I vaguely remember sex education class in middle and high school. I recall filling out diagrams of male and female reproductive organs. We labeled the vas deferens, scrotum, epididymis, testicles and penis for males. On females, we labeled the vaginal canal, cervix, uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
But I do not remember much more than that.
I can understand why. On male bodies, it’s easy to find the penis and scrotum. By the time they have sex-ed in at twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years old, male students are already well acquainted with what the penis is, but I do not think the same rule applies to female students.
Even though I passed sex-ed with an “A”, I still had no idea what my own body looked like. I was never even told to fill out a diagram of external female genitals. Instead, I ambiguously labeled everything between my legs as my “vagina” and left it at that.
At 13, if I had been asked to label my clitoris, urethral opening, labium majus, labium minus and vaginal opening, I could not have done so.
In fact, I probably could not have labeled anything until I started college and I would not be surprised if students graduate college still oblivious about their own anatomy.
So when we leave room for this much mystery to surround the female body, is it truly surprising that people feel uncomfortable discussing female anatomy?
Should we be surprised when people use cutesy pet names like “peach,” “girly bits” and “lady garden” to describe the vulva?
Is it far-fetched to believe that women are embarrassed to openly carry tampons and pads to the bathroom during menstruation, or even that women are too embarrassed to say the words “tampon” and “pad”?
Is it shocking that a female student cannot say “vagina” in class without dissolving into a fit of giggles, or that female politicians have been banned for saying “vagina” in political debates about abortion bills?
We should not be surprised that young women shy away from masturbation, or that a significant portion of women report never experiencing an orgasm.
How can we claim astonishment when men are repulsed by the female body when women are uncomfortable with it as well?
As a culture, we must work to remove the stigma surrounding female reproductive organs and we can start by taking the time to educate ourselves and learn about our own bodies. Women should not only learn the names of their body parts, but they should also know what their bodies look like. Although it seems like something out of a Judy Bloom novel, young women could benefit from putting a mirror between their knees and finally looking at their own bodies.
College is a time when students experiment with and learn about sex and sexuality, but how can a person expect to experience sexual pleasure without knowing what their bodies even look like? Shouldn’t we consider it strange that, for many women, they know less about what their vagina looks like than their partner does?
There is no reason for a woman to be disgusted or embarrassed by her own body, and we cannot claim to love ourselves until we love every part of it. “Vagina” is not a dirty word, and the vagina is not a dirty body part. As a young, sex-positive generation, we have the power to remove the stigma that surrounds female reproductive organs, but before we can change the culture, we must change our own mindset.