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Do You Know Female Anatomy? (Be Honest.)

Female Anatomy

A few weekends ago, my doctor friend came over with her toddler daughter for a playdate. At one point, while getting changed out of paint-splattered clothes, the little girl pointed to her diaper and used the v-word: vulva. Say what? Later, as we were going to bed, Alex admitted to me: “So, I don’t know 100% what the vulva is.” And I was like, Dude, I don’t know! And I’m a woman! And I’m 38! If someone asked me to draw ovaries and things, I would definitely get some things wrong. In case you’re not sure, either, here’s how it all works…

Female Anatomy

For this post, we’re imagining that everything works as planned. Of course, all bodies are different, so if yours varies from the models we’re working with, know we celebrate its beauty, too!

Vagina — A lot of us use “vagina” to talk about everything we have going on downtown, but, specifically, it’s the muscular tube that connects your cervix to the exterior of your body. It’s usually about three inches long and less than an inch wide, but it stretches A LOT during sex and childbirth (its inner surface is actually pleated, which makes it more elastic, and able to produce friction during sex).

Womb (or uterus) — This hollow muscular organ is the cozy spot where a baby grows, of course. During pregnancy, it can stretch from the size of a pear to the size of a watermelon. It’s also incredibly strong and can contract with enough force to push a baby out of a women’s body.

Ovaries — Women have two ovaries, whose job it is to grow and release the one to two million eggs you’re born with. (They also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.) Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. So tiny, so important!

Fallopian tubes — After your ovary releases an egg, it moves through one of the two thin fallopian tubes they’re attached to. To get pregnant, an egg must meet sperm by the time it’s done traveling through the tube (before it gets to the uterus). When sperm enters the vagina, it swims through the cervix and uterus and into one of the fallopian tubes. The journey takes anywhere from 45 minutes to 12 hours.

Cervix — This cylindrical piece of tissue (from the Latin word for “neck”) connects the vagina to the uterus. When a pregnant woman’s due date is near, her cervix will “ripen,” which means it softens, stretches and thins to make room for a baby. It goes from being closed to 10 centimeters dilated so that the baby’s head can pass through.

Female Anatomy

Mons pubis — Literally, your “pubic mound.” It’s the area (actually a little collection of fat) that’s covered by the front of your underwear (and pubic hair) just above your pubic bone.

Vulva — This is the collective name for all the parts of a woman’s genitals you can see on the outside of the body. (Remember this Seinfeld moment?)

Clitoris — The star of the show, in many ways, when it comes to sex. The part you can see is a small, button-shaped nub at the top of your vagina, and it’s the only part of your body whose sole reason for being is pleasure. A woman’s clitoris has the most nerve endings of every part of her body (about 8,000 in total, and twice as much as a penis has).

Urethra — The tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. The only part of it you can see yourself is the little hole you pee out of.

Labia minora — Also known as the inner labia, inner lips, vaginal lips or even nymphae (!), these are the two small flaps of skin on either side of your vaginal opening. They protect everything, like little garage doors.

Labia majora — These are the two larger outer folds, outside the labia minora.

Perineum — This is the area of delicate skin between the vagina and the anus. It’s an erogenous zone for many women (and men).

Anus — You probably have this one down.

Okay, there you go! Now we can all go on with our days. :) How much did you already know?

P.S. Scheduling sex, and talking to kids about sex.

(Illustrations by Gemma Correll for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Hilarious and educational. This is why I look forward to reading your blog!

  2. Marie says...

    This was great, especially this “Anus — You probably have this one down.” — Laughing out loud.

  3. Becka says...

    I love this! You guys are wonderful. Way to strike a playful but informative tone with this post. A great PSA. :)

  4. Tracy says...

    Haha, thank you for referencing the Seinfeld moment. I think my husband might be getting pretty tired of me exclaiming, “Dolores!!!” every time we watch Westworld. :)

    Also, can we please return to having honest and thorough sex education in school? It’s woefully common to not know how the human body works – especially when it comes to reproduction. I noticed that even Matt & Doree commented on this relative to their IVF adventure. Beyond individual health risks, the impact on healthcare access / women’s rights / sexual assault legislation, etc. is quite terrifying. Many thanks to the mom who taught her daughter about her vulva.

  5. Sasha says...

    I’m joining so late but have to add some more applause, awesome post.

    Last week my 18 yo was visiting and we were just sitting on the couch, watching shows, petting the dogs, playing on instagram, and talking about sex drives in women (hers, mine) and what effects them, etc. As you do. I only realized later that my dh, HER DAD!!, was sitting right there too, not chiming in, but hearing it all. And none of us even realized….But how extraordinary, right? We managed to grow a household that is open and unashamed about sex :) And it was 100% on purpose, because we want our children to truly own and enjoy their bodies. And to keep trusting us with hard stuff.

  6. Elizabeth Spence says...

    Hi Joanna, you should check out the Gimlet Podcast ‘Science Vs’. There is a very informative episode about the G spot

  7. Thanks for talking about this importaint topic…I just LOVE this post, however referring to the Labia Minor as “small Flaps of skin” can make women with larger labia feel self-conscious or anatomically flawed! Labiaplasty is (unfortunatly) common due to the ideology of ones inner lips needing to be “small”. #labialove

  8. Finn says...

    Wonderful post! Although I’ve understood my reproductive parts for a long time, it was only in the last few years that I fully came to understand my menstrual cycle. This was in large part thanks to the period tracker app Clue. It explains every stage of your cycle so well and in such a visual way, it really was eye opening! My period has not caught me off guard since I started using it (even though it’s highly irregular – I don’t know how it always knows!) and I have a much fuller understanding of everything. I would absolutely recommend it for everyone who gets a period.

    • Maria says...

      So interesting to read this comment. Clue is an amazing app which helped me understand my menstrual cycle. It helped so much, that by tracking my period and learning about my body signs for the fertile window, I was able to get pregnant. :)

  9. I still remember when my ex-boyfriend, a Stanford student and probably one of the smartest guys I know, was like what!? Girls have “three holes”!?!

  10. Jenny says...

    I read every single comment and loved them all. I work at Planned Parenthood and in the fall I’m going back to medical school (at 28…eek!) because I want to be an Ob/GYN. I know this is some ’70’s advice, but pull out a hand mirror and try looking at your own genitals so you know what is normal for you and get comfortable with what your own body looks like.

  11. Eliza says...

    Not sure whether anyone else has posted this yet, but the book It’s Not the Stork by Robie Harris is so great for teaching proper anatomy (and openly discussing sex, bodies, and families at an age-appropriate level) to young kids. My kids love it and have looked at it/read through it hundreds of times over the years. There are versions for older kids too (It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal) but this one is perfect for little ones.

    It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends (The Family Library) https://www.amazon.com/dp/0763633313/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_J.dXyb5PWW2JT

  12. Maelle says...

    I’m late to the party but still wanted to comment because, GREAT POST ! I did know all of this, mostly because as a teacher i had to teach sex education – is that the right term? I am French so my english is not perfect – to my 5th graders last year and i did some research beforehand to make sure i had everything right ;) . I gained several things from it:
    1) I taught them the names for all the body parts; we talked about the penis, vagina and clitoris and they had a lot of questions. I remember telling them that they were allowed to laugh once when hearing these words for the first time because these are not words that we use daily, but only once, because it was scientific terms and that we will be using them a lot during our lessons. To be honest, i didn’t expect it to work: i expected a lot of giggles and embarassement, but they were actually very receptive. My point is : i think it’s ok for kids to not be feeling completely comfortable the first time they hear or talk about it, but as long as we tell them that these are the right terms, scientific terms, their embarassement stops pretty quickly and they are open to the discussion and pretty curious about how it all works.
    2) I think it’s really important for both boys and girls to kow how the bodies of others work. Meaning, i feel it’s important for boys to know how female bodies work and for girls how male bodies work. Most boys had heard about menstruations before we started our lessons, and their initial reactions were that it was gross and not natural. After, they completely understood that it was just part of the reproductive cycle. I know some teachers separate boys and girls when doing these lessons so that they would feel more at ease discussing their bodies, but i did not and found that it was much more educational. It’s easier to respect something you understand.
    3) We also discussed other subjects that i felt were important, like reproductive rights, abortion, heterosexuality and homosexuality, transgender persons and consent. Again, they had lots of questions. I felt really lucky that they trusted me enough to ask all of these questions, and if feel it is as important to name body parts properly as discussing all these subjects related to gender and sexuality with kids – depending on their age, obviously.

    • Allegra says...

      Maelle, this sounds fantastic and you sound like an amazing teacher. Your students are very lucky to have you.

  13. Let me start by saying…your diagram is very welcoming–hahaha! I did learn a few things…

  14. patricia says...

    The diagrams used for the female parts in no way resemble what women look like from the outside. When they were teaching the topic at my kids’ middle school, they previewed the lesson for the parents. I busted out laughing and said “no wonder most guys have no idea what they’re doing down there!”

  15. lea says...

    my best sexual education came when i read emily nagoski’s book “come as you are”. i learned more from that book than i learned from my mother and my friends and the internet and all sex ed classes combined!

    • Loribeth says...

      This book has been so helpful for me! I had zero sex education as a child (conservative family) and grew up with a lot of misconceptions about my own body that I couldn’t even solve after taking many biology and anatomy classes in high school and college. I understood my anatomy before this book but definitely not the psychology of how I interact with my body!

  16. ST says...

    Long time follower of your blog but very infrequent commenter. Thanks so much for publishing this. So important to spread this information and talk about it openly and honestly.

  17. Abesha1 says...

    Why did you shy away from anus? I mean, really! If you want to educate people, do. I think you should fix that, and explain it just like you did with urethra.

