Vagina Shaming Perpetuates Ignorance

Below the belt
Down there
South of the border

Above is a short list of euphemisms commonly used by many women to describe their vagina and vulva. While there are positive or vague euphemisms, there are also many derogatory terms used to describe female external and internal reproductive organs. Nonetheless, these phrases are an indication of a larger cultural problem in which women and young girls are made to feel shameful about their vaginas and vulvas, often calling it names that make others less uncomfortable.


The culture of shame and embarrassment about vaginas is often perpetuated by the larger society (e.g. calling man a p***y as an insult), the media (e.g. vaginal cleansing commercials) and women themselves (e.g. jokes about odor and menstruation). It is not uncommon to hear some women describe vaginas or vulvas are ugly, smelly, or gross. Some women even refuse to say the word “vagina,” thus resorting to euphemisms or derogatory terms. As a result, many women and girls avoid learning that important area of their body and health. Their vulva and vagina becomes a mysterious and abstract place for women, and a topic that is uncomfortable to talk about openly. This is problematic as many women and young girls are misinformed, or lack education about healthy and unhealthy characteristics of the vulva and vagina. Consequently, minor vaginal health problems may be left untreated and develop into serious infections and conditions, such as STIs. Thus, it is imperative for women to have, at the very least, basic accurate information anatomy and physiology of their vagina for the sake of their reproductive, sexual and physical health.


Thankfully, a few women have spoken out against this culture of shame, urging to think more positively of their vaginas and familiarize themselves of that part of their body and health. There are several empowering blogs and books available for women who to learn about their vagina, and sexual and reproductive health outside of academia.

The Vagina Monologues:
One particularly empowering book is the Vagina Monologues. Eve Ensler published the Vagina Monologues in 1996, in which women voiced their experiences and attitudes regarding their vagina. Gathered from anecdotal interviews of 200 initially reluctant women of different ages, race, geographic location, and sexual orientations, the monologues touch on several matters such as menstruation, relationships, sex, female genital mutilation, rape, and many other topics.

Vagina Monologue “The Vagina Workshop” (excerpt): In the workshop we were asked to look at our vaginas with hand mirrors. Then, after careful examination, we were to verbally report to the group what we saw. I must tell you that up until this point everything I knew about my vagina was based on hearsay or invention. I had never really seen the thing. It had never occurred to me to look at it. My vagina existed for me on some abstract place. It seemed so reductive and awkward looking at it like we were in the workshop on our shiny blue mats, with our hand mirrors. It reminded me of how the early astronomers must have felt with their primitive telescopes.

The Vagina Monologues plays have become an award-winning world-wide phenomena in which several hundred plays are performed each year in different communities and college campuses. These plays give a space for women to speak openly about specific issues related to sexual autonomy.

Interestingly, in the results of the 2004 International Vagina Monologue Survey of 9441 of women from 13 western countries (excluding the U.S.), 95% of women agreed that it is important to be well informed about the vagina. Also, 66% felt that vaginal health does not receive the attention it deserves. However, less than 40% of the women had ever read an informative article on the vagina. Yet, 83% reported that they would like to read an informative article on the vagina.

Do you think these figures would differ significantly for the U.S.?


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