V is for Vagina

Author HypoChristi

A congenial, Southern, atheist, bisexual, vegetarian woman devoted to equality for all. Loves to amuse and be amused. | @hypochristi

“Teacher, my vagina hurts.”

These were the words I spoke to one of my preschool teachers when I came out of the bathroom one morning.  Alarmed, my teacher called my mother to come to the preschool. When my mom arrived, she was concerned because she hadn’t received much word on why she needed to get me early. The result of the conversation took an unexpected turn when my teacher didn’t tell my mom she was here because I wasn’t feeling well, but that I said “vagina.”

“You called me here for that?” my mom said bewilderingly, not understanding the big deal. The teacher told her that as a Catholic preschool, it was inappropriate to talk about those body parts.   I stood by innocently, not understanding what I did wrong. “How did she use the word?” my mom continued. Then my teacher finally admitted I’d said it because it hurt when I went to the bathroom.

Now my mom was  irritated. “Then so what? That’s what it is…what else would you have her call it?” she asked the teacher.  ”She used the proper term and wasn’t saying it for shock value.” My teacher had no response other than her continued insistence that I was too young to use that word (yes, she kept referring to “vagina” as “that word”) and should avoid talking about it entirely. She didn’t understand why it was necessary for me to use the proper word when I could avoid making her uncomfortable by using a juvenile phrase that meant the same thing.  Get real. This is not the message adults need to project onto children.

Instances like these make me grateful as a grown woman that my mom taught me the proper names for my body parts when I asked as a curious child. She never gave me any vibe that I should feel ashamed about my body. “Vagina” was said with just as much ease as “eyes” and “nose.” She let me know the names of all my parts early on in case someone tried to touch me inappropriately or I needed to describe where I was feeling sick. This was a lesson that clearly came in handy.  Teachers like the one I had in preschool projected the unhealthy religious idea that private parts are somehow filthy and taboo.  If my mom had been like my teacher and told me to never talk about my vagina, I might have become very sick trying to hide my pain as long as I could. Turns out the pain was the result of a UTI, very common in little girls. I’m glad I never saw my vagina as a “bad” part like many other young children.  They often used vulgar terms for penis and vagina just to shock adults. They’d sadly already learned that their private areas couldn’t be mentioned without reactions of disgust from authority figures. I’m sure many didn’t even know the real words for their genitals.

If you are a parent or will be in the future, please let your kids know that their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of. Teaching them that their penis or vagina is an icky area that shouldn’t be talked about reinforces a negative body image, one that could affect their health and mental well-being. Penises and vaginas are body parts like any other and kids shouldn’t feel embarrassed  talking about them. Even if I had gone around yelling “Vagina!” constantly as a kid, at least I sounded informed and not leaving people to wonder, “why did that kid’s mom teach her to call it a hoo-hoo?”

Even today, I can’t say vagina around my peers without some of them cringing or going “please don’t say that; it makes me uncomfortable.” Yes, let’s  say it! Having a vagina is nothing to apologize for and I refuse to accommodate anyone who can’t respond to the word maturely. It’s not my problem, but one of a religious society that discourages talk about anatomy it deems “inappropriate. ” I only hope next generation’s kids fare better – they deserve to.  Thanks to my mother reaching me first, vagina isn’t, and never will be, a “dirty word.”