    Great post…. especially since women’s reproductive rights are going to be under serious attack over the next few years.

    • CR says...

      ha!

  18. Love this post! I get really icky feeling about my privates, mostly because I hate going to the OB/GYN, but I realize it’s good to know how things work down there.

    http://www.shessobright.com

  19. I love this post! I love the illustrations! I am so thrilled and proud you took this on! Woo-hoo for women!

  20. Natalia says...

    The “Womb” is called uterus :)

  21. michelle says...

    Any suggestions on how/when to introduce more detailed anatomical instruction? Though we taught “vulva” and “penis,” I can’t imagine my young children tossing around “clitoris”!!! I’d love to know how others have handled it! Thanks again for the thought-provoking post, Joanna!

    • Katy says...

      Check out the book “It’s Not the Stork.” It covers EVERYTHING in an age-appropriate way for, I’d say 4ish and up, depending on level of interest.. My kids love it. It goes over good touches/bad touches, relationships, body parts from infant to senior citizen, where babies come from, etc. so you can cherry pick what you need. And there are cartoon pictures that are approachable for kids.

    • Rachel Pinto says...

      We’ve used all the proper words with our daughter from the day she was born. It’s only the adult connotations (and shaming around women’s bodies and sexuality) that make people uncomfortable and of course kids don’t have these hangups. It’s just anatomy! In addition to normalizing the female body, there is evidence that when girls can name the parts of their bodies they are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse.

  22. michelle says...

    I love this post! We read when our daughter was around one year of age that you should teach them the proper names for anatomy, so we changed gears from “pee-pee” to “vulva” straight away. Our daughter and our son (now 8 and 4.5) both use “vulva” and “penis” (testes, breasts, etc). Most are shocked when they hear those words coming out of their mouths…especially the grandparents. ; )

    One of my favourite stories from when my son was ~ 2.5-years-old was when we went to a bakery to get a treat. I read all the options aloud to him. I’ve always encouraged our kids to order for themselves, so he did: unfortunately, he asked the woman behind the counter for a “red vulva” cookie!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      you and your children sound so wonderful!!! :)

  23. Cat says...

    Love this! Its so important for women to know their anatomy! I recently read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”, which is not only an extremely helpful tool in helping to prepare women for getting/preventing pregnancy, but also in explaining what actually happens during your cycle each month. I can’t tell you how liberating it was to actually know what my body was doing before, during and after a period. It’s a shame that when you learn about puberty we are not taught this important information. I truly believe that if more women understood their own cycles, there would be less infertility and unplanned pregnancy.

    • 36 and (previously) clueless says...

      I just read the same book, Cat, and I totally agree. Count this as another recommendation, for the same reasons. I wish my mom/school/someone would have gone through it with me. If I ever have a daughter, I will.

    • Maria says...

      I love that book and learned so much. Our bodies are amazing and give so many clues about our health and fertility. I cannot understand why this is not basic knowledge, it should be for everyone!

  24. claire says...

    love this!

  25. Jbhat says...

    When my daughter, now 7, was a bit younger, she once came to me saying, “Mama, my vulva is screaming!” Turns out that she hadn’t been wiping very thoroughly after peeing, and when I helped her check it out, her vulva was indeed pink and uncomfortable looking (but nothing a little A & D ointment couldn’t help with). Now she knows to wipe well and carefully, to avoid a case of the screaming vulva.

    • Mae says...

      That is awesome! I’m dying….because I too have felt a screaming vulva! lol!

  26. Heather says...

    I wonder why “vagina” rose to prominence rather than “vulva”. I suspect that it arose from traditional (hetero-normative, cis-normative) sex ed that focuses on a penis going into a vagina to make a baby, thus the vagina becomes the corollary to the penis. It’s kind of a phallocentric perspective on female genitalia, come to think of it.

    I know that vulva is the correct term, but I still use “vagina” when talking to other adults because it feels…pedantic, I guess, to use the correct but infrequently-used term.

    Also, as a health communicator, we’re taught to use plain language, which usually means using the terms that people know and are comfortable with. (At the same time, you don’t want to spread misinformation, so it’s a delicate balance.)

    • This is so interesting! I did’t know ANY terms growing up. I learned most everything in a Women’s Health course in college (also where I learned about the wonderful copper IUD- No hormones!), but I still don’t remember them using the term vulva and I went to a women’s college!

    • Emily says...

      I was just having a similar conversation with my husband about this. I feel like we should rename the vulva & vagina according to colloquial use. And why we are at it, can we rename clown fish to Nemo Fish? It would make explaining things to my young sons much easier! ;)

  27. Nicky says...

    Thank you for this post! I read in the comments about possibly having a guest talk about reproductive health/women’s health. If you do end up doing a series, please ask them about freezing eggs! :)

    • Katie says...

      Yes, please. At 38, I’m thinking about this, but I’m also a single teacher & worried about costs. I’d love to hear insights/experiences for single women with adoption and/or becoming a foster parent, too!

  28. Maura says...

    There’s so much that’s awesome about this post — yay for talking frankly and freely about bodies! — and it looks like it’s inspired some great conversation. That said, there’s some room for improvement.

    1. Gender isn’t sex traits! That means that women don’t have a monopoly on these parts — there are plenty of folx with different gender identities whose bodies house these parts, too — and that not all women possess these sex traits. Remove the few references to “women” in the post, and voila! A more inclusive piece emerges.

    2. And then there’s the caption under the first illustration: “For this post, we’re imagining that everything works as planned. Of course, everyone’s body is different, and sometimes certain body parts go rogue.” The implication here is that bodies that deviate from certain prescribed norms are somehow not working, or are even dangerous (as “going rogue” so often implies). It’s clear the goal of this post is empowerment, so adjusting the caption to say something like “For this post, we’re celebrating vaginas and vulva. Of course, all bodies are different, so if yours varies from the models we’re working with, know we celebrate its beauty, too!”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much, maura! these are really smart points and i really appreciate reading and learning from thoughtful comments like yours. thank you so much for taking the time.

    • Victoria says...

      These are really great comments, Maura, and I want to thank you for writing them. I’m a cis-woman, but the phrase “we’re imagining that everything works as planned” made my skin crawl a bit. I think you’re right to very gently point out that there’s an implication that bodies that deviate from the “norm” are somehow not working when the reality is that biology is infinitely more complex and diverse than that statement implies. Bodies work in innumerable ways, and the emphasis on things not going as “planned” can make people feel that they have defective parts or bodies.

    • Connie says...

      Joanna,
      You changed this post to reflect these comments?! I’ve followed for so long and have always liked you, but today with a few tears in my eyes, I dare say I love you. I felt my heart open reading Maura’s thoughtful comment and kind of expected it to close back up and I’d just keep going on with my day, but when I scrolled up and saw those words re-written, I just feel like my heart can stay open a little longer now. Hope that makes sense. Browsing the internet can feel like a roller coaster ride of emotions, but I’m continually touched by this community and feel safe coming here. xoxo

  29. Kellie P. says...

    Did anyone else grow up just referring to the entire region as the “crotch”? I have been using crotch with my two little girls, but from this day forward, VULVA it is!

  30. bisbee says...

    I’m reading through the comments – EXCELLENT additional information is being provided! Re: colposcopy – I had a positive pap smear right before I got married when I was 22 – at that time I had a colposcopy and the affected areas were removed and biopsied. I got married and had my first child, then had another positive pap. After that, I had a conization of the cervix – the affected part of the cervix was removed, all edges were clear. It’s now usually done with laser – not in 1977! I had a second child – I was warned I might have issues, but didn’t. Went on to have pap smears every 3 months for YEARS – and I’ve never had a problem since. Just wanted to let the younger women dealing with this that it can end before progressing to something worse – all the more reason to keep up with your pap smears!

  31. Emily says...

    Shamefully I learned quite a lot from this post, so thank you! Hah!

    32 year old woman over here that can name more types of coffee drinks than my own body parts :)

  32. Emma says...

    My roommate and I were talking about our vaginas recently and she told me that her current girlfriend has an “outie” vagina! Perplexed, I asked what she meant, and she explained that the labia minora can either be tucked within the labia majora, or extend past it! This had never occurred to me, but we looked a bunch of photos and it’s so true! She has an “innie” and I have an “outie” and we talked about how it affects sex, the comfort of certain types of underwear, etc.! SO funny.

    • Alicia says...

      Growing up, I wish I knew more about the variation in appearance of female genitalia. I also have an “outtie” and when it first developed during puberty I thought there was something wrong with me. I even showed my mom and she didn’t reassure me, she just brought me to MY MALE PEDIATRICIAN who I had been seeing since I was a baby to have him tell me if I was normal. I resisted going but my mom forced me to and after an awkward encounter of him just shrugging it off and saying I’m fine, I have had severe insecurities about how I look ever since. I have felt like I had this secret my whole life and one day I had the courage to ask the gynecologist if I was normal down there and she said that a lot of people look like that and it is completely normal. To be honest I am still insecure, though I do know it is normal now.

    • Liz says...

      WHAT. I didn’t know about this either, and when I google it, it pisses me off that there is mostly pictures of cold cut sandwiches to depict this, like it’s too embarrassing FOR EVEN THE INTERNET to show real vaginas that aren’t sexualized or mocked.

    • Emma says...

      I know! I find the idea of a literal ‘piece of meat’ so icky and offensive. UGH.

    • Emma says...

      Alicia – I’m so sorry to hear that! I definitely have always felt insecure about my “lips” as well. I have just gotten to a point where I don’t have the energy to worry about my weight, my skin, my hair AND my vaginal lips. And so far no one with has had the good fortune to be between my legs has complained – so what the heck! :)

    • Kerri says...

