Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Vagina Dialogues

Today, I'd like to talk about your vagina. All of ours, in fact.

Of course, we probably shouldn't say that.

In an article in the Style section in this past weekend's New York Times, Stephanie Rosenbloom examines the acceptance of the newly introduced slang, "vajayjay."

Cute, huh?

It appeared on Grey's Anatomy. It's tossed around casually between friends. Hell, Oprah used it!

But, there's a little bit of a problem here, I think. Yes, it's catchy, playful, even F.C.C.-friendly, but, more than anything, it's avoidant. And it connotes that our vaginas are. . . not so acceptable to us (or anyone else).

It seems, according to the article, that the folks at Grey's were forced into vajayjay territory after using the word vagina one too many times in an episode script. Apparently, there's a limit to the number of times you can say vagina on tv (which, incidentally, appears to be lower than the number of times you can say penis), and thus vajayjay was introduced into our current zeitgeist.

Which saves us, thankfully, from having to utter vagina. Or worse, yet, vulva, labia, or clitoris.

But, the less we say these words, the more problems we introduce. The Times quotes Eve Ensler, of "The Vagina Monologuea" years back: "'. . . what we don't say becomes a secret, and secrets often create shame and fear andmyths.'" Ensler refers to vagina as a word "'that stirs up anxiety, awkwardness, contemmpt and disgust.'" Kinda makes me want to say vagina, over and over again, in a classic exposure paradigm. Given that Ensler's work focused largely on sexual trauma, I'm also wondering the effect that cutsey words like vajayjay have on women's sexual rights.

My doctoral dissertation focused on sexual communiation, conversations prospective partners have with one another about sex. The upshot is that people are much more comfortable having sex than talking about it. This doesn't bode so well for protecting ourselves against sexual assault, disease transmission, etc. Vajayjay is just another way out from having to face the truth.

And, what about how acceptance of our vaginas is linked to overall acceptance of our bodies? It reminds me of a talk radio episode I heard several years back while on the way to work. The topic was some variation of eating disorders/body image in young girls, and the discussion focused on how parents (mothers, in particular), in an effort to encourage body acceptance, should teach their daughters about "down there." What? Down where? We should be teaching our daughters about their vaginas! Because, if we avoid the words (and therefore, the topic), they will, too. I'm with Dr. Carol Livoti, an ob-gyn quoted in the article, who states: "'It's time to start calling anatomical organs by their anatomical names. We should be proud of our bodies.'"

We should. And, we shouldn't be reduced to calling a part of our body something different, something more acceptable to others. Because the more likely we are to do that, the more likely we are to feel the need to mold other parts of our anatomy, our thinking, feelings, and behavior, to others' expectations.

So, here's to your vagina, the glory of your vulva and all it's parts, because it's one aspect of our anatomy, that simply by using its given name, we can make significant strides toward sexual empowerment and body acceptance. And, that's a large part of why we're all here. . . .


PalmTreeChick said...

I'm surprised I even made it to the end of this one...

I fall into the "I don't talk about those things" category. Well, I guess I don't talk about anything...

orodemniades said...

Heh, I can't find the link now, but some city in Florida (of course) had issues with the title 'The Vagina Monologues'.

So it was renamed, I kid you not, 'The Hoo-Ha Monologues'.

Thankfully someone rubbed two synapses together and it was changed back to its proper title within a day or two.

Femaleclaws said...

I really agree on this post. I use the word 'vagina' in place of slang such as 'pussy' and usually the reaction I get is that more of shock than anything else - then I'm like, "What? Its the correct name for it isn't it?"

Charlynn said...

Abso-fraggin' lutely.

franke said...

Bravo! The words we choose to use are so important.

chaotic princess said...

I HATE the term "vajayjay". It is just ridiculous. In fact I find it insulting to be honest. It drives me insane that girls and women feel embarrassed or even ashamed to use the correct terminology for their genitalia. It angers me that I was an adult myself before a/I KNEW all the correct terms and b/I was confident enough to use the correct terms. There is none of the same shame associated with male genitalia and that just makes me more angry!

Spectra said...

My mom was really adamant about teaching my sister and I the proper names for our anatomy. I think I was the only girl in 2nd grade that knew what "labia" were. It's not like learning these things makes you promiscuous either...both my sis and I stayed virgins til we were married and knowing so much about our own anatomy has lead to VERY good sex lives for both of us.

Beth said...

The term vajayjay just doesn't sound as threating as vagina. Maybe that's why it was more allowed on the show.

Lindsay said...

Vagina is a terrifying word. Think about it: is the phrase vajayjay dentata quite so intimidating? I think not.

It has also occurred to me that the male variant of vajayjay might be penini... but that's a bit too much like panini, and that's just potentially weird and gross.

Rachael said...


And for that matter, unless were talking about the actual birth canal, its incorrect.

