Sunday, March 21, 2010

Conversations at Our House: Vagina Edition

Ever since I took "Women's Health and Reproduction" in college I have had a little bit of a pet peeve about the misuse of the word "vagina." People use it to mean the whole shebang, when really the vagina is just the canal on the inside. All the outside business falls under the umbrella term "vulva." It is an incredibly hard speech pattern to break, actually: even though I know better I still use vagina as a catch-all term, mostly because it is sorta embarrassing to get all technical in everyday conversation.

So, you know, the vagina is sorta just hanging out there, not taking up much space unless it is, use. My friend A and I refer to the actual vagina as "a potential space."(Insert (heh heh) very offensive joke about what it is a potential space for here.)

D$ has heard this conversation/monologue several times, and yesterday as we half-napped on the couch we had the following conversation.

MWK: Bla, bla bla vagina week, bla bla bla "potential space."

D$: So, you're saying the vagina is, like, a construct?

MWK: No! It's an actual thing, duh.

D$: But you just said it was a "potential space." Doesn't that imply that it isn't there until something is inside of it?*

MWK: What? No! The vaginal walls are there! And maybe a little bit of space.

D$: But those are vaginal walls, not the vagina.

MWK: It's the same thing. It's like your throat. Does your throat not exist unless there is something inside of it?

D$: There is my esophagus! The vagina is totally a construct.

MWL: Shut up.

long pause

D$: If a tree falls in a vagina, does anyone hear it?

Epilogue (Several hours later):

MWK: If you aren't nice to me I'm totally going to quote your tree question on the blog.

D$: What? What is wrong with asking rhetorical questions about the vagina?

*D$ doesn't really have such offensive thoughts about the vagina. He was just trying goad me.


  1. Haha! Good question D$! Although? The vagina *is* its walls. And all that lovely discharge in between.

    And I know, I almost never use vulva either. Unless I'm actually examining someone. (Which, thank goodness, I never do anymore.)

  2. I think we think of women's genitalia as the vagina, even if we know that vulva is the proper term for the whole shebang, because the vagina is the receptacle. It is the direct recipient of sexual activity, therefore, it makes sense for it to be the vebal counterpart to the penis. Maybe vulva is the counterpart to the balls, and because women are mysterious and more complicated, since the vulva also encompasses the vagina, this adds to the confusion.

  3. @agirl: Thank goodness we have an actual medical professional around! Yea, I sorta knew that...but it takes away from my totally inappropriate "potential space" theory. Also, you should have seen the look on my gyno's face when I threw around the term "mons pubis." She looked at me like I was a total nut job, but what ELSE are you supposed to call it?

    @jehara: Yes, if you are talking about one sex act (that keep in mind is done predominantly by heterosexual male/female partners) that would be sort of true. I wouldn't leave the vulva out as a recipient of sexual activity (hello, clitoris!), but I think you have a point in that maybe that is what mainstream society would think and/or say, hence the use of vagina over vulva. Because mainstream society thinks sex=penis inside vagina.

    But when I think about it that way it makes me want to be more stringent about using vulva in normal speech. I wouldn't want to use a term that is both inaccurate and relies upon hetero-normative and narrow ideas of what sex is or should be.(Jehara I don't think you were being either heteronormative OR narrow-minded. AT ALL.)

    Sorry, I didn't mean to get so deep, here. Mainly, saying "vulva" in polite conversation makes me feel like the people in that creepy SNL skit who keep talking about their spouse as "Their lovvahh." But I guess I shouldn't feel that way.

    Long comment OVER.

  4. Good point. I think I was trying to say that in my own clumsy way. ;) Since our society does tend to think of things in a hetero way, then vagina being equivalent to the penis makes sense.
    Now you make me want to start saying vulva. ;)

    However, I still think that it is a good thing to de-stigmatize the word vagina. It's okay to say penis but not vagina?

    Once we fully succeed at that, perhaps we can try to re-educate everyone on vulva. Not sure if society can handle both at once!