The Vagina TalksPosted: January 31, 2014
Why is it that I feel squeamish about saying “vagina” in public? I didn’t realize how much of an issue this still was for me until about a month ago when on a crowded plane, my boyfriend cracked some joke with a punch line ending with the word “hoo-hoo.” Immediately turning into a word monitor, I looked at him and said “SHH!!”
As I turned to make sure that the little girl seated in the row behind me didn’t hear what he said—I caught myself. Why am I freaking out?
It’s not like my boyfriend actually even said the word “vagina”… although he was clearly referring to one. Even if he had—”vagina” being the correct anatomical name for this female body part—so what? And why did I feel guilty by association as if we had been on the verge of corrupting a minor? Come to think of it, I would have felt just as embarrassed even if only adults were around.
I know I’m not alone in this discomfort. As a little girl in the Philippines my yaya would only refer to the vagina using the word “flower.” Be sure to wash your flower! Put your panty on your flower! The few times my closest girlfriends and I have ever talked about the vagina, you can be sure we never did this while at a Starbucks or any other public place.
In 2012, Rep. Lisa Brown, a Michigan lawmaker, was barred from speaking in the state’s House because she referred to her own vagina while debating an anti-abortion bill. Last year, a Wisconsin newspaper X-ed out the word “vagina” when running an ad promoting a local production of the play The Vagina Monologues. I understand that there are cultural, religious, and political reasons for why there is such a charge around this word, but should this be the case?
If you think about it, half the population has a vagina and the other half—the male half—most likely has been in one at some point (if not many times), whether during birth and/or sex. Seriously, where would our civilization be today if it wasn’t for the vagina?
Still, many people go around shrouding the vagina in code word or whispers—almost as if the vagina is the “She Who Must Not Be Named” of the muggle world, not unlike Harry Potter’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort.
A couple of years ago, I performed one of the pieces from The Vagina Monologues in acting class. The monologue, titled My Angry Vagina, is about a woman expressing how mad her vagina is that the manufacturers of gynecological exam instruments, tampons, thong underwear, and other female products didn’t bother to consider what actually might feel good to a vagina when making said items. The monologue ends with the character telling the audience about what her vagina really wants and needs, which is also what the woman wants and needs.
Here is playwright Eve Ensler performing My Angry Vagina:
Working on the monologue as an actor felt liberating for me in that I got to embody a character that has no problem ignoring the cultural taboo around saying “vagina” (24 times!) in public. It also got me thinking about my vagina and whether it’s communicated any strong messages.
During my early 20’s while in a relationship I didn’t have the heart to end, my vagina took control by making it impossible for intercourse to happen. Looking back, I now see that this was my vagina’s way of saying what I couldn’t: I don’t want to be in this anymore.
Rather than following its lead and breaking up with my boyfriend, I freaked out. What’s wrong with my vagina?! When I went to see my gynecologist, he told me that physically everything was fine and the problem was emotional or psychological.
The doctor was right. When I finally ended the relationship, my vagina relaxed on its own.
My vagina has also proven to be a better judge of character than me. During one relationship that on the surface seemed great but felt wrong somehow, I found myself seated on the bathroom floor—my body flooded with all this anger that seemed to be coming directly from my pelvic area. Apparently my vagina was very pissed off because we had just experienced some very one-sided sex. After that it became harder to pretend the relationship was working.
Then there was that first time with the man I am with now when everything about what was happening, in my body and with him, felt 100% right. If it could have my vagina would have given me a high five and danced around the bedroom.
Turns out that my vagina is shameless (and intelligent) when it comes to articulating its opinions and desires. This leads me to believe that my shame around talking about the vagina (or any other female body part) doesn’t come from my body but is a by-product of cultural conditioning. If so, then this is something that can be unlearned.
Like my vagina, I have a lot to say.
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