If you listen to episode 1 of the podcast you’ll hear me squirming as I try to bring myself to talk about my prolapse. My vagina. My vulva.
‘Fanny’ felt safer. Less embarrassing. Less shameful. More socially acceptable.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good euphemism - and there are literally hundreds to choose from - but it’s also a bit of a cop out isn’t it? How can we expect people to understand pelvic floor dysfunction or its impact if we don’t use a common language to discuss it? How can we ask for help if we can’t properly identify different parts of our own bodies? How can we expect better treatment if we’re so ashamed of our own body parts that we don’t have the words to talk about them?
I mean, what do we even mean by fanny? In Britain it’s at the front. In America it’s at the back. It’s so vague as to be almost useless!
I confess that I’ve only learned in recent years that what most of us know as a vagina is a vulva -- ie all the bits on the outside. How have I made it to my 40s without knowing that? And if I gave you a diagram, would you know where to find your labia, clitoris or urethra? It’s just not something we were ever taught.
I don’t want that for my children. I don’t want them to get the idea that these parts of their bodies are unmentionable or that they should be hidden behind ‘cute’ names. I want them to grow up feeling positive about their looks and empowered to ask questions. It shouldn’t be a big deal.
So how do we push past the embarrassment to use more accurate terminology? Pelvic health physio Tiffany Sequeira (@gynaegirl) says:
The best advice I had was to go in front of the mirror and say the words ‘vagina, vulva, clitoris, orgasm, discharge’ and say it again and again until you don’t feel uncomfortable. It’s life changing, because if you’re not uncomfortable, your patients won’t be uncomfortable...and I think it’s relevant not just if you’re working in healthcare but for absolutely anyone who’s going to try to talk or seek help.
I’m not saying I’ll never use euphemisms again. They definitely have a place. But the more I use the proper terms, the less I rely on them. And the kids have barely noticed the change. So repeat after me: vagina, vulva, clitoris, orgasm, discharge...vagina, vulva, clitoris, orgasm, discharge...