      “the good fortune to be between my legs” <—That is a fantastic way to think about it. Borrowing!

  33. Sharon in Scotland says...

    On “my dad wrote a porno” the writer of said porno continually refers the heroine being “grabbed by her cervix”. After the umpteeth time Alice, one of the podcasters stops the show in it’s tracks and gives a very funny and informative talk on the anatomy of a women and how being “grabbed by the cervix” is not erotic and not physically possible………………..listen, it’s a joy!

    • Deb says...

      Yes, if there’s anyone who hasn’t listened to this, you simply must. Tears rolling down cheeks funny. NSFW. Even with headphones because your colleagues will want to know why you are snorting/crying with laughter and then you’ll have to tell them that you’re listening to a podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno and that’s it’s really funny and not at all sexy so it’s not awkward that you’re listening to it at work but it will still feel awkward because it’s called My Dad Wrote a Porno. I’m hoping for a season 3!

  34. Sarah says...

    OB/GYN nurse practitioner here… awesome post! And no shame, ladies; most of my patients (even those in their 50s, 60s plus) know very little about their anatomy, much less specific terminology. For anyone caring to know or understand more of their vulvovaginal health, (or if you’re a nerd like me!), check out “The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health” by Elizabeth Stewart, MD, (here’s a link: http://a.co/82j7fBH) a terrific vulvovaginal specialist, covering everything from painful sex to hygiene to prevention and care of infections. And Joanna and company, I’m more than happy to write a guest post or answer questions- embarrassing topics are my specialty!
    TGIF to all,
    Sarah

    • Very cool!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you!!!!

  35. Tammy says...

    This is actually an awesome post! It’s so important for women to know about their body in order to be fully educated about it. I definitely learned a lot! haha…thanks for sharing :)

  36. Tara Ilsley Murillo says...

    YESS. I work in women’s health and I’m a doula and this is all the shit they didn’t teach in 7th grade. So important.

    Thanks:-)

  37. Erica says...

    This post makes me so happy!

    I’m an ob-gyn resident, a new mom, and teach sex ed to middle school girls and am always surprised with the misconceptions out there about women’s anatomy and reproductive health. The one I explain a lot is that girls/women do not pee out of their vaginas. You pee out of another opening/tube called the urethra (see awesome drawing above). It’s a mind-blowing concept to many women and basically all men. This is an important concept when talking about UTIs and birth, among other things.

    I love the comments about women above understanding that their fallopian tubes were not committed to a single ovary side – removing a tube doesn’t really change fertility rates! I am so pleased that their doctors explained this well and gave them hope for new pregnancies!

    I love your blog and have been an avid reader for many years, and have noted the missing reproductive health information in a space so wonderfully dedicated to women.

    I would love to help with a series of posts about some of the misconceptions about women’s bodies and reproduction: ectopic pregnancies, UTIs, birth control, IVF, etc and have some ideas about this. Please contact me if that sounds fun/interesting!

    • So you’re a resident, a new mom, and teach sex ed…. Um, when do you sleep??? Kudos!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much, erica! i’ll email you!! xoxo

    • Madeleine says...

      I vote yes! Knowledge is power.

    • COOL!

    • wow – you are so impressive! Love all that you’re doing for women. This might be helpful for you when it comes to your own kids:
      http://www.birds-bees.com

      xo

  38. What an excellent, practical post!!! I thought I was being frank and factual with my daughters but yeah, we’ve definitely been using vagina when vulva is the word we need. Thank you for that.

    • jessica says...

      Us too! I knew it wasn’t exactly right, but I think in day care, they’re using “pee pee”, which in my mind is less right. Bring on vulva!

  39. Awesome! I’m always so surprised by how little my friends know about their lady bits and the nitty gritties of fertility. Let’s tear through the veil of embarrassment/sheepishness/ignorance together!

  40. Alice says...

    Yay for vulvas indeed! One of my favourite ever posts on COJ!
    Can we have illustrations for boys too please? Great for teaching kids about anatomy in a fun-looking way.

  41. Claire says...

    Imagine if male genitals were treated like female genitals? Like testicles weren’t even referred to as testicles and some men didn’t even know what they were actually called and the general area was just called “penis”.
    Imagine if boys were told that their prostate doesn’t exist. Imagine if hairy genitals on men were called “bearded snakes.” And they don’t know how many different holes they have until adulthood. Imagine.

  42. Nathalie says...

    What a timely post! I was looking for something exactly like this to show to my pre-pubescent daughter – thank you! It’s hard to initiate conversation with her (“Mom, I already know everything, this is, like, so embarrassing”) so I’ve found it works better to leave books and pamphlets lying around. She’ll read them and come to me with questions a few days later.

  43. Andrea says...

    Great post Joanna! But, the ovary is not attached to the fallopian tube! It is only attached to the uterus with the ovarian ligament :) before ovulation, the fimbriae (fringe of tissue around the end of the fallopian tube) becomes inflammed due to our hormones, and get close to the ovary. Once the egg is released, the fimbriae sweep the egg into the fallopian tube! (med student :P)

    • Ali says...

      This is so fascinating, i had no idea!

  44. All crystal clear. Now perhaps people will stop saying vagina when they mean vulva. It drives me crazy. You’d never know google was a thing.

  45. Gemma says...

    Fun fact: Did you know the vulva are actually what would have been the scrotum if you had been born a boy? i.e. vulva turn into scrotum when exposed to testosterone in uteru!

  46. Idk anything abour american education and how this system work, but in Poland we’ve been taught about anatomy and mentioned organs in primary school (when we were 10-11 yo). Greetings!

  47. MissEm says...

    I actually did know all of that! Feeling thankful for 5th grade sex ed (and my relaxed, frank teacher who offered everyone an M+M every time someone asked a question, so you could feel like a candy-distributing hero and no one had to know if it was a real question or a “get candy” question – brilliant).

  48. Katie says...

    guess we have to start saying vulva to our girls now! along with recommending reading “taking charge of your fertility” for lots of fun facts about women’s health (not just for people who are trying to have babies! i read it when i was avoiding having a baby!).

    also, i’ve showed a ton of people this documentary and it’s so interesting. It’s called the Great Sperm Race from BBC and it’s hilarious and gives a lot of good info. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAnMymnJiLM

  49. cm says...

    i’m proud to say i know all my parts! i learned them in school in canada and by reading everything i could get my hands on as a very sex-curious kid.
    currently i’m dealing with endometriosis, which means that my right ovary is not a cute little almond, but an angry grapefruit. not cool. also not cool – the lack of information and knowledge around women’s reproductive health.
    a few years ago i read the book ‘taking charge of your fertility’ and was shocked to find how much i didn’t know about my menstrual cycle and all the information your body gives you every day. it’s very empowering knowledge and i wish i had known it earlier. it should be required reading!
    all that being said, i still tend to refer to my vulva as my vagina.
    gotta work on that!

  50. Brittany says...

    As a Midwife, I am so so passionate about this and want all of us to better understand our amazing anatomy–even though it does get so confusing!
    I’m also so passionate about telling my patients that their vulvas are normal and healthy (when they are…which is usually the case)–even though all of our vulvas are different looking. Ive noticed that so many women question whether or not they look ‘normal’. Yes! You do!
    Love this post!!

  51. Christina says...

    I’m currently prepping to take an ob/gyn exam for medical school tomorrow so this was a timely post! Our bodies are able to amazing things (sex, childbirth…) so its nice to actually understand and appreciate what is going on down there! Much of the anatomy was confusing for me and my classmates before our rotation- so thanks for posting this!

  52. Liz says...

    This post was in perfect timing with a conversation I had with my husband earlier today! My husband came home from the gym while my other kids were at school or taking a nap and I said, “Well I just looked at my vagina with a mirror today!”. I just recently turned 30, have three kids, and I think this is the first time I actually sat down to “check things out”. Maybe I’ve glanced once or twice before, but never actually sat down and looked. My husband is a fellow at the the hospital here in town and I told him that I needed one of his medical books to look at pictures (drawn pictures! I’m fine without photos of other ladies!) to compare and refresh myself on the subject. But the images you provided were perfect and now I know to use vulva instead of vagina!

    It also has made myself aware of how I want to teach my daughters about themselves in the future too. My mother didn’t discuss much with me, and we always used the word “privates”. But with my own kids we have used medical terms and I’m inclined to tell me daughter later on to grab a mirror and see what’s going on down there- to know her own body.

    • Liz says...

      HAHAHA I love this! I remember being little and sitting in front of a mirror for long periods of time doing the same, being fascinated. And since having a baby I have looked so much at it all. I once asked my gyno while she was doing my pap if I could look inside and see my own vagina and cervix and she was delighted to hand me a mirror and point everything out. I feel like you are the type of person who would enjoy this, too :)
      (I just realized your name is also Liz… is this a Liz thing!?!?!)

  53. Beth says...

    Oops. Been using the word vagina with my 3 year old daughter.

  54. Vicki says...

    Love this! We had three boys first (lots of penis talk!) and then my daughter came along, and now that she’s talking and learning to use the toilet, she keeps talking about her penis! And I was so stumped about how to correct her — I’ve got the internal anatomy down, but all the external had me stumped! They must’ve overlooked that part in sex ed … Well now I know. Yay for vulvas.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yay for vulvas :) :) :)

  55. Wow! I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. I’m so happy I decided to reach this post. Will definitely pass this information along to my daughter.

