news item: using the word vagina (among many others!)

If you live in the USA, you have probably heard about the woman who was banned from speaking in the Michigan House of Representatives last week after using the word vagina while making an “impassioned speech” about a woman’s health issue. I was reading this article about it, and it got me thinking about this woman who was silenced for using an anatomically correct term for one of her body parts. In fact, The Detroit News reported that one of her male colleagues went as far as to say this:

What she said was offensive, said Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville. It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.

He wouldn’t used the word vagina in front of a woman because it’s offensive? Huh? Would he shudder in revulsion at talk about a menstrual cycle – both its duration and color? How would he respond to a lamentation about a lack of desire to *shhhh* have sex(!) because it had been timed for so long to optimize the chances of conception? Don’t even get me started on EWCM (egg white cervical mucous, for any non-TTCer who stops by this post)!

I speak a little in jest, but seriously – as any woman who has had any trouble conceiving knows, it is gravely important to be knowledgeable about your body and to be able to discuss and ask questions about your vagina…your miscarriage…your ovaries…or *gasp*…even your partner (or donor’s) sperm. We are a subset of people who share just about anything and everything about our bodies and experiences in order to ask the right questions and find the best answers that might help us on our journey to become parents. In truth, it is imperative the ALL women have the knowledge and agency to discuss their reproductive health in order to advocate for themselves and their lifelong health. Talking normalizes things that are NORMAL. Words have power.

So my questions are these:

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How did your TTC / IF troubles change what you felt was acceptable to talk about in “mixed company”? Did it change anything?

Are you more open to talking about TTC/conception issues now, or do you consider these to be private issues that are nobody’s business but your own?

Do you use medically correct terminology (e.g. sex) or alternative words (e.g. baby making) when discussing TTC? Why?

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Comments

  1. At the baby care class we attended while I was pregnant, the nurse (of all people!) that was instructing the class kept referring to penises as “the little soldier”. This offended me, and particularly pissed off my husband. A nurse was speaking to a bunch of future parents, and she can’t even use the appropriate name? So annoying!

    To answer your questions, yes, I think I’m more open about talking about stuff with people than I used to be prior to IF. I’ll tell anyone that I had IVF, we joke about how my husband helped to make our baby (with porn, by himself), and I even find myself asking questions that some may consider inappropriate to people (you having egg whites? well go home and get busy!), but only if I know they’re actively TTC’ing… I think I always used the medically appropriate terminology, but I may have been slightly embarrassed about it. Now, I just don’t care.

    But I do have a question for those that are parents to girls: Technically the vagina is the inside, not the outside. Do you call it the labia or something else? Doesn’t calling her “private parts” a vagina give her the wrong term for it? Or is that the standard nowadays – calling the whole thing her vagina? I certainly won’t be calling it her “hoo-ha” which I heard from another parent the other day!

    Although this whole conversation makes me think of the Kindergarten Cop kid: “Boys have penises, girls have vaginas.”

    • The little soldier? Wow. Obviously people in a pregnancy class are aware of how babies are made. Ridiculous!

      My husband wasn’t in the state when I got pregnant, and I’m not afraid to tell people that (as long as HE is comfortable with me sharing that particular tidbit!).

      I honestly had never thought about vagina vs. vulva vs. labia… hm… I’d say it’s pretty standard to call the entire thing the vagina, but I suppose that’s my opinion b/c that’s what I was taught. Good food for thought!

      Hoo-ha. Again, ridiculous.

      I LOVE me some Kindergarten Cop. 🙂

      • Julie Anita says:

        Yeah, “little soldier” is almost insulting to a group of adults. It just sounds like the nurse is embarrassed.

      • I know this is super late, but I just clicked over from the Best of 2012 post and wanted to comment. I will never forget the day when my then-3yo nephew came home from school and proudly announced to us (in Spanish), ” Boys have a penis and girls have a vulva.” All of our mouths dropped open but then we actually started talking about it and realized that, yeah, that’s the right distinction. I think it’s good that he was learning those differences from such a young age, although hearing those words from that tiny little mouth was a bit shocking… ;

  2. I’m incredibly keen on using proper terminology and have no problem talking about when we were TTC to friends. However because both my mom AND my mother-in-law read my blog, I keep talk to a minimum there. I love my moms, but there’s only so much sharing I can do 🙂

    • Julie Anita says:

      The #1 reason my blog is entirely separate from my Facebook is so my mom DOESN’T read it, haha. She’s one of those people who goes through and reads every time I’ve commented on anyone else’s Facebook status!

