In 2012, a bill was presented on the House floor seeking to regulate the use of the word vagina after Michigan Representative Lisa Brown was banned from speaking because she used the term in a debate over an anti-abortion bill. Representative Mike Callton said, “Brown’s comment was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women...I would not say that in mixed company.”
Really? A ban on a word that is, technically, a medical term, and which, in a larger sense, defines half of our country’s population?
When my book she-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Health. Period. was recently published after four years of work, I was thrilled and excited. Finally, I would be able to provide a 21st century option for the women who, like me, were raised on Our Bodies, Ourselves. This was to be the most comprehensive book on women’s health that would open a dialogue among women about their vaginas and all related questions and concerns. With my years of experience, my successful practice in Los Angeles, and my reputation among media outlets, I was looking forward to having a chance to speak widely and change the discomfort women feel about discussing their own bodies.
There was only one problem: mainstream media didn’t want me to use the word “vagina” when promoting my book. Sure, you can talk about women’s health care but you can’t say the word “vagina” when doing so. This has become a major roadblock for me—it’s shocking, disappointing, and contradicting!
Yet—having ventured out of my “doctor” comfort zone, where talking about body parts is acceptable—the discomfort, sought-after bans, and apparent embarrassment about the vagina makes complete sense. In my research, I found several shocking statistics:
- 65% of women said they were uncomfortable saying the word “vagina” and often used code names such as “Down there, Coochie, Va Jay Jay, Cha Cha, Hairy Potter”. (For producers and network attorneys, I think “down there” is a favorite.)
- 50% of women never talk about their vaginal health with anyone, not even their doctor! I realize, as an OBGYN, that my patients represent the other fifty percent of women who do comfortably talk about their vaginas, at least behind the closed door of my examining room. But the fact that one in two women is not having this conversation is keeping me up at night.
- 50% of women wonder if their vaginas are normal looking, and many don’t think their vaginas are “pretty.”
- In a survey of young women ages 16-25, half could not find the vagina on a medical diagram. Some don’t even know the parts of the anatomy that make up the vagina, and hell, most women don’t even know what their own vaginas look like. They don’t want anything to do with them.
All of this has led me to wonder why we’re so squeamish about the term vagina, and what we can do to reclaim the word and take back our bodies for our health, pleasure, and sense of personal power. I’m talking about an uprising here, ladies! I’m talking about empowering ourselves to talk about our vaginas with each other, our partners, and with our healthcare providers.
Some call me the Vagina Activist or Vagina Crusader - others call me outspoken. My kids call me embarrassing, but whatever the label, I am here to empower you to talk about your bodies. I have a vagina agenda, which includes taking control of your health and well-being, and challenging yourself and others to change the narrative in our healthcare.
Therefore, as friends, as leaders, as individuals, as mothers and as daughters, we must help to shape the conversation around vaginas. Go ahead and call it whatever you want: Bottomless pit, Hairy Potter, Happy Valley, Lick n’ Stick, Pandora’s Box, The Promised Land…But here’s the core issue—we need to talk about our vaginas with pride and respect. Viva la revolution!