In 2012, feminist Lindy West wrote on Jezebel, “I will never, EVER stop saying ‘vagina’ when I mean ‘vulva.’ Yes, I know the difference. No, I don’t care how mad you are about it. Yes, I think your outrage is misdirected and humorless and pedantic and boring. No, I’m not sorry.”
While she’s certainly free to use whatever terms she wishes, I think any self-proclaimed feminist would be preaching the correct terminology for the female genitalia from the mountain top. I mean really, should we be reduced to just a vagina – the place where a penis goes? Should we ignore the fact that we have anatomical structures that are there just to make us happy and bring us pleasure?
Our sorry state of sex education in this country neglects to teach teens about anything other than the penis and vagina. Basically, all of the focus is on reproduction. Teens don’t learn in school that women have a sex organ that rivals that of the all important penis. A clitoris has around 5000 nerve endings whereas a penis has around 30001. So, if teens don’t learn it in sex ed, many of them go through their adult lives not knowing about all the wonders of the vulva.
Historically, there’s been a lack of interest in women’s sexuality and that’s probably why it wasn’t until the 1990’s that we learned the true scope and size of the clitoris. By then, we pretty much knew the penis inside and out.
It’s not just the part you can see. It actually has a large internal structure with erectile tissues, much like that of a penis and, as far as we know, its sole purpose is to make us feel good. When we gloss over the specific structures of our sexual organs and simply call everything down there a vagina, it erases all those other parts of us. It’s like accepting that our pleasure isn’t that important and the man can just do his thing and be done with it.
I think it empowers people to learn and use the correct terminology. It can help them develop a deeper appreciation of what it means to be a woman. I think any feminist would demand the use of correct terminology, because maybe some men think that all we are is a vagina. And imagine the harm that’s caused if we go around substantiating that?
We are whole beings with our own intricate sexualities. We’re not just here to make babies or to be penis receptacles. Our pleasure should matter and it starts by recognizing that there’s more going on down there than just a vagina. Studying and understanding our sexual functioning is just as important as the attention given to that of men. I don’t want society to reduce me to just a vagina. We are complex creatures and I think it’s a fiercely feminist act to demand that we are recognized as such.
This post was written from a cishet point of view because honestly, that’s all I know. It’s my reality and I don’t feel qualified to speak on behalf of folks who are not cishet.
- I have seen different figures on the exact number but it’s a fact that the clitoris has many more nerve endings ↩