  3. OMG, I am so sorry but I had to laugh over this. How childish (oh wait, maybe it’s because it’s a dude who was offended? I dunno…). I could see where the woman got a emotionally involved with her speech, but seriously? Are we going to start putting the terms “pee pee,” “boobie” and “hoo ha” in bills now because the technical terms makes people uncomfortable?

    If you think you have a right to tell me how to use it, you’d better be adult enough to be able to call it what it is.

    I do a little bit of both — use “cover up” words as well as the technical terms. It depends on who I’m talking to. If I am around mixed company that I know are TTC I don’t mind talking about cycles and such. I think it’s very important that guys know how these things work as well.

    Hubby and I had a discussion on what terms to use for private parts. My mom always called them what they were. His had a more silly word (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but it was hysterical). But we were talking about what we’ll be using in front of our young children, and as they get older they’ll become familiar with the technical terms.

    This article is about adults. And law making. I hate the word “breasts” but if I were to make a speech on womens breast health I’d suck it up and use it because I’m an adult and that’s the techinical term for them.

    I’d like to know what term the male rep would have preferred.

    • Julie Anita says:

      “If you think you have a right to tell me how to use it, you’d better be adult enough to be able to call it what it is.”

      AMEN!

  4. When I first read this, it struck me as kind of funny. He wouldn’t use the word vagina in front of women?!? Perhaps he would be more comfortable using one of the countless derogatory terms for that part of the female anatomy? Or maybe he just wants us to revert to Victorian times, when anything below the waist was referred to as ‘limbs’ or not at all?

    Then, the repercussions of this kind of attitude made me sad and angry for the women in MI. If this attitude is the pervailing one with their elected officials, it does not bode well for women’s health issues in that state.

    As for the terms I use, I choose to gauge my audience, With some of my more squeamish friends and family, I’ll use “girl parts” and “boy parts”. With my closer friends, who walked this journey with me, I don’t hesitate to use the correct terms for any and all of it. And with Ginny and Pip, I mostly use vagina/labia and penis/scrotum. (I confess I have used some of the cutesy terms from time to time.) On my blog, I use the ttc community terminology most of the time (bding for sex, etc), but that is mostly a concession to my more sensitive friends who read my blog.

    • Julie Anita says:

      Did not know that thing about “limbs”… that’s kind of funny, except that it actually happened.

      It almost felt to me more like he was fine with “vagina” being in the law, just not some woman using it so boldly in front of him on the Senate floor. Which, of course, is ridiculous.

      • It’s funny that you feel like the ttc community uses BDing…I mean, a lot of people do, but that’s actually one of the terms that makes me cringe. It just seems…weird…to call it baby dancing. Huh? Just my opinion though, obviously. 🙂

        • Julie Anita says:

          I always forget that that means “baby dancing.” That IS a little odd, when you think about it. I’ve also seen “DTD” (do the deed) used interchangeably. The terms tend to take on a life of their own, after a while, so to me “BDing” just means “having sex.”

  5. Word! Of course we should use the anatomically correct terms in a professional setting. What should she have said sir? Va-jay-jay? He sounds like a child.

    I was always pretty open with speaking about female bodies, or men’s biologically speaking, but infertility has opened me up so much more. I guess I just became desensitized to EWCM and other terms I’m checking for or thinking about more than daily.

    I actually would use the word Intercourse. Not with my husband of course, but when telling others about fertility treatments. That’s the word my RE used and it kept it clean and clinical for repeating it to others. 🙂

    I get more squeamish with names like baby dancing, flower, pee-pee, etc. I plan to tell my children what their parts are, no nicknames necessary!

    Good post Josey!

    • Ugh, va-jay-jay drives me insane, no matter who is saying it. I mean, c’mon.
      Good point about intercourse – I suppose that should have been my example instead of “sex.” HA. I learned something today. 🙂

  6. All I keep thinking is “seriously???” This is just ridiculous. I wonder if a man had said penis if he would have the same reaction??
    It is really sad to me that this has happened – it makes me sad for the women in that state as well as for where we are as a country that this has been allowed to happen.

    Before IF I was much more reserved when speaking about body parts and probably would have shied away from it – I think this stems from how I was raised. Now, not so much. I am comfortable speaking about my body and TTC matters with pretty much anyone.

