If you can't say the word 'vagina', how are you ever going to own one responsibly?

Two thirds of women admit they're too embarrassed to say 'vagina' or 'orgasm' to their doctor. But experience has taught me the importance of getting over that fear

Lucy Bellerby
Monday 17 August 2015 17:32 BST
'Dirty Corner', also known as the 'queen's vagina', by Anish Kapoor
'Dirty Corner', also known as the 'queen's vagina', by Anish Kapoor (Getty Images)

Talking about your vagina is a conundrum that starts in childhood and seemingly never ends. I’m 27 years old and I’ll blog heartily about boobs and pubic hair. I’ll throw the C-word around with wild abandon and I’ll debate the politics of periods with anyone who’ll listen. But a few years ago, I didn’t know how to talk about my vagina.

In this strange problem, it seems like I’m not the only one. A new study has shown that two thirds of women between the ages of 18-24 are too embarrassed to say the words ‘vagina’ or ‘orgasm’ to a doctor. They are apparently much less likely to go to a doctor about a sexual health issue than an older woman.

In many ways, this seems counterintuitive. These days we are often literally surrounded by vaginas, after all. You can’t go a day on Twitter without seeing Kim Kardashian’s bald labia, covered in gold paint and being directed by Kanye. Porn is everywhere, and Embarrassing Bodies shows us close-ups of everything. EVERYTHING. If Sue from Kent can go on national telly and show us her uterus falling out, why can’t we whisper the word vagina to a doctor?

Maybe it's because women’s genitals – in their real, bonafide state - are the last taboo. Misogynists still seem to think they’re full of dark magic and secrets, as if Voldemort’s hanging around up there. They wield the power to push out babies, which is pretty insane and wonderful, and they are our sexual centres. The two don’t seem to mix, so both women and men are still afraid to talk about them, lest they work out the exact connection and become doomed to thinking about childbirth during sex forever.

But the fact remains that it’s very important that the younger among us need to get over these fears. If I hadn’t done it myself, I could be dead by now. Yes, facing a room full of doctors probing my innards with a speculum and tiny cameras and lights and god knows what else happens in that mini film studio of the gynaecologist was embarrassing when I was 23 years old. I wasn’t due my first smear for another two years, but I knew something was very wrong, and I marched myself into an STI clinic as I was I thought it would be less mortifying than visiting a doctor. My reasoning was that they look at genitals all day, so one more wouldn’t be a problem; they weren’t going to recoil from it like Colin from The Secret Garden when he sees sunlight for the first time. I was worried about going to my childhood GP because he was approximately 100 years old and tried to solve every health problem with paracetamol and eating more spinach, and I didn’t think that would fix my broken bits.

So I went, and they poked, and I stared at pictures of vaginas on the wall. I went to the hospital and they poked some more, and a few more people had a good look up there, and they took a biopsy, and later they burned some pre-cancerous cells off my cervix with what appeared to be a tiny soldering iron. And when they were done, I realised that I was cured of my fear of doctors plus vaginas. I could say it all I wanted; I could whip my skirt off, get in the stirrups, and play Candy Crush till it was over.

Because the fact of the matter, ladies - and I really hope that some of you young ones are reading this - is that saying the words vagina, orgasm, discharge…could save you. The association with fear and awkwardness needs to end, because vaginas are just another part of our bodies, and they need medical attention sometimes. Saying those words could save you from having bad sex for years and not knowing why. They could save your relationship. They could save your fertility. Most of all, they could save your life.

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