  56. Laura says...

    I get so irked when people refer to the vulva as the vagina! And I get even more irked when I hear friends talk to their daughters about their “down there” or some other completely vague name (I only have boys, but we use all the medically accurate names for genitalia, both theirs and mine). It is not only denying them useful knowledge, it is downright dangerous! I just had to complete a training on child sexual abuse (related to work I do with foster kids) and this only underlined how important it is to important to teach kids the proper names for their body parts. Thanks for reminding everyone what is what!

    • Anna says...

      Same!!! I’m confused why everyone says “vagina” although admittedly that’s better than assigned words (“flower”) and non-words (“down there” – a direction?!). We’ve always used vulva & penis with my 3yo; she doesn’t know any different.

  57. Jennie says...

    Awesome post! Since we’re here, can we talk about HPV diagnoses and colonoscopies? I know I’m not alone in this department.

    • Jennie says...

      *COLPOSCOPIES (auto correct error)

    • Karen says...

      Yes! Let’s have this conversation. I have only ever had 1 positive HPV test and it came with an adenocarcinoma in situ diagnosis after colposcopy (everything is fine now after surgery, etc. and I’ve been negative for HPV for the two years since my treatment). I felt like I was totally unprepared for the colposcopy in particular. My doctor also told me that viruses including HPV can be undetectable in your body for years, so even though I had several negative HPV tests between when my husband and I got together and when I got cervical cancer, that doesn’t mean either/both of us weren’t carrying it already, which is totally crazy.

    • Alice says...

      YES! Brilliant idea. I could’ve really done with this about five years ago. I had a terrible colposcopy experience with a highly qualified but ice queen doctor who did nothing to help matters. Covering it in a post here would be a great resource.

    • Emma says...

      Yes please. I think sexual education and financial discussions would be a perfect addition to this meeting place. Maybe that’s just me. I compared men’s and women’s health magazine covers and finances were discussed three times on the mens cover and astrology was discussed on the women’s cover!

    • Laura says...

      Hi Jennie,
      Pap smear guidelines have changed and the answer to your question is quite complicated. A lot has to do with your age and what the specific outcome of your pap was in addition to what type of HPV you have (not necessarily you specifically, but the collective you). There are algorithms to follow and almost every women’s healthcare provider I know, including myself, has an app on their phone because the algorithms are complicated. Many many doctors are still following old guidelines based on old research because the newer guidelines recommend less frequent testing and less aggressive management and it freaks them out. I encourage you to take a look at the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology’s guidelines: http://www.asccp.org/asccp-guidelines

      And FYI, because I find that SO few women know this: Pap smears should start at age 21, regardless of sexual history. If the results are normal, women ages 21-30 should have a pap every 3 years with reflex testing (if the pap is abnormal, they go back and test the sample for HPV). Women 30+ can either continue the every 3 years with reflex testing or can move to an every 5 year schedule if the pap is done with co-testing (The sample is automatically tested for HPV regardless of pap result)

    • Jennie says...

      THANK YOU SO MUCH LADIES!! I feel my anxiety waning and am more at ease after reading your comments and information (EXCELLENT link Elizabeth, thanks for sharing Karen, many thanks Laura.) LOVE this blogging community!

  58. Lauren E. says...

    I absolutely had no idea it was all called the vulva.

    My mom was so uncomfortable talking about anything having to do with anatomy or sex that by the time she got around to telling me what the deal was with periods, I’d already had mine! Vowing here and now to be way, way more open with my future children.

  59. sarah Young says...

    At dinner last night my 4 year old asked “do penises have bones?”

    Wow! We remained calm, no giggles. And my husband explained the penis like it was his ear!

    • Sarah says...

      Unlike human males many animals including dogs do, in fact, have penis bones! Google os penis or bacculum.

  60. Ayme says...

    Do you watch “Sexplanations” on YouTube? We love Dr. Doe around here. She’s all about sex-positive, body-positive, fun and unabashed sex education for everyone, and she never fails to teach us something and make us laugh. There are some great videos about talking to kids about sex, too! Here’s a link. https://youtu.be/L3JE8oj_bWI

    • Ara says...

      I love her videos

  61. Anna says...

    One correction – your Fallopian tubes are not attached to your ovaries. And, there is so much mystery surrounding ovulation and ovaries! I had a tubal pregnancy last summer and had to have one tube removed. My OB told me that my remaining tube could “catch” eggs released from either ovary and not just the one closest to it! I’m now thrilled to be pregnant again with a nearly 9-week pregnancy in the right spot!

    • Claudia says...

      Congratulations!!

    • Marygrace says...

      Wow, great series — thank you for sharing the link!

  62. Rebecca says...

    Early in my pregnancy (at age 32!), my husband and I somehow started talking about the placenta and when I said the baby grows inside of it, he said, um no that’s the bag of waters or whatever. And I said, yeah that’s the same thing as the placenta, and he said no I really don’t think it is. Then we had to look it up and I was completely wrong and he was right! Thanks 12 years of catholic schools!

  63. Angela says...

    I actually am familiar with all this stuff, but only because I am a childbirth, labor, and delivery nerd. But I know very little about the minutiae of male anatomy.

    I will say, anecdotally, that my husband and I have agreed to teach our children the anatomically correct terms for their genitalia. I think that if you talk about this stuff (and sex stuff) in developmentally appropriate ways when they’re young and not awkward about it, it opens conversational doors when they’re older with more in depth questions.

  64. Charlotte K says...

    I learned the basics in sex ed in conservative South Carolina back in the early 1970s, but the details were all in that great classic (called out in Mike Mills’ marvelous “20th Century Women” recently): “Our Bodies Ourselves” — I think it might be time to bring it BACK!

  65. I went through comprehensive sexuality education classes through my (Unitarian Universalist) church as a pre-teen and as a result, I am a trained sex ed facilitator. Our Whole Lives – a secular, LGBTQ-friendly, comprehensive program! There are developmentally appropriate curricula for K-12 and adults, though some are older and might not be as trans-inclusive.

    Schools in the USA are– pause and reflect on this– NOT REQUIRED to be medically accurate in their sex ed curricula. Totally criminal. Stats now show that abstinence-only sex ed leads to higher rates of pregnancy. I think in part because those curricula say “condoms don’t always work, so just don’t have sex, ever” and the student hears “condoms don’t really work, so why should I bother using them?”

  66. Kirsten says...

    I love this–not just the topic but how it is written. I had to read “The Sperm and the Egg” by Emily Martin for my Women and Science class, and it talked how the language we use to describe anatomy and conception reflects gender norms. For instance, even in textbook and research literature, the egg is also discussed with passive language (just waiting around to be engaged), while the sperm is very active and is responsible for conception. New research has shown that the egg is extremely active in the process, even rejecting sperm if the conditions are not right. It’s a fascinating read– would recommend!

    • Emma says...

      Great point – I never thought about it that way!

    • whoa that is super interesting!

    • Caitlin Ashley says...

      That’s awesome! I’m spreading the word! :)

    • Kerri says...

      Love this! Thanks for sharing.

  67. Lin says...

    Thank you for this! One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing women use the word vagina when they mean vulva or labia. It just grates on me. And when mothers teach it to their daughters. Argh! So thank you.

  68. Dawn Rae says...

    Check out Robie Harris’s awesome books for kids – It’s Not the Stork (ages 4+), It’s So Amazing (ages 7+), and It’s Perfectly Normal (ages 10+). These books rock for explaining to kids anatomy, sex, pregnancy, body changes… in an age-appropriate, factual, straight-forward. The PTA at my son’s elementary school hosted a Birds + Bees speaker who raved about these books for their accuracy and getting the conversation started early (easier for the birds + bees line of communication to stay open…).

  69. mb says...

    HA! This “vulva” thing hits on a pet peeve of mine. When the gossip columns bring up seeing a celebrity’s vagina during award shows because the skirts flew up or something it just pisses me off. Unless you’re at a gynecologist, chances are, it ain’t happening. I teach art history and, when relevant to the argument, always make a point to use the word vulva when discussing female nudes. Because there’s a lot of those in art. Euphemisms make anatomy sound like there’s something inherently dirty about genitals. And if you’re going to be clinical and objective, proper terms matter.

    • mb says...

      Just wanted to add to my comment—I think my anger stems from my own upbringing too–where the female body was something to be covered/protected/not talked about in sexual terms…basically, it came with a degree of shame attached. I think that the lack of education speaks of that sort of social taboo of the female body. I mean, think about it! Kinsey’s sex reports didn’t cause a kerfuffle until they dealt with the female body! And that’s why in many ways, ob/gyn advancements are so recent–these issues were hardly studied because they were not okay to talk about. It’s crazy to think about! Women are 50% of the population!

  70. My mom was a nurse so I knew all the proper names for both genders. I don’t recall ever knowing any other terms. And it didn’t ever feel odd or awkward… in fact, I can’t use pet names or nicknames because that feels awkward. LOL, It did take my more sheltered husband a little while to get used to it!
    We’re having a kind of family difficulty with terms right now though… One of my 4 year old great-nieces was sent home by her day care school because she used the word “penis”. And so my nephew decided that any body questions are now to be answered with “boy parts” and “girl parts”. Ugh. But, he’s the father.

  71. Yes, I taught my now 33 year old that that area was called her vulva in the interest of accuracy, but since I owned a Volvo at the same time, it got pretty tricky at times! :)

  72. Sandra says...

    My mom was always super into using correct terminology for things so we pretty much knew the correct terms for most things growing up. When we were in elementary school she sent us into the bathroom alone with a hand mirror to check out what our bodies looked like “down there.”