    I also plan on telling my children what the parts are – I don’t want there to be the taboo-ness about it that there was for me. We should be comfortable with our bodies and should be able to speak about them correctly without silly nick-names.

    • I love this – I think getting ride of the taboo-ness is exactly what needs to happen to help educate women (and men!) about their bodies so that they can be advocates for their own reproductive health!

  7. A lot of my verbage depends on the audience. If its someone I’m not super close with, but they seem interested, I’ve gone so far as to say ‘Sorry if I seem graphic, but its easier to explain if I use the correct words’ and then go ahead and say what I want to say. Most people have shrugged it off and not cared. At other times I’ll use the silly names to lighten the mood (mostly for my own benefit. We are still TTC and humor helps me deal.)

  8. That is just bananas!! Unbelievable. What could she have said to make him feel comfortable?! Oh my gosh!! MEN!! 😉

    To answer the questions… I think TTC / IF did change what I felt acceptable to talk about a little bit more. I was not picky about what people choose to talk about to begin with but after IF, I think I was even more relaxed.

    I also became much more open about talking about my own TTC/IF. Firstly because people started asking about when we were going to have kids, etc. and eventually I began to explain a bit more. Now that we have Alidia I do share more details than I expected to… that is with people who show interest in details…. not those who don’t want to hear it! I especially share with people who are also TTC because if i can help in anyway, I will.

    Yes, I think I always use medically correct terminology. I know I have said EWCM a couple of times when talking about TTC with my friends before and that one certainly gives people a shock but once they start TTC too, they totally get it!!

    I am definitely going to raise Alidia to use medically correct terms like penis and vagina rather than weird nicknames that don’t even seem to relate and personally, I think sound much worse!

    • Using the correct terminology normalizes it, and that’s a GOOD thing in my opinion! It is funny to throw out EWCM to an unsuspecting non TTCer. 🙂

  9. This is something else…considering my two year old ran into my parents today and as changing into her bathing suit started cheering ” I have nipples…here’s my nipples!!” I share more about TTC than I ever thought I would especially since I have five friends right now that I referred to my RE. We’re all in the same boat!

    • It’s so awesome to be able to turn some of the negative of IF into a positive of helping those around you who “come clean” about their own troubles once they know you struggled as well.

      Your daughter cracks me up. 🙂

  10. Back in the day, I was a high school teacher and had the mostly hilarious task of teaching sex ed. to my grade 9s every year. On the first day of that unit I would always just say “Okay guys, on the count of three, we are just going to yell PENIS! VAGINA! and get it out of our systems!” After that, we could carry on talking like “adults” about it. It took the power of discomfort and embarrassment out of the words for all of us. No big deal after that.

    In my current life as a medical writer, I don’t think twice about using the correct terminology. It is literally my job to discuss the technical aspects of various treatments, procedures and drugs (including fertility). Unless I am joking around with my lady friends, I am very technical. I think I can frame discussions about IF in a professional (versus personal) context/veneer depending on the audience, but everyone I know IRL knows my deal. I don’t openly discuss our IF/loss issues on my blog, but I read a lot of blogs. There are a ton of acronyms and terms out there, but the only term I make “the sour milk face” at is BDing. It’s…gross to me. No idea why!

    • Julie Anita says:

      Ohhh maaaaan, when I was in 9th grade it was the gym teacher who automatically taught sex ed, and he was a big dude who was obviously MISERABLE about it, so he basically read a list of terms to us, had us copy them down, and we had to go home and look them up, lol.

      • My girlfriend had to teach sex ed to grade 9 as well (and she was only 23 at the time). UNCOMFORTABLE, but like you, she made the kiddos yell it out and get it out of their systems. Such a great technique. 🙂

        BDing. Ick. I also don’t like the word “preggo” – no idea why – though I catch myself writing it sometimes b/c it’s faster. UGH.

  11. Julie Anita says:

    I always said I’d use the proper terms with my kids. I have a bit of a subversive streak because I had a very straight-laced upbringing– so, of course, I view things like using the proper terms as “subversive” 😉 Then my girls were born and… I can’t do it. I’m too prudish to say “vagina” with a straight face! I’m more likely to say things like “Honey, I want to take a picture of Chicken in the tub; can you put a washcloth over her girl bits?” *sigh*

    THAT SAID… I think Emma got it totally right above. If you want to tell me what I can and can’t do with it, you’d damn well better be able to say what it actually is without blushing!

