Vaginas … start up a conversation about vaginas with 10 different people and you are guaranteed to have 10 completely different conversations. Some people are grossed out by vaginas. "Vagina is such a dirty word," one guy said. "Penis isn't, but … vagina. Eww." He shuddered. Others are proud to speak about vaginas and will spout out "fun facts" about female sex organs, like "The average clitoris is just a bit smaller than the average non-erect penis" (thanks, Molly).
The truth is, everyone should be proud of vaginas because you either have one or you came out of one. Or so the authors of "Vaginas: An Owner's Manual" say. They're right.
Regardless of what you think, you have probably noticed the vagina revolution over the past few years. It's everywhere — sort of a positive public-relations campaign. This semester, "The Vagina Monologues" was here, and the authors of "Vaginas: An Owner's Manual" were here last night at Hillel. It's in the magazines we read (there are plenty of articles about clitorises in men's and women's magazines) and the shows we watch (I can think of multiple "Sex and the City" episodes focusing on the vagina).
So what is all the fuss about? It's to bring attention, to clear up misconceptions and to answer questions — which is great. But even with all the press vaginas have had lately, there are still some disagreements over the correct way to approach this term.
I mentioned vaginas last week — in a comedic way, as usual — but there could be some confusion over my comments … apparently. I said I saw a lot of vaginas at the strip club, but because I am not a gynecologist, I did not technically see vaginas … I saw vulvas. Vulvas! Vaginas are specifically the inner workings of the female genitalia, while the vulva is the woman's visible outer genital organs. In short, I was staring at lots of vulvas. Lots of them.
But just to clear things up for everyone: there are going to be few times in life when the average UW student really sees a vagina. The correct term, however, is vulva. I don't want to get all science-textbook on you because I'm not a sex-ed teacher or an authority on the subject (this is a college newspaper, not a health journal), but it's true. And, you know, vulva just rolls off the tongue … oh, wait, not really.
So though one may have found it "horrifying and laughable" that I cannot identify my own body parts, the truth is, I can. I took Women's Studies 103 … and even before that, I knew that I had a vagina and a vulva — and I know how to find both of them. And our editor in chief knows it, too. He can draw an impeccable diagram of a woman's vagina after he, too, took Women's Studies 103. There have been diagrams of vaginas drawn on the whiteboard in our newsroom multiple times. My seven female roommates know the correct definition of vagina, also … even though they use the word "vag" to describe female body parts. But we all still choose to say vagina.
So although it's important to respect the scientific names given to female body parts, the reality is that many people refer to female genitalia as a vagina — even though we aren't referring to the literal birth canal. "The Vagina Monologues" do it and they are talking about everything from orgasms to clitorises to sex to rape to smells to tampons. It all falls under "vagina."
And there are not just generalizations of female body parts. One male friend made a good point by saying, "People call my privates 'penis' all the time … but it's a unit comprised of many unique parts!" So it's true: the penis is often used as a general reference for male body parts, just as vagina is used for female body parts.
Is this a problem? Do we need to stop this nonsense of referring to this body part as that body part? The line might need to be drawn somewhere. Especially when in normal conversation guys have been heard talking about clitorises and one response was, "Yeah, that's what they pee out of." Or when my male science teacher in high school fought with our female biology teacher about whether you could wear a tampon and pee at the same time. The answer: yes, you can. Oh, Mr. Osterberg.
So maybe everyone at this university — male and female — should take Women's Studies 103. Even the science teachers. OK, maybe watching videos of childbirths is a bit traumatic, but I saw my baby sister being born and, whoa, baby, that is the best form of birth control I have ever used (thanks, Mom — I might be traumatized for life).
Anyway, you will learn about things that you have never been taught before because, you know, apparently you aren't old enough to learn about vaginas until you're living on your own and going to college … damn the public-school systems. Anyway, if you go out of your way to learn about the vagina, you will be happy. And you get to partner up and make a diagram of a vagina out of Play-Doh. Few men can probably identify all parts of the vulva or the vagina. It could come in handy at some point in your life.
When you think men, you think penis — or Mars. When you think female, you think vagina — or Venus. It's the way it works. So as long as you know what you are saying when you say vagina, then I think it's OK to use it in a general sense. I googled "vulva" and a website "Viva la Vulva" popped up. Maybe there is a revolution emerging for the vulva. And maybe someday, "vulva" will enter our daily conversations. But until then, vagina has become slang for female body parts and a symbol for females in general. I think we should embrace it. Viva la Vagina!
Aubre Andrus is a senior double majoring in journalism and communication arts. She recommends every male read "The Vagina Monologues" — see if you can handle it. She can be reached at [email protected]