As a family nurse practitioner, when the time is right, the child mature enough, and the parents on the same page, I talk with my pediatric clientele about the names of their private parts and empower them to use the proper terms. My clients are of a higher socioeconomic status, often well educated, quite often even in healthcare themselves, but even they refer to the boy's anatomy as the penis and the female's as the vagina, without realizing that in fact, the #vagina is within the female body and what is actually seen on the female is the vulva.
This is a very progressive step, I feel, and because this type of mindset is more often my crowd of people, I forget there are those out there who still degrade women and call their anatomy "meat vaginas" or "beef curtains." Just last year, I was sitting with a group of friends and the men at the table, each quite sober and all but one married, began their onslaught of misogynist comments on the perfect female body - no, not true; what they spoke about was what they felt were the most disgusting versions of the female genitalia.
While I lack any intimidation for confronting others, there are times where I prefer to observe and gain better perspective on just how broad and grossly ignorant these sorts of beliefs stem. Let me be clear though, for twenty-five-plus-years of my adult life, I attended women in childbirth. I met with them for their gynecologic exam, still do. I examine them when they fear they have a sexually transmitted disease. I sutured them after they brought forth life and suffered trauma in that experience. I have cared for women, even children, who were violated by men. I have held women as they cried, were broken, fearful, and hopeless. I have also taught classes on sexuality, and helped women learn their bodies for their own empowerment.
I have heard men ask for "the-husband-stitch," and their male obstetricians joke about it, assuring they would do him right and assure he makes his wife's vagina even better than before. I've witnessed women in fear of losing their pregnancy, step their feet into the stirrups for an exam, eager to hear news about their unborn child, only to be insulted by the practitioner who wasn't aware that sometimes the labia minora, the folds of skin within the vulva, can sometimes protrude beyond the outer labia folds or that some women have a real abundance of pubic hair down even their bum and thighs. I've witnessed the families or healthcare providers deny teenage girls epidurals in labor because "maybe this will teach them a lesson to keep their legs shut." The chronic strain from years of eye rolling should qualify me for disability, but if not the eyes, the impact of stress hormones from not being able to adequately protect these women will surely do it.
There's a good chance you've also heard the vulva and the vagina called slang names, maybe you didn't even know the real name of your own anatomy until... this post. You're more familiar, maybe, with "coochie," "yaya," "vajajay," "pussy," or your "privates" but probably not at all with "vagina" or "vulva."
These code names imply we have something to be shameful of, in spite of these aspects being some of the most beautifully, amazing parts of our being. They are the life portal! Worse, our most sensual and sensational areas of our bodies are degraded, so although this may cause you some discomfort, as anything I've ever shared more publically about sex does tend to hit some physician-owned-nurse-bashing website, I don't care; I won't ever be known for remaining silent.
Back to my conversation with the misogynists... if I remember correctly, the conversation started because one of the men made comment about the short-length of one of the teenager's shorts, even hollering at her that if she was his daughter, he would smack the shit out of her for wearing something so revealing. Not my child, so I remained silent, awaiting the response of her father who was present at the table, yet... he also remained silent. This was his best friend, the person much more positioned to hold his friend accountable than myself. I am rolling over the question to myself, "Why wasn't he just called out for sexualizing an unquestionably young girl?" She awkwardly giggles and walks away, not wanting to make the circumstance anymore uncomfortable. Society has already well-trained her.
Anyway, that launches a full discussion objectifying women from what this man's wife's friend's body looks like - hot - in spite of her old age of 40 to how disgusting it is that women don't completely shave their "hoo-haw." Who would want to have lunch there? "Hairy scary," they exclaim. Am I invisible? No, I must be too old to even be included in the women they are bashing so it's now acceptable to talk like this in front of me. I am now one of the guys, right? At 46 years, I am far too old to be sexual or maybe, because guys talk, maybe some of this commentary is directed at me, part of the bro-code; they're doing my guy a favor and letting me know the expectations so I can get myself up to par.
That slanderous narrative moved towards "meaty lips." One of the men commented on just how disgusting it was that some women have such large labias that when they wear g-string underwear, their lips hang over the sides making these men almost vomit in their mouths. They each pause, thinking on this imagine and then shake off their chills, revolted to their utter core.