    When I started explaining body parts to our son I also explained that women have a vulva. The best part is that if he uses it in public no one knows what he is talking about. He used to yell embarrassing words on the bus and train when he was overtired (just to embarrass me, I think). He also couldn’t say his V’s, so when he was 3 and yelling “Bulba! Bulba! Bulba!” over and over again I didn’t get the looks and snickers that “gina” would have. :-)

  73. Jamie says...

    Another fun fact is that the Fallopian tubes aren’t attached to the ovaries! They float slightly below and can migrate to the side with the egg. I learned this after I lost a tube to an ectopic pregnancy and almost fell out of my chair when the obgyn told us!

    • Sandra says...

      I found out the same thing after having a tube damaged and blocked by an ectopic. When the nurse told me the egg could go down the other side I honestly didn’t believe her at first!

  74. Allison says...

    My mom is a nurse and she has been teaching the preteen sex ed classes (Girltalk and Guytalk) at our local hospital since I was a kid. She even contracted to the middle schools, so this meant that MY MOM covered this very subject at my middle school to the delight of my peers ;) I love that my mom is awesome enough to do this very important job! As you can imagine, she does not embarrass easily, so she is a wonderful role model. I grew up in a home where no topic or situation was taboo. I have two brothers and we were all lucky enough to be informed about bodies appropriately at each life stage. My brother’s are now supportive and empathetic grown men. These days my mom helps me as I raise my 4 year old daughter to know, love, and respect her body. Oh, and remember those giggling middle school friends of mine? They grew into high schoolers sitting around our kitchen island asking their difficult and important questions. I even passed my mom’s phone number around in college whenever I felt like a friend could benefit.

    Thank you for this post.

  75. Charlotte says...

    Awesome!! I’m really enjoying your more explicitly feminist turn over the last year.
    I have a 6 year old girl and a 3 year old boy. There is a lot of willy talk (here in the UK we often use the word willy for penis) in our house. Ms 6 talks about how she has a small willy in her ‘bits’ and her brother has a big one. Last time this came up I talked with her about how it feels good when she ‘tickles’ her bits. And, in the interests of giving her the right names for things, I told her that the bit that feels good is her clitoris. She loved this because it sounds like “glitter” and she started calling it her “glitteris”, which I think we can all agree is pretty awesome!

    • Karine says...

      Yes it is!

  76. Anna says...

    My mom ALWAYS corrected us when my sister and I used vagina incorrectly! I just thought of it as kind of funny back then, especially as a child, but now I find it super valuable! I love her for it!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my gosh, i’m watching right now and laughing out loud. “it’s like calling your face your throat.” love it. he’s awesome.

    • Annie says...

      haha. Great share, thanks!

    • Jody says...

      So Good!

  77. BV says...

    Out of curiosity, do they not teach sex ed in schools in the US? I realize that perhaps my school was slightly more liberal, but I grew up in India, and we were first taught about 70-75% of this in sex ed in 9th grade, and then it was repeated in 12th grade Zoology (approx 85-90% of the above, they clearly left out one very important part that has more to do w/ pleasure and less to do with reproduction)

    • Ali says...

      I was just thinking that as well. I grew up in Canada, and we learned all this in school.

    • june2 says...

      I definitely got sex ed (North Carolina circa 1975) in a co-ed class which I think was brilliant. We need to know and understand each others parts!

    • Brittany says...

      We do, but frankly the lessons most receive are short, outdated, and boring.

    • Anu says...

      Yeah, I have to say, also grew up in India, and was also taught all this stuff in a pretty matter-of-fact way in biology class. That’s not to say that there wasn’t some iffy stuff about the actual sex part – like separating the boys and girls – but the actual anatomy and physiology and the reproductive process was explained very clearly.

    • Katie says...

      It varies by region, but I learned nearly all of the above in fourth grade.

    • I received really good sex-ed in my public schools: just the basics, plus anatomy & what to expect from puberty in 5th grade. Then a LOT more information in 10th grade. We did need to have a permission slip from our parents to participate though!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we definitely were taught these things in around 10-12 years old in school, but it was so long ago! i don’t remember it 27 years later :)

  78. Kerri says...

    Well this post has great timing! As I was reading it I thought, “Shoot! I’ve been telling my kids that girls just have vaginas! How am I going to retract/redefine that statement?” My thoughts were interrupted by my almost 4-year-old son who walked in from outside and Immediately asked me, “Why do girls have ‘ga’s'” 😂 I told him I was just reading about it and he asked if He could read it too. We got to have a whole conversation about the female body which he found very fascinating especially since I’m having another babe in a few months and he got to see where his sibling is growing. After he practiced the word “vulva” a few times he ran off to play, both of us feeling very happy with the information we shared :) It’s never too late to learn and re-learn!

  79. Doris says...

    I think empowering children with the correct terminology in this day and age is imperative. Joanna you need to do one for boy parts as well! While I was driving my 10 year old son and his friends on a field trip I overheard them referring to the native art they had just seen as ‘dongles’, “peanuts” and “tentacles”. To my son’s utter and complete embarrassment I turned around and said “Boys, you are not three anymore. How about calling them what they are, penis and testicles.” The stunned silence was deafening. Mother of the year I am not!

    • Alexandra says...

      I love this, thank you for a laugh. I have an 11-year old, and we have been having talks about sex and puberty recently. They don’t like to talk about it in proper words, I think it’s still a bit scary for them, even though they discussed genitals etc. in health ed in school. Also, when we discussed the changes that happen during puberty, he was absolutely “grossed out”. Remembering my own early teenage years, I vividly remember sex-ed (in Germany, over 30 years ago) by a 60 year-old biology teacher whose head was as red as a tomato when he talked about “it”.

    • Nina says...

      I love this! I will totally be that mom ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      omg, doris, you are awesome.

  80. This is awesome. I appreciate you sharing this! It’s so important to know our bodies, and this makes it fun (I especially love the illustrations!)

    http://objectsicantafford.com

  81. Lauren says...

    Ha I love this! My good friend who just had a baby was mystified by the female anatomy when she was pregnant so I stood with my arms out and bent down and my hands as fists and said “my first are the ovaries, my arms are fallopian tubes, my torso is the uterus…” and so on. She said it really helped her understand but I also just send her the link to this post so hopefully she gets it even more now :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, you sound like such a great friend, lauren!

  82. shannon says...

    I died at “garage door.” LOL!

    To clarify regarding the job of the ovaries: typically only one egg is released per menstrual cycle. The vast majority of the eggs your ovaries house at birth never make it to maturity. Painting with a VERY broad brush – the average # of periods in a woman’s lifetime is 450. Assuming 1 egg released for each cycle (which doesn’t always happen – anovulatory cycles, being on hormonal birth control, PCOS, etc.), only around 450 eggs actually get released in a lifetime, not all 1-2 million immature eggs as the post implies.

    Another fun fact: the egg which was fertilized in your mother to eventually make you, was formed while she was in her own mother’s womb! A deep grandmother-mother-grandchild connection!

    • Colleen S. says...

      I’ve had periods for the last twenty years, which if I did my math correctly (which is debateable, since I suck at math), I have had 230. At 33, the idea of having periods for another twenty years is not pleasing to think about.

    • Alexa says...

      Thank you for sharing that note about the grandmother-mother-grandchild connection. My maternal grandmother passed away when my mother was 5; needless to say, I never got a chance to meet her, and my mother barely did. When I read your words and realized that there was a time when all three of us were connected on this earth, I burst into tears. Thank you again.

    • Oh Alexa I am sorry about the early loss of your grandmother. So happy I was able to offer some encouragement. Thank you for sharing!

  83. Katrina says...

    I found a great book years ago, all about lady bits. And it’s written by a gynecologist and answers some very serious and silly questions most of us are too embarrassed to ask. It’s called, “What’s Up Down There”. It is both informative and hilarious. I totally recommend.

    • L says...

      well, technically you can see the opening to the vagina (along with the vulva) from the outside, while you can’t see what they call ‘internal’- uterus, cervix, tubes, ovaries. Maybe that’s what they mean?

  84. Jaime says...

    Love this post!! I just watched the amazing documentary on Netflix “She’s Angry When She’s Beautiful” (MUST SEE) about the rise of the women’s movement. They talked about how little women knew about their own bodies, because the medical field was mostly men. So a group of women gathered questions, did their own research, hounded Drs, and were able to compile the information into an informational booklet, which later became the wildly popular “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” It was such an amazing testament to women taking the initiative to inform themselves and other women.

  85. Kali says...

    This is so great but now I have a question. We’ve been saying vagina to my two girls for 3.5 and 5.5 years now. Do we make the leap to new terminology and if so, how?

    • Kali — Just tell them the truth. You can start by saying something like “In the past, I’ve said ‘vagina’ when referring to girl and woman private parts, because I thought it was easier to have one word for us all to use when referencing them. But now I think it’s important for you both to know that there are *lots* of parts that makes up this area of your bodies and they all have different names. It’s time you know the proper names for everything.”

      Obviously this can all be difficult for little kids to grasp on the first go, but I would lay it out like you would to anyone (child or adult) and then just let them ask questions.

    • I say just tell them that there is more to it next time it comes up & explain as much as you can.

    • Kali says...

      Thanks, Stacy and Claire! I totally agree and will go forth and spread the new knowledge. My husband teaches health and sex ed to middle schoolers so I have no doubt when they’re older things will be very easy to go in depth. It’s just always interesting to figure out what to explain and when. My 3.5-year-old still says she has a penis every once in a while. But I LOVE the notion of just telling them the truth and we thought we were in a good place with vagina. Ugh. #women ;)

  86. Fatima says...

    As an OBGYN I’m always gobsmacked by all the women who do not know the difference between vulva and vagina.
    And my nerves were really tested following the whole trump and P word debacle with folks saying he wanted to grab women’s vaginas. The vagina is an internal organ and therefore not grab-able so women let’s take note when the anatomical word “vagina” is used; with it the verb “grab” ought not to be used!

