Why Is It So Difficult To Say 'Penis' And 'Vagina'?

Why is it, that even as adults, we struggle so hard with these words?

Too many parents don’t teach their children the correct names for their genitals. The penis may be called a willie, weewee, doodle, little noodle, ding-a-ling etc. Believe it or not, there are over 100 adult names for the penis.

For girls it’s not much better: nooni, woo-woo, mini, muffin, kitty, little girl parts or worst of all the “front bottom”.  You’d be surprised how many adult women still refer to their private parts as “down there” when they come to see me.

Does our struggle to call genitals by their proper names stem from the euphemisms we teach our kids? (Image: Getty Images)

It was only in 2012 when Naomi Wolf’s book: Vagina: A New Biography, was listed as "V****a" on Apple iTunes, and the word was replaced throughout the book’s description. There was such an outcry that Apple relented and the full word was used again.

The word 'vagina' first hit headlines in 1996, when Eve Ensler wrote and starred in a play called The Vagina Monologues, which was staged all over the world including a successful run in Australia. The play’s recurring theme is the vagina as a tool of female empowerment.

But now, after all those years, just when people finally - very slowly - are getting used to the word vagina, there is another problem. Some academics, educators, feminists and politically correct women are lecturing us that we shouldn’t use the word vagina but the word VULVA.  We have to be ‘vulva conscious’!

I admit it’s confusing, if you take a mirror and look at your genitals, you will see the external organs, the pubic mound, the labia (inner and outer lips) the clitoris and the external openings of the urethra and vagina – and yes - these outer parts are called the vulva. The vagina is the canal behind the vaginal opening – is it too much of an assumption to think most people know or are aware, that the vagina is inside the body?

One of the reasons given for this latest lecture is the difficulty women may have when they seek medical help and don’t know how to name the right body part to their GP. I can’t think of many ailments women may suffer from, that have to do with the vulva. If they have a pap smear, they have an internal vaginal examination. If they suffer from discharge or vaginal infections or have STIs they are mostly present inside the vagina.

The only time patients would ask their doctor, these days, to check vulval parts is when they believe their labia are too big or too ugly and they want to have  labiaplasty  surgery.

When I talk to my clients I only use the words vagina and clitoris – most hetero sexual intercourse is ‘penis-into-vagina’ sex and there is sex with fingers or toys in the vagina etc. Most people know where the clitoris is situated.  Tampons are put into vaginas – babies are pushed out of them, I could go on!

So why would we change our language?

Perhaps those concerned should lobby the government to have better sex education at our schools where children can be taught the anatomically correct names for their genitals. Then they can decide for themselves what to call their private parts and will be able to teach their children in the future.

Of course some people never had a problem using the correct terms. In 1998 Australian Simon Morley and David Friend started a performance show called Puppetry of the Penis. They still entertain crowds around the world by bending their private parts into shapes, which they call "the ancient Australian art of genital origami”. They are hysterically funny.

Melbourne photographer Philip Werner published a coffee table book some years ago, called 101 Vagina. He is now taking photographs for his 101 Penis book, the project is still ongoing.

Then there are those who like to embellish the correctly named body parts. Swedish sex products company Lelo, has designed a little tuxedo to dress up the penis. The company believes there is a gap between the expectations for women to dress sexy and the expectations for men. It decided to create a kind of intimate apparel for men and called it the Tux. It’s not designed to be worn during sex, it’s about setting the mood for sex and having some fun.

"One company decided to create a kind of intimate apparel for men and called it the Tux... It’s not designed to be worn during sex, it’s about setting the mood for sex and having some fun." (Image: Getty Images)

Soraya Doolbaz, an Iranian Canadian living in New York, started a project called the Dicture Gallery. She calls herself a professional penis photographer and designs clothes to put on penises and photographs them like a high fashion shoot. In this video she explains she wanted to make people laugh and create comfort and confidence around sexuality for men and women. She is hoping to bring back acceptance of our genitals but also shed light and humour on an otherwise taboo subject.

And now we have also cute, sex-positive penis and vagina emojis, so what’s next?