I recently watched a skit by Amy Schumer
where she goes to see her gynecologist. Her gynecologist is professional in
every way except that she does not use the medical terms of the vagina and
vulva. Instead, she uses the slang term “pussy.” Schumer feels uncomfortable of
this and asks her if she would instead use another term. The gynecologist
misinterprets this as a request that Schumer does not like this one particular
slang term spends the rest of the skit using all sorts of creative slang terminology
to refer to women’s vulvas.
This skit not only highlights the discomfort many people
have in talking about the female genitalia, but also shows that the words we
use to refer to the female genitalia (and the body more broadly) matter. A
healthcare professional using slang terms can be awkward and feel
unprofessional for the patient. Part way through the skit, Schumer asks her
gynecologist to use the medical terms, specifically “vagina.” I applaud Schumer
for speaking up in an uncomfortable patient/doctor encounter and requesting
words that feel more comfortable for her.
However, I remain troubled by the fact that the term
“vagina” seems the default word medical or non-slang word that most people use
for the female genitalia. Indeed, it is commonly used to refer to a woman’s
entire vulva and not specifically her vagina. Yet the vagina and the vulva are
two different parts of the body. As defined by Merriam-Webster, the vagina is “the
passage in a woman’s or female animal’s body that leads from the uterus to the
outside of the body,” whereas the vulva is “the parts of the female sexual
organs that are on the outside of the body.” By referring to female genitalia
as just the vagina, other important parts of the vulva are overlooked.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.