By Natalee Long
Note: This article is in reference to bodies with vagina, vulva, labia, and clitoris.
If you were asked, would you be able to name the proper words for reproductive anatomy? Specifically, would you be able to differentiate between the vagina and the vulva or labia (the majora and minora) and the clitoris? If not, can you think of slang terms to describe these body parts?
Culturally, or as far as western culture, it is far more likely that people are able to think up countless slang terms rather than anatomically correct language. But why is this and what kind of repercussions does this have?
In a study, “‘Snatch,’ ‘hole,’ or ‘honey-pot’? Semantic catagories and the problem of nonspecificity in female genital slang,” published in The Journal of Sex Research, conducted by Virgina Braun and Celia Kitzinger in England, a comprehensive list of female genital slang (FGTs) and male genital terms (MGTs) was compiled and the terms compared by use, category, and origin. The second part of the study examined to what anatomically correct part of the anatomy they were attributed.
Overarching themes and categories from the first part of the study included euphemisms, space, receptacle, and abjection. Bruan and Kitzinger described the use of euphemisms (which include bits, privates, and thing) as having little detail other than a general area referenced through the term. Terms categorized as space or receptacle (including cave, hole, bucket, box, and slot) were detailed as representing female genitalia as simply spaces for penises and semen. The abjection category (terms including gash and meat seat), Bruan and Kitzinger described as referencing the genitalia as “dirty and smelly.” Further in the study, Braun and Kitzinger reveal that participants in the study gave more FGTs than MGTs for the categories above.
The second part of the study discussed how the anatomical accuracy of the terms that study participants gave. The participants were asked to match the slang term with the anatomically correct name. Braun and Kitzinger found that while the terms had high popularity in culture, they were often ambiguous in their meaning and changed from person to person.
Braun and Kitzinger further explained the possible implications of this lack of knowledge about medically accurate genitalia on a woman’s knowledge of themselves.
“Girls … are rarely taught the anatomical terms which differentiate parts of female genitalia … — the word vagina covers the whole area.”
This lack of knowledge, or overview of knowledge, does not just affect how people speak about their respective genitalia; it specifically affects women in how they are able to approach speaking to others about their bodies. In situations of medical visits, sexual encounters, and other times when reproductive anatomy would be discussed, women do not have the knowledge to speak accurately and, thus, face being uncomfortable and in a state of disadvantage.
Furthermore, it’s important to use correct terminology around children and not shy away from teaching children the proper words in the event they are touched inappropriately and need to be able to tell someone what happened.
While the use of slang to talk about genitalia is not inherently bad; when slang terms categorized as euphemisms, space, receptacle, or abjection, are used in lieu of more positive terms or medically accurate vocabulary the perpetuation of women’s second class status in the male/female dichotomy.
Thus, to rectify this lack of knowledge, we must build a vocabulary that accurately reflects genitals and create a space in which everyone can communicate with the greater society comfortably.
And in case you were wondering… here are the proper words!