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What Do You Call Your Vagina?

Euphemisms help us talk about things that make us squirm, but they might signal an unhealthy relationship with our own bodies.

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What Do You Call Your Vagina?

Look around YouBeauty. It is Vagina Month! Chances are when you first see that, you smile. You might even want to look away for a second. 

There are lots of topics that make us uncomfortable. Sex. Bodily functions. People who act very differently than we do. The things in life that scare us.

MORE: The Psychology of Sexual Submission

When the time comes to talk about those things, we often don’t want to say them directly. So, we talk around them. We create all kinds of euphemisms to avoid directly saying things that raise our level of discomfort.

Several years ago, Oprah made headlines by referring to her vagina as a vajayjay (a term initially used on an episode of TV’s Grey’s Anatomy). Clearly, she felt uncomfortable talking specifically or seriously about her anatomy during her show.

Why do these euphemisms work? For one thing, some of them (like vajayjay) are humorous. When you are uncomfortable talking about something, it can be helpful to inject a little humor to defuse the tension.

QUIZ: Find Your Humor Style

For another, these euphemisms let you avoid confronting a topic directly. In the Harry Potter books, the characters all avoid saying the name of the dark wizard Voldemort, and instead refer to him as “He-who-must-not-be-named.” Avoiding the name allows these characters to avoid confronting their fear.

Some euphemisms are also good for making things sound less clinical. The terms “homosexual” and “lesbian” can sound dry and formal in their use. A term like “gay” (which has been in use for over 100 years) is much less formal and more approachable. Having a term that people are comfortable using has probably helped the cause of gay rights significantly over the years.

Not all the words we substitute for the real thing are necessarily positive. But meanings can change over time, reflecting a shifting power dynamic. In the gay community, for example, the term “queer” came back into general use. Even though this term was meant to be derogatory, it has come to be used as a badge of honor. The same might be said of women using the word “pussy” to refer to their own vaginas.

Which brings us back to where we started: vagina. Is that word hard for you to say or hear? And if so, is that a problem?

It depends.

If you aren’t comfortable saying the word in public, it’s probably a question of taste more than anything. If you have trouble saying “vagina” because you are uncomfortable with that aspect of your anatomy, then you ought to get used to saying it. Good health and healthy sexuality require people to be comfortable with their bodies. It is important to get to know your own body.

MORE: How to Talk to Your Doctor About Sex

When it comes to sex, a little mystery can go a long way. A formal, clinical-sounding word like vagina is a little strange to use if you’re trying to be sexy. So, when you are trying to get close to your partner, a euphemism may be just the thing you need… if you know what I mean.

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