Hello everyone. It’s The Sex MD, Dr. Madeleine Castellanos, and today I have to speak to you about vaginas—yeah, no seriously!
Using the word “vagina” can cause misunderstandings.
So the word “vagina.” Now, I think I need to speak about this because I think that some of you think that this word means something that it doesn’t really mean, okay? I think that a lot of people out there actually think that “vagina” refers to the entire exterior part of a woman’s genitals, where it actually only refers to that internal canal that’s used in sexual intercourse. The exterior is actually called the “vulva” and it includes the labia majora, the labia minora, and—hello—the clitoris!
Who wants to use the word “vulva?”
So when you’re using the word “vagina” but you really mean “vulva,” you can get into misunderstandings. Now I know some of you think, “Well vulva—not a very erotic, sexy word.” And I agree. I actually don’t like the word “vulva.” To me, it kind of feels like someone with a very heavy southern drawl is talking to me about a very, very safe Swedish car. So I’m not really a fan of that word. I like the word “pussy.” To me, it has no negative connotation and I use it freely. I like that word. I communicate to my partner with the word pussy rather than the word vagina. And if you’re using the word “vagina” instead of pussy or vulva, you can have a misunderstanding.
To wash or not to wash (the vagina)?
For example: Women think “Oh, I’m not supposed to wash my vagina. I’m not supposed to use soap and water,” and that is absolutely correct. The vagina cleans itself. There is no need to be douching or getting soap up in there. However, you should be washing your vulva with mild soap and water, absolutely, every time you shower.
What’s really being stimulated in oral sex?
The other problem is if you use vagina to mean vulva when you are communicating with your partner about sex. I’ve heard people talk about “I want to kiss your vagina, lick your vagina.” Well, for some women that’s not so appealing. They would rather that you kiss or lick their clitoris, which is not located at their vagina. If you’re using the word vagina again when you really mean clitoris, or pussy, or vulva, or lips, or something else, then you’re going to have a misunderstanding.
I’m Dr. Madeleine Castellanos, The Sex MD. Keep that in mind.
Dr. Castellanos is a psychiatrist specializing in sex therapy, bio-identical hormones, and functional medicine consultation. You can follow her on Facebook at The Sex MD, and Twitter at @DrCastellanos.
Yes! I was telling my husband that it seems like it could be confusing to teach our daughters that their privates are called their vagina because that’s only PART of the area!
It seems rather odd to me that shaved pubic areas has drawn several comments, but (up to this point, several weeks after this article appeared) only one person commented. I find it strange that very few people care about calling the vulva a vulva instead of the misleading term vagina. (I actually love the sound of the word “vulva” which to me sounds like a very seductive something, as if spoken by a woman with a “smoky” voice and a Slavic accent.)
A couple of years ago I took a course about the history of feminism (that may or may not have been the course name but the professor certainly taught it that way) as part of my Master’s degree. One of the “homework” assignments was to go to a public place and do something about people’s attitudes toward female sexuality. One of our “protest” type signs said, “Viva La Vulva”. I don’t remember anyone even knowing what it (the word “vulva”) meant.
Personally, I also like the term “pussy” but I have found that some women find it crude or even hostile (especially in the “History of Feminism” class). I avoid it until or unless a woman with whom I am speaking uses “pussy” first. It seems to be a term that some people are more comfortable, and generally makes for a friendlier conversation than the more formal word vulva. (although pussy gets back toward the non-specific differentiation problem, too)
I do toss in the vulva term into some conversations or pieces I am writing, because the differentiation problem bothers me. On the other hand, I’m not having much success in changing the common vocabulary of 400 million people, but I remain optimistic for the long term even if I am only planting seeds.
Thank you for your good work in illuminating subjects that deserve to come out of the dark netherworld of taboo topics.
Stafford “Doc” Williamson