    • Bec says...

      I’m not an OBGYN but this drove me nuts too! You can not grab a vagina. Full stop.

    • mb says...

      exactly!

  87. April says...

    Great post! We’ve also taken the approach of using the correct terminology with our son and making bodies, sex, and sexuality as normalized as possible. I am glad that many families are beginning to move away from “The Sex Talk” at 12+, as it should really be an integrated part of all the other teaching we provide to our children at every age – about our world, nature, government, etc.

    A book we’ve started reading with our 4yo is: It’s Not the Stork. It’s smart and funny and practical and is the first in a series that addresses our bodies and reproduction for preschoolers through middle school. I highly recommend it! One spread that was particularly useful to us right now were pages with full-size illustrations of babies in utero. We are expecting #2 and he could hold the book on his lap and see exactly how big the baby in my *uterus! not belly!* is now, in a few months, and at birth. Pretty cool!

  88. Andrea says...

    When I started using FAM last year I learned SO MUCH about my body and how it works – can’t believe I made it to 34 without knowing how amazing it all is. I’m so happy that FAM is becoming more mainstream (it’s like NFP but use a barrier method instead of abstinence during fertile times). I just thought, why the hell am I so concerned about hormone-free chicken breasts when I’m taking hormones daily that essentially trick my body into thinking it’s pregnant all the time? I may not always use FAM but will definitely not ever use hormonal birth control again.

    • Kendra says...

      Yay! FAM is the most amazing thing, ever. Though, HBC tricks the body into more of a menopause-like state than pregnancy. It’s just been more upbeat and user friendly, I think, that people have always said that it tricks the body into thinking it’s pregnant.

    • Katie says...

      same! i learned so much reading taking charge of your fertility! i am definitely going to have my girls read parts of it as a teen because it explained a lot of stuff that i had no idea was normal!

    • Andrea says...

      See? I still have so much to learn!

  89. Emily says...

    Actually, I have a correction! (I didn’t read through all the comments but a good handful so I don’t think it’s been mentioned). While going through infertility treatment, I learned that your fallopian tube has to “catch” the egg – the egg isn’t just released into the tube – it could be dropped anywhere near/around it. I was so fascinated by this, so wanted to share. BTW – I am now 23 weeks pregnant with no treatment at all (so weird/amazing). :)

  90. 25 years old and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know a LOT of this. But, it’s so interesting and makes me feel so cool. To think of a womb actually pushing the baby out is just… wow!

    • Rebecca says...

      The uterus is the strongest muscle in the human body!

  91. Ashley says...

    Thank you! I’ve had these anatomy lessons several times in life (both in high school and college), but I realized just this past week that I needed a refresher, as I too was thinking vagina when I should be thinking of my vulva. It’s important to know and be comfortable with our body parts!

  92. Dominique says...

    We are very deliberate about using vulva with our two daughters. And we also have apparently done a good job of making it “just another body part”. My 4-year-old just learned the hokey-pokey and we were singing it last night. The order of body parts were belly, whole body, nose, butt, and then vulva. I was able to keep a straight face while singing but couldn’t wait to call my sister and tell her. We laughed so hard about it.

  93. Lissa says...

    Fun post. Our daughters (with MD dad and RN mom) felt comfortable talking about their bodies. I was always amazed how little women knew when they came for their Pap smears and STD checks. My mother was always mortified when talking about sexual things so she used to say “down there” or would copy her MIL by saying “the Gertrude”. haha. Excellent to teach boys the proper names and to not be embarrassed–need them to be willing to pick up tampons when they are grown. My husband would send our kids pictures of the various products from the grocery store so he would be sure to buy what they wanted.

    • Kerri says...

      My dad always bought the “feminine products” for the household (1 wife, 3 daughters) and always made sure to also come home with chocolate 😂

  94. Kelly says...

    Thank you so much for this post!
    I am an occupational therapist, and part of my job is to teach people how to catheterize themselves if they have a bladder that no longer empties volitionally. In my experience, most women have no idea what’s going on down there, and are shocked to find out that they don’t urinate out of their vagina. In another part of my job, I provide sex education to men and women who have recently experienced a spinal cord injury, and here again, many people have no idea what is happening to their bodies during sex. Men are often surprised to learn that an erection isn’t caused by a muscle that they can learn to exercise. I’ve learned over the years of providing this education that I really have to back up and start with the basics for everyone.
    Unfortunately, the way that our health system is set up, the onus is largely on us as individuals to advocate for ourselves medically. The more we know about our own bodies — how they work, how they feel, how our habits and diets can impact them — the more empowered we are to take control of our health and wellness. I think it’s so important to change what we are teaching our children, and to talk more openly about these things in general in non-taboo, non “medical” ways. Thank you for leading the way!

  95. Kate says...

    Just got the book Amazing You for my 4 year old for Christmas and it’s fantastic. Everyone is saying all the anatomically correct things. Yesterday my little boy (2) fell. I said, “Did you hurt your leg?” He resonded through tears, “No! My testicles!” I think it’s rad that they don’t view these words as shameful, but as another reason our bodies are amazing!

    • jen says...

      Kate, we got this book for Christmas for our 3.5 year old. It’s her favorite! We’ve always taught her the correct words, but she loves learning about her body and how babies are made.

  96. Excellent and prescient post. I’m guilty of teaching my sons and one daughter vagina not realizing what vulva was. From today forward it will be vulva.
    Loved reading all of the comments! They have furthered my resolve to be accurate with the anatomy and to teach all of my children the importance of consent. Good stuff, Joanna!

  97. For several years I worked for a university HIV/STD prevention program. Believe me, in that environment not much was taboo to talk about. One day a male trainer came to me and asked outright “where is your vulva?” I probably did pause for a moment, but recovered quickly and told him.

  98. gill says...

    thanks to natural family planning (nfp), i was familiar with all these parts and their functions! nfp is an amazing tool that i really wish more women practiced. having a say in your choice to conceive or not, with the added bonus of getting to know your body backwards and forwards, is incredibly empowering. all without the risk of artificial contraceptives! fertility awareness can teach us so much about ourselves (not only our bodies, but our minds and emotions too). such a gift!

    • Andrea says...

      Yes! I love that NFP and FAM makes men partners with us in practicing birth control.

    • Stephanie says...

      May I ask why you “wish more women practiced?” Analyzing cervical mucous and plotting out supposedly infertile days is probably not a great choice for some women for a variety of reasons. You may have great luck with it, but there’s a reason people moved toward other methods (and big pharma isn’t it).

    • Andrea says...

      I can’t speak for Gill, but I think FAM and NFP should at least be presented as one of many birth control options, knowing that it won’t be for everyone. And even if you don’t use it as your main birth control, you learn a LOT about how your body works just by charting a few cycles. Honestly, it’s helped me a lot with my eating disorder recovery and getting over body hatred.

    • gill says...

      stephanie, although i’m sure it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, nfp/fam is much more achievable (and truly reliable) than a lot of people think! what i mean is: i wish more women were at least aware of the benefits of using such methods. the number one benefit i’ve found is taking charge of your fertility in a way that works *with* your body, not against it as a number of contraceptive methods do. (not to mention the relationship-strengthening aspect of cooperation between you and your partner, as andrea said.) in this time where women’s health is at the forefront of so many discussions, methods like nfp/fam are often disregarded in lieu of artificial contraceptives. i am saddened by this because i personally think that understanding and cooperating with our fertility is a crucial part of self-knowledge, and nfp/fam provides an amazing vehicle to do just that.

    • Kendra says...

      FAM is amazing, truly!

    • AnnaMaria says...

      I agree that nfp is an empowering tool and I also wish more women practiced! :) I learned so much about how my body works and am so much more confident in advocating for myself at the doctor’s office. I totally understand that it can seem like an inconvenience – but I would rather spend an extra five minutes every day reading my body’s signs than using the pill, which has been identified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. If I go to so much effort to buy green/sustainable products and produce, why wouldn’t I do the same with my family planning? Thanks for a great article!!

    • Callie says...

      Stephanie, I agree…I have a friend who does nfp and it just seems WAY too risky to risk an accidental pregnancy. I had never heard of it before last year but it seems like much of it is Catholic affiliated.

    • Hayley says...

      I am a fertility care practitioner who teaches a mucus based method of charting. I heard about charting through a friend in college after suffering from heavy, painful periods since I started menstruating in 8th grade. All the doctors I had seen recommended birth control for pain management but none had looked into what was causing my symptoms, telling me that they could look into it if I was having difficulty getting pregnant in the future (insurance covers birth control as the treatment vs surgery if you are not experiencing infertility). Long story short, I started charting, found a physician who works specifically to treat women’s reproductive diseases by reading said chart, who then referred me to a surgeon who diagnosed and treated me for endometriosis via a laparoscopy. In addition to this diagnosis, I found out I have hypothyroidism and low progesterone in the post-ovulatory phase of my cycle. After years of suffering, I am so happy that I was able to get the care I needed and can now help other women chart their cycles to discover just how beautiful and powerful their bodies are! I am now married and have two children, and my symptoms are slowly returning. I am discussing the best treatment with my doctor and know this will be a journey as there are a few theories as to what causes endometriosis and a range of symptoms.. There is so little known about reproductive diseases and it is high time that we all make women’s health a priority!

    • Andrea says...

      I will also add that FAM and charting helped me with my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis diagnosis. I knew something was wrong but doctors wouldn’t listen to me because my levels weren’t in the “treatable” range – seeing the abnormally low pre-ovulation temps myself are what convinced me to push for diagnosis and treatment.

    • Stephanie says...

