Vagina is not a dirty word

Published in The Oklahoma Daily on March 3, 2010.

Last week, I found myself up on stage in front of a crowded auditorium talking about my vagina.

Yes, that’s right: You just read vagina in the paper. It’s OK, I promise. No one’s going to get into trouble. And if your eyes haven’t started bleeding yet, I don’t think they will.

I imagine you might be feeling a bit like some of the audience members did that night. I could see a few of them from the stage, and it’s amazing how uncomfortable people can look in those Meacham seats. In fact, one of Eve Ensler’s reasons for writing the Vagina Monologues (which was the reason I was on stage) was to point out how awkward, even ashamed, we feel talking about vaginas.

Go ahead, say it. Wherever you are right now — assuming it’s not the middle of class, in which case you should put the paper down and pay attention — just take a deep breath and say it out loud. Vagina. Va-gi-na.

See, don’t you feel better? That’s because the embarrassment, the taboo, is all in your mind. Try it again. Really, I promise it won’t bite. It’s not insulting or degrading. In fact, I think it’s rather powerful.

And it’s not just women’s hoo-hahs I’m talking about here. It’s just as important (though slightly less taboo) that we can all talk about the very real facts of the male body. So say it with me: Penis. Testicles.

It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Even if it’s getting less so, you can’t avoid at least a little culturally inspired awkwardness. We’re taught to think it’s inappropriate, taboo or downright disgusting to talk about these issues. We’re conditioned to recoil from the conversation. We like to hide behind the politically correct phrases, like “women’s issues.” Even at The Daily we’re so afraid of blunt language that we censored this column on censorship.

We’re all adults at this point. Isn’t it time we had a blunt discussion? To say what we really mean? Isn’t it time to reclaim these words and recognize how powerful they can be?

These topics are not disgusting; they’re natural. It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about them; it’s healthy. It might be uncomfortable, but maybe it’s time we made ourselves uncomfortable. Most of all, they’re not “inappropriate.” They are an important, powerful potentially dangerous part of everyone’s life. We share hopes, fears, joys, sorrows and desires in the realms of sex and gender. We need to normalize these things, to share knowledge of the dangers and celebrate the joys, to recognize these are fundamentally communal experiences. How is that not the most appropriate topic of conversation?

Vagina is not a dirty word. Neither are penis, sex, orgasm or clitoris.

It’s time we claim these words and the topics they represent. It’s time we claim the right to have these conversations. It’s time we all grow up a little and recognize that sex is a beautiful, powerful, natural part of human existence, and that it cannot, in fact, hurt our poor puritan brains to talk about it.

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