Imagine this, standing in a very public place with lots of people watching.
And being asked to describe every single body part.
Obviously, some things will have a basic description; eyes, hair, legs, nose.
But when it’s time to say the word ‘vagina’.
To describe it to a large group of people, there is immediate discomfort.
Perhaps, down there, or my private parts or a colloquial term like ‘fanny’ or ‘coochie’ might be used instead.
Have you ever thought about why that is?
Why is there so much shame and discomfort in simply naming a part of the body?
Much less, something as beautiful and powerful as a vagina
This might sound very ridiculous and hilarious.
But as a child, I remember not even knowing that it was called a vagina.
For the longest time, growing up we referred to it as our “front bum bums”.
And I never bothered to ask what they were actually called until I was in maybe year 3 or 4.
And I learned about it in a science class.
Simply recollecting this feels so absurd to me, that I was so out of touch with such a vital body part.
I didn’t even know the actual name.
It was even much later in life when I was nearly done with secondary school.
Reluctance to Talk About the Taboo Subject
I found out that the vagina was just the muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus.
And the vulva was actually the term for what we were describing.
I can only assume that this lack of knowledge that I had a lot of other women share.
It starts with some form of reluctance to talk about the taboo subject that is the female anatomy.
When reading about the history of vaginas.
I uncovered that quite clearly, this unwillingness to understand and discuss the vagina has been around forever.
From the belief that women and men shared the same sex organs.
To the idea that the vagina was an inside out penis.
Absurd Notion About the Clitoris
And even the absurd notion that healthy women would not have a clitoris.
And all of these were ideas from actual scientists.
In their defense, medicine had only developed to a very limited extent.
But the church at this time considered the vagina to be scandalous so there were very few images of it.
Even as science developed, women continued to be neglected by medicine.
And knew little to nothing about their bodies.
Obviously this has changed over time, but those themes remain.
Especially in Africa, in illiterate families where little girls never understand what is going on with their genitals.
This reluctance to discuss vaginas extends to the media
When I was younger I remember singing all the songs in the advertisements for pads without even knowing what they were advertising.
Because they never made any actual reference to the vagina or the process of menstruation, it was all very vague.
It was not until much later that I finally understood what they were.
Even asides from that, I cannot think of any women’s reproductive health adverts that are honest and candid.
Because the media tip-toes around vaginas as if by coming too close to transparency they would set off some kind of bomb.
All of this shame associated with the vagina, from the biology to representation to just saying the word.
It has an inevitable effect on young women, and how they see themselves and their bodies.
Young Women Difficulties to Talk About Their Vaginas
And the truth is, it made it difficult for young women to talk about their vaginas in a real, not vague way, which has an effect on our attitude towards our health in that sense.
Women get vaginal infections and cannot even discuss them with the women they are closest to, even the most progressive women.
Because that shame is so deeply rooted and so difficult to overcome.
And to this, I say no more.
It is necessary to try and let go of this and realize vaginas are beautiful.
They are to be celebrated and they deserve to be treated as such.
It starts small with the realization that the word ‘vagina’ is not a swear word or a slur, and we can say it.
When that urge comes to say ‘vajayjay’ or ‘lady bits’ or something along the lines of that, let’s resist, and say vagina instead, or even vulva.
Vagina, vagina, vagina.
No more discomfort, no more shame.
Damisola Sulaiman, she is a feminist, poet, and aspiring author.