Im one of those people who has no problem talking about these things... I think the people who do might benefit from questioning why they do and perhaps stepping out of their comfort zone for the sake of normalizing female anatomy and removing the taboo on the associated behaviours (sex, primarily, but there are more).

Do I LIKE the word vagina? Not linguistically, but I dont have a problem with what it stands for.
I DO have a problem with societal oppression, though.

Rachael aka twistedbarbie

Tash said...

I recently read the vagina monologues and had seen the play a few years back. I'm always quite happy talking about my vagina although I normally dont call it that. I call it my 'foof' most often. I hate the word vagina personally, I think it sounds ugly. Surprisingly I use cunt much more often than vagina.

drstaceyny said...

ptc--practice makes perfect!

oro--wow. That's all I've got.

fc--that's right!

charlynn-- : )

franke--I agree.

cp--me, too. There's def. a double standard here.

spectra--that's great (and good for your mom for being so direct!)

beth--why does "vagina" sound threatening? I don't think it's the sound (I lived in NC for 4 yrs and had no problem saying Carolina, which rhymes). I think it only sounds threatening b/c we don't use it enough!

lindsay--again, why is it threatening? And, we probably don't need to be confusing a penis w/a panini. ; )

rachael--love it!

tash--now that's an ugly word! (not the word per se, but the way we use it).

-Jen- said...

I recently had to teach a lesson on pollination to a class of 5th graders. EVERY time that I said "Pistil" (the girl part of a flower) or "Stamen" (the boy part)they said "ewwww" and started laughing. (We eventually had to count to 3, say "ewwwww" together and laugh for 20 seconds so that we could move on!)

Just wait until they actually have to learn to use correct terms for human anatomy! Haha!

Alyssa said...

Once I was in a show where 3 of the characters were named Vulva, Labia and Hymen. I played Vulva, and when I went out around town, people would say "Hey, Vulva! How are you!" This was in a somewhat conservative town, and it was really funny.
The show was written by Diana Son (just want to give a shout out).

cggirl said...

I always thought vagina was a very pretty word :) It sounds kinda girly, which seems appropriate, no?

Sounds like the name of an exotic princess... Her Royal Higness Princess Vagina.
Certainly more regal than vajayjay... that sounds like her mischevious little boy cousin or something.

LMB said...

Just this week I saw the Veiled Monologues, and one woman referred to her vagina as "Zebra" because of a scar she has and the stripes she shaves into her hair. If she can love her vagina enough to name it Zebra, then I can love my vagina enough to NOT call it a vajayjay. It's demeaning and vaginas everywhere deal with enough bullshit they don't need it.

BTW, The Veiled Monologues are AWESOME. If you have the chance, see it. It's the Vagina Monologues for Muslim women in the Netherlands.

drstaceyny said...

jen--sounds like you're in for a treat!

alyssa--sounds like an interesting show, mulva. ; )

cggirl--"Royal Higness Princess Vagina"--love it!

lmb--thanks for the rec. Sounds v. interesting.

Jeanne said...

Hey Dr. Stacey,


I'm one of the ones whose mom NEVER mentioned anything about any of the parts "down there."

Sooooo, being who I am, I've taught my son to call his penis a penis and explained that girls have vaginas. And yeah, I've even gotten into the sperm/egg/womb/period thing. I figure even thought he's not quite six, I'd rather he hear those words from me first - in a very scientific/matter-of-fact sort of way. Because as Hermione says, "Dumbledore says Fear of the name only increases of the thing itself." (or something like that anyway...)

Thanks, Dr. Stacey!


Tim S. said...

cggirl: Your post cracked me up, maybe it is because it is late, but still, thumbs up!

It is odd and sad all at the same time, the power we attribute to words. It is all about intent. I think of it like food and EDs. Food is food, until you project something else on it, and then the food takes on a whole new meaning, and the food ceases to just be food.


In regard to the intent of words, when I was a little kid I remember asking my mom if it was okay to curse in a movie, since the actors were ACTING, and they didn't REALLY mean what they said....since I was taught that people shouldn't curse, and I assumed everyone else's parents taught them the same thing, but they had to making a living...so what do you do? Ah...to be 6-7 again.

Scarlett. said...

My parents never ever used the correct term for anatomy... "flower" was a word I often heard haha, or "ha'penny" (as in halfpenny) from my Gran.
"Keep yer hawn oan yer ha'penny!"
(To be said in a strong Scottish accent and to encourage me NOT to sleep around haha.)
I HATE words like pussy, c*nt (can't even bring myself to spell it out in full, it's horrible!) but I'm a very open person so I always say vagina. Yet people look at you so oddly if you do - you either get sniggers or uncomfortable glances or people slagging you off for being "posh."
And also penini... let's start using that and see what kind of reactions we get!

Anonymous said...

Well said Rachael!!

However, I do not prefer the term vagina. I use the slang term pussy. It's probably not everyone's fav, but, to me, it doesn't sound so proper and stuffy like vagina does. I don't like the word penis either.

I loved 'The Vagina Dialouges'.