29/07/2012 14:16 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Why Are We So Reluctant To Use The Word 'Vagina'?

Why are we so reluctant to use the word 'vagina' with children? Rex

Lately, we've been having a lot of trouble with the word 'vagina'.

First, a US politician was banned from a debate after saying the 'v-word' during a discussion about abortion regulation.

Then Femfresh, which manufactures a range of 'feminine hygiene' products, suffered a social media backlash after launching a new ad campaign featuring a range of silly euphemisms including 'hoo haa', 'twinkle' and 'fancy'.


Which just goes to show that, for many of us, the word 'vagina' has become, if not a dirty word, then a downright embarrassing one.


And this creates a very particular set of problems when we have children and have to decide what to call the female 'private parts'.

Of course, some of us take a common-sense approach and go with 'penis' and 'vagina' right from the start. But most of us don't.

After all, many women never use the words 'vagina' or 'vulva' unless they're talking to their doctor - and even then some are guaranteed to cop out and refer to 'down there' instead.

The reason why so many of us struggle is surely because there's no widely-used, non-sexual word for female genitalia - at least one of them is considered to be the most offensive word in the English language and several others just sound a bit too explicit.

In this respect, boys have it easy. 'Willy' is a friendly and non-threatening kind of name that doesn't sound overly medical, unduly ridiculous or inappropriately raunchy.

But there's no general consensus when it comes to 'lady parts', and a quick Facebook and Twitter poll turned up an array of nicknames including 'minnie', 'foo-foo', 'bum-bum' (confusing?) and 'tuppence'.

Some admitted that their euphemism of choice caused problems further down the line: 'La-La' leads to all kinds of confusion among Teletubbies fans, 'Kitty' is problematic for cat owners, while the woman who calls her's 'Sandwich' surely finds lunchtime at Pret a positively x-rated experience.

Jokes aside, there's an argument that our reluctance to call a vagina a vagina teaches girls to feel ashamed and self-conscious about their bodies.

This, in turn, encourages little girls to grow up into women who endure painful Hollywood waxes, vajazzles and cosmetic procedures just to make their 'downstairs' look prettier.


So are we doing our daughter's a disservice if we don't use the correct terminology?


"There is a great deal of anxiety among parents of girls about knowing what word to use, particularly as many of the options seem to be either too crude or too clinical," says sex educator and psychologist Dr Petra Boynton.

"It's very revealing that we pride ourselves on teaching our children the correct words for every other part of the body, but then we get nervous about using the proper names for the genitals.

"But there's really no need to worry. It's only a problem if you can't face choosing a word at all, and just refer to 'down below' or 'private parts', as this teaches your child that the vagina is a shameful area that they should be embarrassed about.

"It's best to choose a word that you and your child are both comfortable with, and be as matter-of-fact about it as possible.

"Most children are able to understand that there's a grown-up word, like 'vagina', and an everyday word - which can be whatever you like.

"You'll probably find that, as they get older, they'll choose their own word that's comfortable for them - although some of us continue to use the words that our parents taught us when we were growing up for the rest of our lives."

So it doesn't matter if you call it a 'minky', a 'moo moo' or a 'trixie' - as long as you can say it without embarrassment, you'll be teaching your daughter to feel comfortable in her body.


Although, that begs the question, is it more embarrassing to have a vagina or a pom-pom?