      I agree that it’s a good option for women who are in a position to deal with a pregnancy if it happens, and that it has many ancillary health benefits– truly, it’s a great thing– the knowledge behind it should be part of health education. But after spending years on a message board dedicated to FAM while I was TTC, I’m concerned that some of its enthusiastic supporters end up aligning with those who would deny access to other forms of birth control on religious grounds. All the while justifying that by thinking FAM is the most natural, healthiest, and worked great for them. Even though my little representative sample had way too many “surprise” third, fourth, etc babies.

  99. The fact that most surprised me here is that the ovaries are the size of almonds! I was picturing a couple of golf balls up in there.

    • Me, too!!! Fascinating!

      And “little garage doors.” Bahahahahaha.

  100. Katie says...

    I’m going to fess up and say that until just a few years ago I thought the urethra was the same as the clitoris…like you peed out of your clitoris. I have no idea how I managed to have two kids and not realize this.

  101. Jessica says...

    I grew up saying v-jay which was awkward when MTV had veejays.

    Thanks for this post. So important. I also think it’s important for women, young women, whoever to know that vulvas all look different. Innies, outies, lots of hair, less hair, but that’s a whole other rant.

  102. Leah says...

    Hi Joanna,
    I recently learned something that completely blew my mind. I was attending a sexual health seminar and found out that… the clitoris that we all know as the small button at the top of our vulva, is actually just the tip of the iceberg. There’s actually a large internal clitoris that is not usually included on a diagram of female gentalia. I implore you to google images of “internal clitoris.” Whoa.

    • Katie says...

      There was an episode of the podcast Science Vs. that went into this too!

    • I vividly remember being in high school and trying to explain this exact thing to some of my… shall we say… less-than-knowledgeable girl friends. I explained how the female clitoris is actually shaped similarly to the male penis; it has a shaft and a “head” and connects to internal pieces that *would* become a penis and testicles were it not for our lack of a Y-chromosome. And THEN I vividly remember these two girls running around our choir room screaming “GIRLS HAVE PENISES! GIRLS HAVE PENISES!” and then telling their boyfriends through maniacal laughter “I have a penis!”

      *eye roll*

      This sort of encounter — with me knowing this information at 16 y/o and them having no clue — goes to show that sex education (or lack thereof) is not the *real* problem here. Me and these girls went to the same exact schools from 5 y/o to 18 y/o. The only difference is that they came from conservative households where this kind of stuff was not talked about — ever.

      I firmly believe sex education needs to expand, be taught earlier, and be required in every school in the U.S., but so long as some parents continue to shield their children from the realities of their own bodies, we will continue to have uneducated boys and girls in this country. :(

  103. Kate says...

    My mom taught me and my brother to say vulva and penis, but as I got older I think peer pressure got to me and I started saying vagina because everyone around me was. (I also wasn’t allowed to say “butt” when I was young but I quickly learned it was not cool on the school bus to say “bottom”.) I told my mom a few years ago that she is clearly the coolest mom ever for teaching us the proper terms and she was all, “I know, right?”

  104. This conversation with my almost-three year old son happens more often than one might think, especially in public restroom stalls (much to the excitement/horror/amusement of the other women in the bathroom too!):
    “Mommy, where is your penis?”
    “I don’t have a penis, that’s why you can’t find it.”
    “Why not?”
    “Because Mommy is a girl, and girls have vulvas.”
    “You have a vulva, Mommy. I see it!”
    “Yep! That’s right. A girl has a vulva, a boy has a penis.”

    My husband and I were intentional about teaching him the real words!

    We’re also intentional about introducing the idea of consent. So if he wants to hit or tries to hug a friend, and the friend says “no thank you,” we say “Oliver/Eva/People get to make their own choice for their body.”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes!!!! love that you’re teaching consent. we tell the boys “you’re the boss of your body,” or “he/she is the boss of their body” all the time, and it really resonates with them.

    • t says...

      That is awesome. As we likely have a transgender child we use phrases such as “most boys have penises and most girls have vaginas ” so they aren’t a limited to thinking ALL boys have penises and ALL girls have vaginas. Our kids are young so it would be confusing to say sometimes girls have penises so we just leave the door open in their mind by saying most instead of all.

    • My son always asks where my penis is when I sit on the toilet to pee. He just doesn’t believe that I don’t have one. Or he says I had one that fell off!

      We also taught him all the correct words (penis, vagina, testicles, etc) but he still says “Noooo mom, it’s a WIENER!!!! HAHAHAHA” Oy, kids!

  105. I had a conversation with a friend when we were 27 and she didn’t know that a vagina and urethra were two different tubes, and then again when we were 28 she didn’t know that babies grow in your uterus. I felt so sad for her! She asked me how I knew, and a lot of it came from my very open and honest mom, but really the best education I got on the details was during my short stint at all girls Catholic school!

    I cannot fathom why this isn’t taught in schools. This is important information to have, and the shame that is associated with our natural bodies is causing actual harm. We should be ashamed, as a country!

    • Erin says...

      This reminds me of that scene in OITNB and they’re talking about the “sex hole” not being the same as the “pee hole”. LOL

    • I truly cannot even comprehend having a conversation like that with a friend in our late 20’s!

      I was shocked — TRULY STUNNED — when, at 18, I was talking to a friend and (for the love of me I can’t remember how it came up) realized that she had NO IDEA that sex involved a continuous (for lack of a better descriptor) “in and out” movement. Like… she had always thought a penis just ENTERS a vagina and… hangs out there for a minute, releases sperm, and then exits. The epiphany on her face when she said, “OMG, like in the movies when people are having sex — that’s why the cars are moving!” I just couldn’t believe it. It was so obvious to me, but for so many kids (or even adults!) they just don’t have the open line of communication to encourage asking questions or having an active interest in learning about this subject.

    • Nina says...

      It’s taught in some schools! I had excellent sex ed in my district, but the town next door had none. I did end up doing a lot of “teaching” about female anatomy to my girl friends in college… ;)

    • Ah, yes, I should point out that I live in Texas…a bastion of abstinence only education! We also have the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, which is obviously related unless you’re a politician. Ha. I did actually receive comprehensive sex ed when I moved to a high school in suburban Philadelphia, but it is shocking and sad that the state you live in dictates whether or not you get to learn about your own body.

      I was so lucky that my mom (a Southern Baptist from Oklahoma, strangely enough) was very forthright and educated when it came to our bodies, and I grew up with the kind of dad who was totally cool and not at all squeamish about the female body…the result of growing up in a family of doctors and raising three daughters, I think.

    • Twyla says...

      I had the same conversation with a 13 year old. She couldn’t understand how the urethra stretched enough to give birth to a baby, and I had to explain to her that she had THREE openings – a urethra, a vagina and an anus. I had to explain how sex worked (and why) and where the baby came out. I told her next time she’s getting into the shower to get a mirror and look between her legs. She was stunned.

    • CATHERINE says...

      I know! it’s taught in my country, in 8th grade in biology class along with the cycle and how birth happens, and along with men’s genitalia and how it all changes through puberty and how it works…We are graded on it too! I can’t understand why it’s not the case everywhere else! And I was baffled by the scene Erin talks about in OITNB, how could that be??? How could women think they pee through their vaginas? I’m always shocked too when I hear how Americans use the word “vagina” for all female private parts;what’s wrong with vulvas? Is it what is commonly referred to as “American puritanism”? Although when you see and listen to all the sex scenes on most series today, one wonders where all this puritanism went? :)

  106. “Anus – you probably have this one down” made me laugh. so. hard. Hahaha.

    • Yep. Same here. Hahaha.

  107. Meg says...

    One thing that’s interesting and worth noting is that most of us think of the clitoris as just the one little “button” on the outside, but it’s actually mostly interior and way bigger than people realize. There’s a great episode of the podcast Science vs. (the G-Spot – which spoiler, is not a real thing.) that explains it. Must-listen for all women – scratch that – everyone.

  108. Anus — You probably have this one down. lol

  109. Cara says...

    My girlfriends and I were JUST talking about this last weekend because we admitted (after swapping horror IUD insertion stories) that we didn’t really know what is what and how they get the IUD up through your vagina, through the cervix, up into the uterus. Did I mention we are all 30? So embarrassing and hilarious at the same time.

    This post is fantastic!!

  110. Katie says...

    The Allusionist just did a great episode on that tricky gap between overly medical terminology (debatably un-sexy, when considered in that particular context) versus silly or immature. Highly recommended.

    http://www.theallusionist.org/allusionist/covers-ii

  111. Jackie says...

    I’ve taught my boys (ages 3 and 6) that girls have a vulva. All they want to know at this point is “where do you pee from mommy?” So vagina would not make any sense :) My husband is a physician so we’ve always gone with the proper names in our house too.

  112. Whenever anyone expresses confusion about what’s “going on down there,” I’m always so surprised. I spent so much time as a preteen and teen poring over “growing up” books that it’s hard for me to imagine not knowing the difference between a vagina and a vulva.

    […also I saw the “Mulva??” episode of Seinfeld when it first aired (1993 – I was 6!), and that always stuck with me haha]

    I do use the word vagina conversationally though, just because it’s socially awkward to say vulva. (I’ve been working on saying breasts instead of boobs, I need to work up to vulva!)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      what a great recommendation, thank you!!!

  113. kristin says...

    dying!! your last comment is my favorite. I don’t think we grew saying much. vagina was probably used to sum it all up, but I’ll be sure to teach my kids a little more now. :) vulva…it’s just a big word…

  114. Rachel S says...

    Brava, Joanna! Being able to properly name female anatomy is powerful and helps to remove the stigma around it. Another post suggestion that continues with this theme is how hormones work in relation to the menstrual cycle and birth control. Knowledge is power!

