The Language of Labia

According to my roommate, who is a medical doctor, if you look back through medical textbooks you’ll find a strange loss of knowledge around female anatomy as if parts of women’s bodies have just recently been discovered. Shannon Ashley sheds some light on the lady bits that seem so elusive even in these modern times.

Knowing so little about sex myself, I knew just as little about my own body. Vagina, clitoris, labia, hymen–these were all supposedly parts of me. Yet I had no ownership of any of them. They were mine but not mine. Parts that belonged to God, the church, and my future husband. Not me.

We call anything and everything “down there” the vagina, we talk about losing our virginity and tearing our hymens as if we’ve got built-in virginity detectors, and we consistently send out bad information about the female orgasm.

Vulva comes from a Latin word for “womb” or “wrapper.” It’s possibly the least offensive term historically–along with labia, which means lips

[Vagina] comes from the Latin term for “sheath, scabbard, covering; sheath of an ear of grain, hull, husk.” Oh, so sheath as in, sword covering… and sword as in penis? It makes a lot of sense when you consider how penis-centric the conversation on sexuality has generally been. It isn’t uncommon for researchers to approach sex solely from the heterosexual male perspective.

Clitoris The word that was too racy to say on Seinfeld can be traced to the Greek words kleitorís and kleíein, or ‘to shut away.’ Some etymologists say it’s also related to the Greek word kleis, or a key to a doorway. Others refer to “a little hill.” Often when we talk about sex and the female orgasm, we speak as if the clitoris is so damn mysterious and difficult to find. As any woman can tell you, finding the clit is not that hard. We’re simply told that it is.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Discovery of the Grafenberg spot [G-Spot] was claimed by Ernest Grafenberg first in 1950. He described it as a part of the vagina that upon proper simulation would produce intense orgasms. Once again, it had to be named after the man, right? Well, that’s how we got the fallopian tubes, the bartholin glands, and skene’s glands.

The way we word things matters. The way we talk about our bodies says a lot about how our culture treats them as well. Throughout history, women have frequently been seen as purposed only for giving birth and offering sexual pleasure to men.

People will argue this and claim that sexual repression is a thing of the past, and I wish that were true.





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