The other day I was reading a discussion that centered around the question of whether it is acceptable to call female nethers by a nickname, or is it better to call the parts by their proper names. The discussion is probably the best argument for using the proper names that I have ever seen, and the participants didn’t even realize it. It went a little something like this (paraphrased):
“I call it what it is. It’s a vagina.”
“I call it what it is. It’s a vulva.”
“I call it what it is. It’s the birth canal.”
Several people made each of these statements and believed they are just different anatomical names for the same darn thing. A vagina is a thing. A vulva is a thing. A birth canal is a thing. But they are not the same thing. The fact that they really believed they were is the best real world argument for teaching children (and adults) the actual names for their parts. I mean, if you think you have a medical problem with your vagina but tell your doctor you think you have a problem with your vulva, how much confusion is that going to cause?
So what’s the difference? Let’s break it down.
Vagina: You can think of the vagina as the inside portion of the lady bits, excluding the uterus. It starts at the vaginal entrance between the labia and ends with the cervix.
Vulva: There is so much confusion about vulva vs vagina. The short answer is while the vagina is on the inside of the body, the vulva consists of those bits on the outside. This includes labia majora, labia minora, mons, external portion of the clitoris, and clitoral hood. Some definitions also include the perineum and vaginal entrance, but not the vagina itself.
Birth canal: I was really surprised to see this one thrown into the mix. The birth canal is from the uterus all the way out through the cervix, vagina, and vulva. The term is not really used unless you’re actually, you know, giving birth.
Now, you might think that they’re all in the same area, so what’s the big deal? Surely your doctor will understand what you mean? And surely your partner will, too? But let me ask you this: what if you went to the doctor and told him your toe hurts, but actually meant your ankle? They’re in the same area, and eventually the doctor will figure out what you meant, but wouldn’t it be easier if you just used the correct word to begin with? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just used the right words and taught our children the same?