaginas are the remarkable undersea two-way channels that can accommodate blood flow, super-size tampons, triplets’ heads and Liam Neeson.  What I’m saying is that our culture is astoundingly lapse in understanding and describing a major coterie of body parts of one of our species leading genders.  The showy part we generically refer to as our vaginas is actually made up of the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, vestibular bulbs and the mons pubis or mons veneris.  Ladies, I’m here to say it’s about time my mons veneris was venerable, that our labia majora were considered major… you get the idea.  Vaginas are universally heralded for those coming out (aforementioned babies) and for those coming in (foreskinned Liam Neeson).

I say it’s high time we acknowledge the mons in front of the curtain.  An educated consumer is the best customer, and the more we know about what we got going on down there, the better we can serve it and it can serve us.  In my opinion, job #1 should be discarding our embarrassment and expanding our language.  There are countless words to refer to the penis and to erections.  (Maybe not ‘countless’,  but I got past 15 and stopped.)  There are even lots of testicle terms.  But aside from the p-word, forever marred by a certain President, the synonyms for women’s genitalia are disrespectful slang that primarily refer to that unseen channel primarily serving babies and boys.  Women deserve words.  Wittgenstein famously said, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”  Our body parts will not remain a mystery when we can name them and better understand them.

Take the clitoris, a “pleasure powerhouse”, with more than 8,000 nerve endings in the tip alone.  That’s double the number of those in a penis.  (Mic drop.)  A clitoris is made up of 18 distinct parts – a mixture of erectile tissue, muscle and nerves.  Until 1998 most textbooks only illustrated the external glans, before Helen O’Connell, an Australian urologist, used a series of MRI studies to show that the clitoris is another “iceberg” – a complex, powerful organ system composed of a total of eighteen parts, two thirds of which are unseen and interior.  It’s able to spread the feeling to 15,000 other nerves in the pelvis, hence the big ka-pow that actually has zip to do with Liam’s Neeson or Colin’s Firth, if you get my drift.  And, unlike Liam’s or anyone’s Neeson, the clitoris is the only organ in the human body whose sole purpose is pleasure.  So again, mad respect, clitoris.  And you deserve a non-clinical term and something less patronizing than “rosebud”.

Let’s talk labia language.  They are the part of the iceberg you see, the part you can talk to in the mirror.  (“Hey labia, wassop?!”)  Some are lopsided, some are floppy, some are all about that bass, some are all about that treble.  They’re all normal, and they are all damn cute.  They deserve a cuter word.

You know what else deserves words, language to describe experience?  “Lady boners”.  Talk about a patriarchy, when that’s the best we come up with.  We need our own frank lingua franca for our own sister schwing when Paul Rudd gazes up at Alicia Silverstone coming down that staircase.  The best we come up with is kinda sad.  “Idris Elba makes me panties wet”?  Panties is one of the most hated words in the English language.  “I get kinda moist when Darcy comes out of that lake”?  No.  “Moist” is like THE number one most-hated word in the English language.  Apparently, the words ‘moist panties’ make the whole world cringe.  Doesn’t that tell you something?

Women, we’re not little girls anymore; there’s nothing to blush about.  Men, for heaven’s sake, there’s nothing to cringeabout.  (Two female politicians were banned from the Michigan House of Representatives for using the word ‘vagina’ – in a discussion about contraception.  They said she violated the “decorum” of the House.  According to Republican representative Mike Callton, “What she said was offensive.  It was so offensive I don’t even want to say it in front of women.”  Not even in front of women, Mike?  In other words, it’s especially gross to men?  Your golf course-going, lap dance-getting buddies put their hands over their ears and go “La, la, la, la” when they hear the word ‘vagina’?)  Let’s get over our gender-specific prudery, look under our underwear, and give ourselves the knowledge and language we deserve to best understand and articulate our experience.  Because, as you may have heard, we are half of the freaking human race!  Sheesh.  It shouldn’t be that hard to come up for a word for our hard-ons.


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