Home General Issues Vagina vs Vulva: Does It Matter Which Word You Use?

Vagina vs Vulva: Does It Matter Which Word You Use?

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Image of Janelle Monae and 6 other black women wearing pink outfits
Snapshot from Janelle Monae's music video PYNK

I recently followed an Instagram page called the.vulva.gallery which is basically an art gallery of vulvas of all kinds. Shortly after this discovery, I fell into the habit of taking random shots of parts of my naked body and then taking time to appreciate them. In one of such moments I took a really dope shot of my vulva and while admiring it, I realized I was not exactly sure what the difference was between my vulva and my vagina. I did a quick google search and found some pretty amazing stuff. I was certain, however, that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know the difference between her vulva and vagina. I ran a twitter poll and discovered that there are quite a number of (cis) women who either also don’t know the difference or are only just vaguely aware.

So what is the difference really?

The vulva is the part of your genitals on the outside of your body consisting of your mons pubis (pubic mound), labia, clitoris, vaginal opening, and the opening to the urethra (the hole you pee out of). The vagina, on the other hand, is the elastic tube that connects your vulva with your cervix and uterus. It is the passage through which babies and menstrual blood leave your body. The vagina is also a key focal point for cis-heterosexual intercourse as it is the body part heterosexual men derive the most sexual pleasure from.

Frontal View of Vulva. Image Source: clevelandclinic.org

Why does it matter?

In terms of our own pleasure, this distinction between the vulva and vagina is very important because while heterosexual men get the most pleasure from the vagina, the case is not the same for cis women. Many women receive the most sexual pleasure from clitoral stimulation as opposed to vaginal stimulation. Only 25% of women consistently orgasm during vaginal intercourse (Elisabeth Lloyd, The Case of the Female Orgasm), while about 70% of women need direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm.

By using the word “vagina” when we really mean “vulva” in talking about sex and pleasure, we decenter ourselves and our pleasure and erase the parts of our genitalia that gives us the most pleasure. And this matters a lot because words can empower or disempower people. Using words that centre us and emphasize our own sexual pleasure – even in the absence of penetrative sex – enable us to take ownership of our bodies, our sexuality and our pleasure. We are better able to communicate our needs with our partners and/or sexual healthcare providers and have an overall healthy and more satisfying sex life.

Photo credit @the.vulva.gallery

So what do we say to the gods of female sexual pleasure?

Viva la vulva!



6 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve never thought of this before, but you are so correct. I do think there is a definite issue with cis women understanding their own anatomy. Personally, I was not interested AT ALL until my late 20s, despite being sexually active from 19. Thinking if it now, that just wierd.

    • Right? It’s really weird. My first sexual experiences were mostly nonconsensual so I wasn’t thinking about pleasure. I’m in my mid-twenties and I’m only now getting interested in my anatomy and figuring out what I like.

  2. Duuuuuuude. I learned something SO new today! It will be difficult to unlearn this language, but I’m committed to try. Because I’m all about power.

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