January 08, 2013

What Most People Call the "Vagina" Is Not Actually Your Vagina

Did you know that vagina actually only refers to the part of your anatomy that things can be inserted into? That's right, your "vagina" is only the hole. What most people are talking about when they reference their vagina is actually the vulva. 'Vulva' is "a term used to describe those external organs that may be visible [...]. The vulva consists of the following organs: mons pubis, labia minora and majora, hymen, clitoris, vestibule, urethra..."(via) Did I just blow your mind?

I've spoken before about my absolute displeasure with the state of sexual education in public schools. The tragedy that always comes to mind when we think of the consequences of skipping sexual education is teen pregnancy, but I'm noticing another one: kids don't know shit about their own bodies.

With the lack of sex ed, kids don't know anything about their own anatomy. Then, they turn in to adults who don't know anything about their own anatomy and, in turn, fail to teach their own kids anything about their own anatomy. It's just a chain of ignorance here and it's lead to one of the widest misconceptions about sexual anatomy out there.

Vulva Patch made and sold by Grace Elizabeth
Lack of information leaves many young (and old!) people under the impression that there's something "wrong" or "abnormal" about their vulvas. This likely has something to do with the fact that they've never actually seen photos of the spectrum of what normal, healthy fun-bits can look like (because that would be pornography!!! apparently). I remember being twelve years old, in the throes of puberty, using Google to get a sense of whether or not my genitals were normal and instead finding sites about labiaplastySo to any self-conscious vulva-owners reading this, please take a gander at Love Large Labia to actually get some idea of the very wide definition of  "normal".

Basically, any time you're trying to refer to your junk as a whole, the word you want is "vulva".  This is such a wide-spread misconception that it's going to take a whole lot of work and a whole lot of information to undo the damage.  How many people have even heard the word "vulva"? I have heard so many people use the phrase "shaved vagina" -- but people don't even grow hair on their vagina! And sticking a razor in there would be quite painful, I'd imagine.

Keeping reproductive anatomy a mystery is just another facet of sexism in our society: trying to discourage girls from being sexually liberated. The more you know about your body, the more educated you'll be on how to enjoy it safely, and a lot of people don't really want you to do that. But it's also dangerous: if we don't arm people with the correct vocabulary to describe their anatomy, they won't know how to explain various health issues they might experience; they won't know how to accurately tell their doctors what's going on. And if we continue acting like knowing your sexual anatomy is shameful, they're not going to want to speak up when something is wrong.

I encourage anyone reading this to get to know yourself if you haven't already. That is, take a hand-mirror, lock yourself in the bathroom, drop your underwear, and, yes: explore between your legs. Use a diagram as a guide and start learning.


  1. Do you think you could do a Bleeding Feminism post on natural methods of birth control like NFP and stuff? I have a history of blood clots in my family so I'm trying to find a methods besides pills and IUDs.

    1. Well, the trouble with natural methods is that they often don't work very well! I'll keep it in mind, though, and maybe write an article about it after doing some research.

      I have already written an article about withdrawal, which is a natural birth control method. And if the hormones in the pills and IUDs are what disrupts your body, you could potentially look into the Paraguard IUD? It contains no hormones.

      And as always, there are barrier methods such as condoms. There's an article up about those already, as well.

    2. I'm sorry, but with all due respect you're very wrong about natural methods - both NFP and FAM are both very reliable, plus having significant secondary benefits like improved body-literacy which in turn can be used to care for both gynaecological and general health.

      FAM is up to 95-98% effective, depending on which method used: symptothermal method has highest effectiveness. As FAM can be used with barrier methods, withdrawal, or emergency contraception this method is even more reliable - FAM + male condoms is 99.96% effective.

  2. Lol I went to private school that didn't even have Sex education and I know what and where the female body parts are!

  3. This is one of my biggest pet peeves! People who think they are being "proper" by saying "vagina." It's not a vagina, it's a vulva, GAH!

  4. @Maria: Not sure how you purport to know for certain what people are referring to when using the word 'vagina' unless it's a glaring error cited (shaving your vagina)... I don't like the word vulva - too similar to larvae, thanks very much - never will, but that in no way indicates ignorance about my body, or not knowing what the word 'vulva' is. I just refer to the individual parts if necessary and stay away from everything as a whole because I think the word is just ugly. Much like the horrible words 'panties' (*shudder*)... Which at least has a lot of fab alternatives.

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