Why Can’t We Just Say The Word “Vagina?”

It's hard to argue with the fact that vaginas get the short end of the stick in our culture. There's just something about the female anatomy that continues to inspire childish, disrespectful reactions among both men and women. And, today brings proof that even in 2014, we are still a bunch of immature, sexist little brats. In his coverage of last week's "college bro trapped in funny sculpture" incident, award-winning journalist and grown-ass man Anderson Cooper could barely bring himself to say the word "vagina" on camera. Watch above. Cute? Arguably. Problematic? I don't even know where to start.
It's now commonly known, of course, that Cooper is gay. That's important to remember in this context because it plays into the old joke that all gay guys have never seen/never want to see/are deathly allergic to female genitals. In one particularly memorable display of sexist ignorance, Dan Savage, beloved "sex-positive" media personality, once said that vaginas reminded him of "a canned ham dropped from a great height."
But, the thing is, it's not a particularly funny joke anymore. When I first started working here at R29 Wellness, I'll admit that, as a gay man myself, my knowledge of (and firsthand experience with) vaginas was limited to my repeated viewings of Sex and the City. And, I've definitely been known to make my own, "Ew, vaginas!" references in my time.
But, the more I researched and learned, and the more time I spent thinking about how our culture approaches women's health, the more I realized that there is no logical, non-sexist reason why any of us — men or women, gay or straight — can't talk about vaginas without giggling or employing cutesy euphemisms. It might not seem like a big deal to make a little joke here and there, or to be squeamish about a word that society has taught us to associate with discomfort. But, if we can't even say those six letters, how can we argue that women shouldn't feel shame about their bodies?
You don't have to look too far to see how our collective avoidance of frank conversations about female anatomy can create a destructive kind of ignorance. In the second season of Orange is the New Black, Sophia (played by Laverne Cox) holds an impromptu anatomy class for her fellow inmates, who, much to her surprise, know very little about how their own bodies work. If viewers were surprised at that, they obviously didn't see last month's viral video of adult women looking at their vaginas in the mirror for the first time.
Of course, in 2014, it's hard to believe that we could be anything but mature and open about women, their bodies, and their health. But, Cooper and others beg the question: How can we encourage people to cultivate a positive, informed, healthy relationship with something we can barely say out loud?

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