    As for talking about TTC stuff– I do in my blog when applicable and in TTC-relevant forums. I just use the internet lingo TTC terms like “EWCM” and “BD” and all that, not out of shyness necessarily but out of familiarity and laziness.

  12. So now ‘vagina’ is not politically correct anymore either? Ugh, pretty soon it’s going to be hard for anyone to communicate… no wonder there is a whole new texting “language.” That’s probably easier than figuring out what is or is not acceptable to say these days. IMHO:]

  13. I am so open with EVERYONE about TTC, IVF, etc. I have no boundaries anymore. I tell people that we tried for 2.25 years before we were successful, the process/timeline to becoming successful, our diagnosis (MFI), our protocols, etc. I do this because hey – I’m a sharer and also – you never know who else may be struggling but feels alone. So many people have said, with relief, “oh, so you know how that is? We’re having the same issues.”

    I do use “lady business” instead of vagina because the use of “vagina” reminds me of how an old coworker said “fajita” (he said it like “vagina” but with a t instead of the n) – and it annoys me because of that. Stupid, I know. I absolutely use terms like, “have sex,” – I mean, what else would you said instead?

  14. Going through IF has definitely made me much more open about my body and what is capable of doing. I figure that it is my public duty to let people know TTC isn’t always easy – can be to my detriment at times….. I know that a lot of people prefer to keep their infertility issues private and that is fair enough but I have always wanted to be open so that if I ever met anybody else in my position they would know they aren’t alone. However it is what it is, vagina’s are real things people! I can’t believe someone would have a meltdown over the word – especially given the behaviour of politicians and the childish words they sling at each other in parliament (well in Australia – at times you feel like sending them to time out that is how ridiculous they are)!!

    It reminds me of when I was living in Canada and I said to a guy excuse me I need to go to the toilet – because that is what we call them in Australia – and he said to me “that just made you so unattractive” because I didn’t say restroom or bathroom! It’s funny what some people find acceptable in polite company and others don’t!

    • That’s interesting how different English speak cultures could consider the same word appropriate or not. It’s all what you’re used to…

  15. I’ve been comfortable using correct terminology for a long time. As a social worker, it was drilled in to me that I had to be comfortable using “those words” in order to talk to kids about them (i.e. in investigating and later doing therapy with kids who have been perpetrated on). It’s important to me that my kids use the correct terminology as well. Honestly, I find it beyond offensive that people find the word vagina offensive. Additionally, and I mean really, some of the other words that get used (for example “cunt”) make me shudder. I’m betting some of those so-called lawmakers use that kind of word much more freely. Jerks.

  16. I, too, am a stickler for correct terminology, but this is not the result of my experience in the IF world. I was a child protective services worker for many years, and I was responsible for sexual abuse investigations. One of the “rules” of sexual abuse interviews is that you, as the interviewer, are supposed to use the same terminology the child uses for their genitalia. So, like, when a 5 year old says, “He touched my ‘kitty,'” you’re supposed to, erm, refer to it as her “kitty.” FOR THE LOVE. I would have to do a few clarifying questions (like,” does your family have a cat?”) just to make sure that this kid meant her vaginal area and not her frickin’ cat. (‘Cause that’s all a defense attorney needs in court, you know, to be able to discredit a grade schooler. UGH.) Some of the words these kids used was insane, and often required that I muster every ounce of professionalism for my face not to say W. T. F.? Soooo glad I don’t do that work anymore.

    Anyway, from that point on, I swore that if I ever had kids I would teach them the correct terminology for their body and I would always be comfortable using those words around them.

    Social workers, in general, are also a weird bunch though. Kinda like the ALI world has no issue talking about sperm or HSGs, we have no issue talking about anal warts over lunch. Just comes with the territory. 😉

    • I think I just puked in my mouth a little bit at your last paragraph. That being said, I’m working in a medical office now, and it’s AMAZING the stuff people tell you when they’re scheduling an appointment. Save it for your doctor, m’am. 😉

      Kitty. For the love, indeed.

  17. oh it’s the whole women are tools of the devil crud. Sex is sin, women should be ashamed of having any sexuality blah, blah, blah. I teach science and when I start my class on the reproductive system I always stand there and say ‘vagina, vagina, vagina, penis, penis, penis – scroooootum!’ You get the giggles out, get over ‘the words’ and start the lesson. It is pretty sad that these men in power behaved worse than my year 8 class – maybe the speaker should try my tactic next time 🙂

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