These, well... I hesitate-to-say, men, progress to their distaste of "pepperoni breasts," which I then ask for further information having never heard the term. "Huge areolas," I am told. "Oh, like mine," I say, and the brazen man who answers me holds his expression but not his look down to my bosom, where no doubt, he has attached the label in his objectifying mind. To each their own, right? My boobs have always been one of my better assets, so much so for most of my life, I struggled to get a man to look up into my face. Now, I am told, not one aspect of my body is hitting the mark.
Anyone who has spent even five minutes on Tick Tock has well learned, if you didn't already know, that men, in any environment - church, Boy Scouts, or even school events - are talking about women, the women they love, in very derogatory ways to all their guy pals, including the male children. This term, "meaty vagina" or "the roast beef sandwich" implies that this type of labia is seen as lesser-than, in thanks, in part, to mainstream porn. Almost exclusively, women (and girls) are hairless and very often surgically altered to be a certain type - tight, lifted, or tucked - even toddler-like. For many, this is the only image of a vulva they know; therefore, it becomes their norm, the standard for which they judge. The mature, strong, powerful pussy, in its full glory, is now hideous.
In fact, this conversation with the three misogynists - ironically after their fearless leader admitted to not understanding the labia minora was not the same as the outer labia or that the clit was much larger beneath the surface of the vulva than just the button located under the external hood - included his own question, "Why don't women just get surgery if they have this inner labia that hangs out?" But... does the opinion of a man who can't find the clit really matter?
This unrealistic pornigraphic standard has shaped not only the expectations of penis owners but all gender's expectations of bodies. Men aren't fully to blame, as even women lack education and believe they are abnormal or broken when their own flower has larger petals. More than ten years ago, #labiaplasty was the fourth most popular plastic surgery in the United States but has anyone considered that it is this same tissue, specifically the clit, that ultimately would have comprised itself into the penis had we been born a male? (Might my dick be bigger than yours?)
As well, this "meaty vulva," has more surface area, more erogenous area but female pleasure has not really been the point of sexual relationships between cis-men and women for, well, ever, right? The reality is that this more abundant labia is quite normal. The British Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that of 657 women between ages of 15 and 84 years, that the average labia minora was 4.3 centimeters long, with some as long as 10 centimeters. The average labia majora was 8 centimeters, with some ranging towards 18 centimeters. Guess what? There's a huge variation in normal, just as there is in penises which come in all different shapes and sizes.
Why I have risked offending in this post? Because conversations like this, terms like this about women are very harmful. These types of comments will settle into the mind of a young girl, any woman honestly, and will forever cause her inner voice to judge herself harshly. No matter her confidence, these words will neurotically persist and undermine her #sexuality, and her relationship. When you slap the confidence out of a woman with reckless words, you, men, might pay the greatest sacrifice because you've lost a woman who in her confidence was free, even eager, to flirt, to explore and experiment, to please you. You've robbed your women of their free spirit, their desire for sex, and they believe it is their libido and request I evaluate their hormones, as if they are the broken one in yet another way.
When we use derogatory terms for the genitals, we are continuing to body- and sex-shame. I don't find it funny. Even if my sisters are quiet, they don't find it funny either. I don't see any environment in which this is acceptable. Men, it's time to call your friends out for this behavior. It's most definitely time to stop talking about your partners in ways which do not honor just how incredibly beautiful and powerful they are, in every single shape and size. I have birthed six children. My pepperoni breasts have breastfed not only my own children, but they have donated milk to a plethora of others, even ailing adults in need of my milk for health reasons via the Mayo Clinic. My body is strong. I have hiked mountains to care for indigenous people. I can do the crow in my ripe old age, even the splits, and I can dance a f--king awesome tango. Grateful doesn't even come close to describing how I feel about my body and its tiger stripes. My body reflects my life journey. It has offered me great pleasure and if that doesn't satisfy the misongist, tally ho, big fella (or small fella or whatever shape you may be, just take it away from me).
In whatever form, women's bodies were created for pleasure, but they also deserve safety and respect. It is in your masculinity that we are most free to be feminine. Do better men. This is your responsibility to fix. Women, let's stop making men feel comfortable for this behavior. It's okay if we make it awkward.