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I’m pretty sure I don’t have a fluffy sausage wallet between my legs.

April 8, 2009

The other night I found myself yelling “IT’S BECAUSE OF THE SMELL” across the bar to a friend who couldn’t figure out why you would call a vagina a fish taco. I was just trying to catch him up to speed, but really, I probably should have told the truth: I have no idea. I have no idea why anyone would refer to an essential part of the female reproductive system a fish taco. But then again, we don’t have that many good options.

What we were taught in high school about vulvas seems pretty uniformly uninformative and hilarious. For example, my sex-ed teacher was really not comfortable best: using the terms vagina, clitoris, labia, etc. I think she was okay with fallopian tubes, but anything vulval, if addressed offhandedly was treated with something along the lines of “hee hee”, “hoo ha” or “you know….”. Perhaps she learned from the “Renowned Hoo-Ha Doctor,” as reported by The Onion:

More realistically, the charts we see are more like this:

Which, although they’re clinically correct, are really hard to connect with. In my 5th/7th/10th grade mind, I had trouble truly believing all of that was “down there.” To be honest with you, I still don’t really think my fat cells look like corn, or my ovaries like alien fetuses, or that any of my reproductive system is generally that terrifying. It’s near impossible to connect these clinical terms and images to actual bodily functions and feelings.

The alternative terminology we are raised with, however, is altogether ridiculous.
It ranges from terms like pussy and cunt, which are offensive enough to many to lose any positive meaning. There are the terms my sex ed teacher used to simply ignore the problem. And then there are stupid phrases that were somehow made up along the way, and then whispered in the cafeteria: bearded clam, fluffy sausage wallet, muff monster. Some of these are explicitly penis-centric: penis holster, cum collector. And some I kind of like: pink pit of pleasure, breakfast of champions, delta of venus.

There are a lot of gaps in our collective vulval knowledge (yeah, that’s a thing), but a basic problem is that none of these terms seems to fit the actual functioning and feeling of having a vagina. Why can’t we talk explicitly about what the vagina looks like, smells like, feels like? Because of this gap, young women are given no way to conceptualize their own bodies. How weird is that women are “finding” their clitorises? That we’re searching for some lost part of our body? They’ve always been there! (Perhaps a nursery school song: “the clitoris is connected to the vulva…”?)

If we could talk more comfortably about vaginas, women could learn and connect to their sexuality earlier and easier. They would feel less ashamed, scared, or “dirty” to get in touch (literally) with their own bodies. Wouldn’t it be great to be told right away: There is a bundle of nerves between your legs at the top of the vulva. It’s only about the size of the pea, but stimulating it causes immense pleasure. In fact, a majority of women can’t orgasm from simply vaginal intercourse but instead this clitoral stimulation. And orgasming is a very good thing.

Also, if the message could be passed along to young men too, that would be great.

*here is a hilarious list of vagina euphemisms. Personally, “front bottom” makes me lol.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2009 12:24 AM

    The alternative terminology we are raised with, the colloquial terms, are altogether ridiculous. They range from terms which are offensive enough to lose any positive meaning like pussy and c-nt…

    I don’t find “pussy” offensive at all. It’s how I refer to my vagina around the people who are most comfortable with it. When I went to a workshop led by Tristan Taormino, it was her word of choice when talking about all things vaginal. I didn’t see any visible bristling at the word, and most people who asked follow-up questions used it as well. Also, let’s not forget the fantastic way Jessica Delfino uses it.

    I feel like a lot of the slang words men use to refer to their penises aren’t nearly as loaded. The majority of them just imply a level of familiarity (with their penis) and, if they’re humorous, it’s a much more flippantly (less shocking and less offensive) funny name.

    If that makes sense.

    Anyway, great entry.

    • Becky permalink
      April 9, 2009 1:32 AM

      Katherine, I totally affirm your right to identify your body however you want! I probably should have added a “to me” somewhere in that sentence, because my experience with the term “pussy” has been entirely different. I have found that in safe spaces to talk about feminist issues, women often identify “pussy” as a word they would rather not hear, and have seen people react strongly against it when it’s used. For me, it’s definitely an example of a term that I feel is completely disconnected from the way I feel about my own body.

      I think your comment also brings up interesting questions about how to “reclaim” words that have been used negatively. Like the potent example of the “Cunt” monologue in Vagina Monologues. I found that as part of the Vagina Monologues community, acting in the play, I was comfortable with yelling “cunt” right along with the monologuer, however, I might react different to someone trying to reclaim the word for me, if that makes sense.

  2. Emily permalink
    April 10, 2009 1:39 AM

    I find that I feel very disconnected from most terms for “vagina”. I’ve just never felt that there was anywhere on my body a “pussy”, “c-nt”, or “fish taco”. I’m starting to become fond of “vagina” itself, though it does feel a bit clinical. I’m also partial to the more whimsical “lady-cave,” but probably just because it makes me lol.

  3. UnFit permalink
    April 12, 2009 8:49 PM

    You all do know that the whole thing is called vulva, and vagina is only the inside part, right?
    Start with that distinction. Vagina is only a tiny part of what’s involved in my sexual and other bodily experience.

    • Becky permalink
      April 12, 2009 9:19 PM

      Yeah, we do know the distinction – but I think it is pretty commonplace (especially in light of the Vagina Monologues) to use vagina to mean the whole vulva, it’s certainly what I mean. Most of my friends use vagina as a colloquial term, although I do know some people who prefer to use vulva, and I totally respect that.

      I do think it is an interesting distinction to question – how come “vagina” has become the common place term to refer to female genitalia? Does this re-definition reflect a reduction of the female sexual experience to just penetration?

  4. Lyndsay permalink
    April 13, 2009 2:19 AM

    “I do think it is an interesting distinction to question – how come “vagina” has become the common place term to refer to female genitalia? Does this re-definition reflect a reduction of the female sexual experience to just penetration?”

    This is interesting. I’d like to ask a sex historian if vulva was ever a well known word among women. Is this a re-definition or has it always been this way and we are just starting to become more aware of what our gentalia is called beyond where the baby comes out and penis goes in. Does anyone know? I mean they used to not think women really had sexuality and even nowadays some people find it are to imagine women being sexual without a man (and thus without a penis) so why would anything outside of vagina be paid much attention?

    Strangely, lately I’ve started to think the word va-jay-jay is a fun word.

    Pussy makes me think of something smelly.

    I wish I could learn exactly what I learned in sex-ed. I don’t remember learning about the clitoris but feel like it must’ve been mentioned at least because we learned anatomy.

  5. QSymm permalink
    May 30, 2010 6:49 PM

    Over a year too late, but I cant resist from pointing to the fact that the picture you linked misses the whole internal part of the clitoris. I really think its time to depict this in medical drawings.

    Anyway, thanks for the heartwarming article:-)

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