“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
I would say Shakespeare’s words don’t just apply to a rose but apply to our genitals as well. It is amazing how many different names we have for the female genitalia. Some choose a “cutesy” term, some go for the clinical, and everywhere in between. Though I have noticed how often women make judgments about other women based upon what they choose to call their genitals, and also what men choose to call those same parts of the female body.
With the recent election, the word “pussy” has come under scrutiny. There are many aspects to this debate that go beyond the specific word used which I have no desire to go into this article. However, it does bring up the interesting point of how genitals are referred to and also the way in which our culture is changing in regards to our sexual lingo.
As a young child, I don’t remember even knowing the word “vagina.” I would simply say, “Down there,” up until I reached mid-elementary school and then got a tad more information when they did the official documentary on puberty a few years later. In fact, I don’t really remember anyone I knew talking about that area of their bodies, except the occasional same-age friend who was sharing in soft whispers so none of the adults could hear. As young girls, we are often taught that those areas of our bodies are “dirty,” “private,” and should never be spoken about.
No one stopped me and took the time to tell me about my body as a child and I was quite surprised one day when I was doing some research for myself with a mirror when I was 5 or 6 and realized that I, indeed, had “an extra hole.” I was astounded and thought it was funny that I had an extra orifice for nothing. I would later learn that this was not an “extra” hole but one that would become a very important hole.
As I got older I grasped onto the word “vagina” but to be totally honest, it never felt right to me. In my mind, it was cold, harsh, and clinical. For some women, this is the word that feels right to them and what they feel is fitting for their genitals. Throughout the years, I simply decided that if women weren’t talking about their vaginas, then I shouldn’t be either. I always found it odd that guys were constantly talking about their penises/cocks/etc. But women seemed to pretend like they did not have genitals and God forbid if we talked about getting turned on!
By the time I was in my late teens, I had completely cut myself off of my vagina and sex. I had gotten caught in some fun exploration with myself and my boyfriend a few years earlier and after spending a few weeks being “grounded,” and lectured about how only “dirty girls” do those things. I had always strived to be a “good girl” in my youth and so in order to appease those around me, I decided this area of my body was totally unnecessary until I was older and ready to get pregnant. Any late night exploration sessions throughout my teens and even early twenties led to shame and disgust with myself.
Thankfully, I have grown from these times and now I love my Pussy! Yes, I call it a pussy and I am very comfortable with the word. To me, it feels softer than “vagina.” It sounds beautiful rolling off my lover’s tongue, and it just feels fitting. It’s the word that turns me on and my lovers use it in a loving and caring manner. However, I have had people tell me that word is wrong and I should be ashamed to call it a pussy myself or allow others to call my vagina a pussy. My response is that it is MY body and I have the right to call my body parts anything I choose. This is why it has made be very happy to see some women’s group, completely aside from politics, trying to take back the word.
Over the years, women have had to fight many battles and received many messages about their vaginas and so I believe it is hard to break down the stigma. Some words are still very much in our society connected to violence and trauma, and so we, as women, need more time to heal before they become mainstream. In the book Vagina: An Autobiography by Naomi Wolfe, she breaks down these words in detail. She explains why women have almost an instinctual negative reaction to many words that relate to our vaginas based upon history. One such word is the word “cunt” because for decades this word has been associated with hatred towards women and the female body. It is common to be called a “cunt” when being raped, abused, or simply demeaned. Some women can own this word, but for many it is going to take time. Personally, this word makes me cringe because of the ways I’ve heard it used in a violent and hateful ways, BUT if another woman chooses to use this word for their own genitals then all the power to them. I have known women that choose to call their vaginas “cupcakes,” which also would never come out of my mouth, but I don’t judge other women’s choices in genital labeling and I expect a similar respect.
I believe men also have a complicated road in this arena. Most men I know don’t get super turned-on by the word “vagina.” However, they also want to make sure not to offend their woman. I have had men explain feeling the need to almost “tiptoe” around their verbiage in this area. Women’s shame about their own bodies has not only affected how we discuss our own bodies, but also how we allow the men around us to discuss our bodies… Even if that man is coming from a place of reverence for our bodies and genitals.
As I said above, I don’t like the word “cunt” but if my lover used it, I would not have a total meltdown. Instead, I would simply tell my lover that that specific word isn’t a turn-on and I would prefer he use the word “pussy,” “vagina,” “cupcake,” or whatever! Most guys are happy to use the wording that will please their woman. Also, it’s helpful to have an open conversation about why he might prefer the word he initially used or to ask him what words he prefers his genitals called that will increase his turn-on since men have preferences as well. This can lead to a meaningful but yet hilarious conversation once you really begin talking about it. And truthfully, if you aren’t able to talk about your body parts with your lover, then you most likely are avoiding other uncomfortable and shame-inducing conversations, and I would put money on the fact that a lot of shame most likely still resides in your sexing overall.
The goal of this whole post is to say:
1) Look at your own shame around your genitals and why do you choose to use the words you do?
2) Are you judging others or making assumptions about them based upon their use of certain words?
3) Are you able to communicate your desires and needs in this area to your partner?
4) And if you have children, are you teaching them how to refer to their bodies and take pride in all its parts? Or are you contributing to the shame?
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