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If the word ‘vulva’ makes you die a little inside whenever you hear it, you aren’t alone. We have a weird relationship in society with the word despite being au fait with the ‘acceptable’ term, vagina. The problem is, that when we use the word ‘vagina’, rarely is it used anatomically correctly.
Why has the ‘wrong’ word become the most accepted word for the outer area of our genitalia in society? Well, mostly it’s a lack of education and knowledge about the female anatomy, and a minimisation of terminology means that there is accepted vagueness about women’s health. The problem with that is that that vague, abstract attitude to our anatomy doesn’t end with how we individually refer to our genitalia and actually may have an impact on medicine, research, treatment and advocacy for women’s health issues.
The use of accurate and inclusive language is fundamental to providing comprehensive and accessible care to all individuals. One of the key aspects of this is the importance of using the correct anatomical terms, such as “vulva” and “vagina.” While “vagina” has become the most commonly accepted term, it is essential to recognize the significance of using “vulva” and understand why the use of the wrong word can impact women’s health and well-being.
Understanding the difference
The vulva refers to the external ‘outer’ part of our genitalia. It’s the labia majora, the labia minora, the clitoris, and the vaginal and urethral openings. The vagina is the closed muscular canal that extends from the vulva to the neck of the uterus, called the cervix and it’s internal, inside of us.
Does it really matter if we don’t use the right word?
On an individual basis, you can call your vulva what you like. But it’s worth considering why we want to shy away from using the correct terminology – is it because we feel embarrassed? Do we find it vulgar? And if so, what’s the connection there with our genitalia if the correct name for it is something to be avoided and vulgar?
After all, vulva is simply a word, right?
Understanding the etymology of these words is interesting too. Vulva originated in the late middle ages from the latin word, volva which translates literally as womb. Conversely, the word vagina – also latin in origin – originated in the late 17th century and its translation is ‘scabbard’… or ‘sword sheath’. Now, we can well imagine who might have benefited from naming our vulva a ‘sword sheath’, can’t we? Vulva not only is more anatomically correct to use, but also more empowering on the basis that it’s relevant to our actual biology!
Further than our personal use of words however, is how we advocate for ourselves and understand our bodies. For example, if you report ‘vaginal dryness’ to your GP, they’ll investigate internally – when you could have meant that your labia and vulval tissues are sore and dry. Getting the right treatment for the right issue really does start with the right words. And when we start to do so for this part of our bodies, it makes us more inclined to use the correct terminology elsewhere, like our hormone health for example.
Using the right words improves advocacy
The use of accurate anatomical terminology is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it helps individuals, regardless of their gender identity, to understand and connect with their bodies better. By using the correct terms, healthcare professionals can ensure that patients have a clear understanding of their anatomy, which is essential for making informed decisions about their health.
According to one recent study, medical jargon and the misuse of language can influence women’s mindset and experience both positively and negatively, and has an impact on the relationship that we have with our genitals and their purpose – and our overall body. If we use the correct terminology, psychologically we feel more connected and empowered to understand and articulate our experiences, illnesses, libido and other issues that we need to advocate for ourselves. Therefore, using the right terminology is imperative for ensuring you have autonomy and hopefully, positive healthcare experiences too.
Breaking down taboos empowers women
But let’s circle back to that cringe many of us feel when we utter the word vulva. This reaction is common for so many women, but it is rooted in societal taboos and a lack of education about our bodies. We wouldn’t cringe about saying face when we mean mouth, after all! That’s why, at Hormone University we are always careful and conscious to use the correct terminology, especially for products such as our Intimate Hydrator that is specifically formulated for vulval use (external), not vaginal use, (internal)! However, embracing the correct terminology is a crucial step in breaking down these taboos and empowering individuals to have open and informed discussions about their bodies.
In conclusion, the use of the correct anatomical terms, such as “vulva,” is vital for promoting understanding, breaking down societal taboos about women’s health, and empowering individuals to advocate for their own health. The importance of using the right terminology in women’s health cannot be overstated. It is essential for promoting understanding, breaking down taboos, and empowering individuals to advocate for their own health. By embracing accurate and inclusive language, we can create a healthcare environment that is truly comprehensive and accessible to all.
Will you use the word vulva more frequently now?
Kate is a content writer, community creator, and ‘Endo-Warrior’ with Stage IV Endometriosis. She’s mum to three kids, two dogs and unsurprisingly; a lover of wine. Kate lives with her family in Hastings, UK.