  115. Dana says...

    I grew up calling the whole area my “pee pee” and while I’m sure we went over all the parts in health class, I had long since forgotten. As a young adult I realized one day that there’s gotta be a different term the doctors use! Haha. Seems so silly not to know my own body. But Google helped ;) My daughter is just under two but she’s learning her different parts, starting with her face. During a diaper change I quizzed her “where’s your nose!” And she pointed etc but then she pointed to her “pee pee” and said “what’s this!” I decided I didn’t want this poor girl calling this area her pee pee until she was an adult so I correctly said vulva. And now when I ask “where’s your vulva?” She can point to it. I still say pee pee sometimes, and she knows that too. I don’t mind the cutesy name as long as she knows the correct one too. I mean, I don’t usually refer to my boobs as breasts and I think that’s fine!

  116. Meagan says...

    I have a 10 month old daughter, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to talk to her, and any future children, about their bodies. I’ve decided to start young and say “That’s your vula”, or “you’re touching your labia” in the same tone I say “those are your fingers”, or you’re touching your nose.” My husband and I didn’t grow up using these terms, we said peepee or privates when I was a kid. I hope if I can comfortably say penis and vula to my children that will begin to lay the foundation for age appropriate conversations about their bodies and sex as they grow older. Right now I sometimes feel a little awkward or clumsily saying vulva and labia etc. I hope that by practicing those phrases now I will become more comfortable using them, so that by the time my daughter is old enough to really understand I’ll be a natural. I would like to have an open dialogue with my children about their bodies and sex, especially as they become young adults and I think this is how I get there. I would love to hear others opinions on this topic and how you approach conversations about anatomy and sex with your boys.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      LOVE this, meagan.

    • Ros says...

      If it helps at all, my parents went that route with us, and that’s what we’re doing for our kids. Combine that with a family who is fairly comfortable with casual nudity (nothing inappropriate, obv, but, for example, I’ll still regularly change in front of my mom, and she’ll change in front of me, no fuss – it might be the French side of the family coming out, with European attitudes to nudity!) and you wind up with 3 now-adults who:

      – Are comfortable with actual terms for genitalia, and how it works. Boys AND girls. And a now-adult younger brother who, when asked to pick up tampons, did not make a fuss, but asked to get a picture of the box texted so he’d get the right kind, because ‘the wrong kind must be uncomfortable’. Bless. Him. Not all 20-year-old dudes are like this.

      – Are comfortable with a variety of body shapes. I’m 33. I’ve just had a second kid. My stomach sags (um, 2 weeks postpartum…), but I’ve also got a good idea of what the body of a 60-year-old woman with 3 kids looks like, and the fact that body hair exists, and etc. And, equally important: our brother grew up with a knowledge that female body hair exists, that skin sags, etc. Yay for the reality of non-sexualized bodies and how they change with age, basically?

      – Are comfortable with our own bodies, with our parts, and generally have no shame in how they work. We’re also all capable of negotiating our sex lives as we prefer, seeing doctors when needed, and getting STI checks on a regular basis when not in monogamous relationships, because there’s nothing to be ashamed of, just like actual adults should be doing (and so many are not, oh god, it’s horrifying)

      Overall? 3 for 3 in terms of well-adjusted adults who are capable of handling bodily functions and body parts in a mature way, and taking care of ourselves and our (if existing) partners. ++ recommending the approach. :)

  117. Samantha says...

    I teach my daughter, and son for that matter, vulva as well. Vagina’s are important, but they are internal, and I want her to know her body for real. There are a lot of other parts of female genitalia that are very important and so vulva it is!

  118. Kate says...

    This is amazing!! Last year, I read The Body Book by Cameron Diaz and was a tad embarrassed by how much I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about my lady-land. My parents did a great job educating me about my body but I think it’s important for us to re-educate ourselves as adults since we might recognize and appreciate the importance and beauty of our bodies more than we did as teenagers or young girls.

    As an aside – I learned the fun fact about the clitoris having twice as many nerve endings than the penis from the Vagina Monologues! I was in a group that performed the show every year in college and that was one of my favorite lines. “Who needs a hand gun when you’ve got a semi-automatic?” ;)

    • CATHERINE says...

      ha ha what a great line!!

  119. I thought a womb only became a womb when there’s a baby inside. Kinda like how any plane carrying the President of the United States automatically becomes Air Force One.

    • Kate says...

      Hahaha this made me laugh

    • Cyn says...

      Now that made me chuckle :)

    • That’s a good laugh!

  120. Lisa says...

    I remember my mom taught me vulva, which I always equated with the Volvo my parents drove. We use vagina with our daughter. Perhaps I was subconsciously not wanting to get into the vulva/volvo discussion, as we too drive a Volvo station wagon.

    • kristin says...

      LOL!

    • Alexandra says...

      Ha ha ha! ;)

    • That’s so funny! For the longest time my daughter thought pandas lived in vaginas because she pronounced “vagina” and “China” the same!

    • Lisa says...

      @meltdown that is hysterical!

  121. Lula says...

    Love this post, Jo! I had this very conversation with a group of my friends recently on a night out. It came about because my friend, a primary school teacher of children with special needs, was telling us that she teaches her class the song ‘head, shoulders, vulva, toes’ as part of learning about their bodies, where others shouldn’t touch them etc.

    During the conversation, it transpired that two of my friends – one of whom is one of the most ardent feminists you’ll ever meet, the other having recently had a baby – didn’t know the difference between ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’. Shocked that my 2 1/2 year old daughter knew the differences better than two women in their mid-30s, and fuelled by a few glasses of wine, I whipped out my phone, googled a diagram and pointed out all the various parts rather too loudly – much to the amusement of the couple on a date at the next table!

    Great post!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, lula!

  122. I know all of it! I’m a doula so I had to study anatomy as part of my training. But I already had a pretty good understanding of everything since starting to go to a gynecologist in my teens.

  123. I too was taught Vulva but hear most men and women call it the vagina instead. My Mom is a proper names/terms parent, so no silly names for our parts growing up. Also, I have a medical condition that has made me very familiar with the vulva since I was diagnosed at 25. And yes, there is even such a thing as Vulvular Cancer!

    • Fiona says...

      Sending big hugs your way, I can only imagine that’s not easy to manage, especially at such a young age. Hope you’re in remission now or will be very soon.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you so much for your note, amanda. hope you are doing well these days and sending a big hug your way xoxoxo

  124. steph says...

    My cousin is a pediatrician with, unfortunately, a specialty in abuse cases. She’s pretty badass – working with the judicial system and fighting against trafficking – but I wish such a thing didn’t have to exist. Anyway, she always said you should teach kids the proper names because it’s harder to prove abuse when a cutesy name could be referring to something as tame as an elbow. I also want to commend you on pointing out everyone is different. A relative was born with 4 kidneys, my son with only one. And I have a lovely tipped uterus. ;)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s such a great point, steph. i’ve heard that before, too, and we are teaching the boys correct names for body parts. such a good thing to remember.

    • I sadly don’t have children, but very close to my niece and nephews.. they have always been taught to use ‘proper’ names & so refreshing to hear ‘penis’ & ‘vulva’ instead of the coy ‘willy’ & ‘tuppence’ we grew up with!! The boys (9 & 13) are very used to the ups and downs of periods etc as they have a 14 year old sister…and she is equally unfazed by male parts…good grounding. So important to remove embarrassment around talking about any parts of the body I think..it can only be a good thing to be knowledgeable!

  125. Kelly says...

    I work at a university and stage manage “The Vagina Monologues” (five years going now!). While the show has done great things over the years, a big complaint (among other things) is the focus on the word vagina! You get a mention of clitoris and lots of nicknames for the general area, but the word vagina is used for the whole area throughout the show. Drives me up the wall.

    • Lora says...

      This makes me crazy, too! How often do you hear a woman say about another woman when she’s revealing too much of that area “I can see her vagina!”? Um, no, you can’t see her vagina, it’s internal.

    • oh this makes me laugh! I was one of the readers for a local production of The Vagina Monologues and thought I was being so modern and feminist. No one, not once, said the word “vulva.” Now I know and will spread the word :)

  126. Jeannie says...

    Thanks to the Guardian Series Vagina Dispatches I got a wonderful refresher in our anatomy and knew this all <3 !!! But, prior to that, I had a rather poor grasp of it. I think I have a poor grasp of male anatomy too except for the outer bits lol

  127. julie says...

    I didn’t hear the word “vagina” out loud until college! Haha. I think my mother would rather have said a swear word, and she never said those, either! ;) Thanks for this post.

  128. We were JUST talking about this the other night! We have a baby girl and we realized we were teaching our son to say “vagina” which is not correct– as you highlight above. Vulva it is! Vulvas for everyone! (I actually grew up saying “vulva” but along the way vagina became…easier? more familiar? Trying to get used to saying it again.)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      how cool, you grew up saying vulva? your parents knew their stuff! we grew up saying “front bum” and “back bum.” :)

    • Jillian says...

      Oh Joanna, this made me laugh out loud. So did we. I hadn’t a clue. Sigh.

    • Kate says...

      Same! It was vulva for me until I went to a big middle school and then an even bigger high school – peer pressure for sure!

    • Jessica says...

      I had no idea either. It was all “private parts.”

    • I know, right? My parents were hippies and had four home births which I was pretty casually around for. I knew what placentas and uteruses were. (Then they converted to Catholicism, which is a whole other story…)

      This is reminding me of a fight I had with my best friend when I was around 5. I distinctly remember standing in her bathroom, screaming at each other about whether we had vaginas or vulvas. Screaming. Haha.