Euphemisms, Confusions and Misconceptions
When it comes to identifying and understanding the anatomy of the uterine system* it seems that many of us cannot tell our yonis from our vajayjays and our vajayjays from our pussies. What are they for, how do they work and where are they located?
Social and Self-Censorship
Added to this is the persisting sense of shame and secrecy surrounding our sexual organs. From the earliest ages we learn the words ‘dick’ or ‘willy’, rather than penis, and ‘fanny’ or ‘pussy’, instead of vagina or vulva. Even in secondary school if we touch on the human reproductive system in biology (my biology teacher discreetly skipped over that part) it is presented clinically, through obscure diagrams and completely divorced from the social reality of how we understand and relate to our bodies or live our sexuality. Sexual education, if it is available, is based on the preventing pregnancy and the transmission of infections. Teenagers are not invited to question, express concerns, and much less share experiences. Body positivity is a foreign concept, because the message transmitted is that bodies are shameful and not to be spoken about openly and frankly. There are places where saying the word vagina in a classroom can get you fired.
When it comes to women’s bodies there is even more hatred, silence, shame and mystery. The ‘period talk’ is almost given exclusively to girls, as if boys don’t need to know that anyone with a uterus menstruates. Everything we learn about our anatomy is related to reproductive processes. When was the first time you heard about the clitoris? Did someone teach you that it could be a fountain of ecstasy or did you have to find out for yourself in your 20’s when you could have been using this knowledge much earlier. Linking sex (with yourself or someone else) with pleasure is still something that is conveniently left out of the conversation.
In popular culture we often get no better. The term Vajayjay comes from Greys Anatomy when producers decided that after only two episodes they had already used the word vagina two much. Meanwhile there were no limits placed on the number of times penis could be mentioned. Amy Schummer can say pussy as many times as she wants, but rarely (if ever) uses the term vulva. When was the last time you heard someone casually referring to their vulva? As for womb or uterus, well that’s only relevant if you’re pregnant right?
Worst of all, a visit to the doctor’s office or gynaecologist is often no better. If medical staff, from nurses to doctors can not talk frankly about vaginas, labia or vulvas, but fall back on terms like ‘private parts’, than what hope is there for the rest of us?
And so we are left with the situation where even those of us in the possession of a uterus live in a state of confusion. Most of us do not even really know how to find our own. We use euphemisms to mask our embarrassment, we joke about our pussies and their strange secretions, and we think the story begins and ends in our vajayjay.
There is Power in Language
We can break the cycle of shame, fear and confusion by taking ownership of the language we use when referring to our uterine system. Firstly, by understanding how it works and secondly, by striving, in as much as possible, to use the correct language. I admit it is not always that easy, I still feel more comfortable referring to my vulva, vagina and uterus in Spanish, because I began to learn about body literacy and body positivity in Latin America. In English they sometimes still feel awkward or forced.
Defying 6000 years of patriarchy does not happen overnight! But it can be done, it takes practice and the willingness on occasion to be the awkward one in the room. Like Abbie from 20th Century Women, you too can bring menstruation and sex to the dinner table, break those taboos!
The Uterine System 101
For many years western medicine considered the uterine system to be nothing more than an inverted, or internal copy of the prostate system. It was also regarded as the source of all sorts of ‘maladies’ and pathologies from ‘hysteria’ to ‘uncontrollable sexual desire’ for women. To be in ownership of a uterus was enough justification to prohibit your full participation in education, the labour force and social, cultural and political life. Pleasure, for women, particularly uterine or clitoral, was a taboo. Our reproductive capacity was all that mattered.
The Vulva: Is everything we can of the uterine system from the outside, the mons pubis, the labia menora and majora, clitoris, the opening of the vagina (commonly referred to as hymen) and the perineum. The vulvas we are most often used to seeing, apart from our own or our partners, are the bald and bleached variety that are offered to us by the porn industry. But there are as many types of vulvas on this planet as there are women (including trans men and women), there is no standard and they are all beautiful. This is usually referred to – often derogatively – as pussy. Mostly though, the vulva, in all its intricate beauty is simply overlooked or ignored, referred to generically as the vagina.
The Clitoris: A magical little evolutionary feat of the human species who’s sole purpose is to give us pleasure. That little button that we see peeping out from between our labia is only the tip of the clitoral iceberg. The clitoris has over 8000 nerve endings which extend down through the labia menora and hug the vagina, which when stimulated can bring us to spasms of ecstasy. For the longest time it was considered to have no apparent function of its own as women were considered only capable of experiencing vaginal orgasms through penetration. Or it was pathologised and removed though ‘clitorectomies’, literally a castration of our capacity to experience pleasure, as a cure for hysteria, or women with an ‘uncontrolled sexual desire.’ The legacy of this thinking is alive and well today for millions of women around the world who have gone through FGM.
The Vagina: It is the internal muscular structure that runs from the hymen to the cervix that is capable of expanding to allow penetration and also to the point of allowing a baby’s head pass through it. The word vagina original comes from the Latin meaning ‘a sheath for the sword’ (the sword being a penis). In reality its main purpose is to allow fluids (menstrual and cervical) pass from the uterus to the outside world, it serves as the birth canal and it can be penetrated according to the wishes of its owner.
The Uterus: Is the strongest single muscle in the human body, capable of expanding to allow for the growth of a 9 month old human child and has the strength to then pushing that child out into the world. In its normal state it measures about the size of your fist and is nestled deep within your pelvis, protected by muscle and bone. The Spanish feminist Casilda Rodrigañez has written extensively on the power of the uterus as a centre of sexual pleasure. She argues the healthy uterus is at the core of sexual pleasure, which during an orgasm (and even in childbirth) can palpitate, creating waves of pleasure that flow through the body. It is not an organ we usually pay much attention to unless we are menstruating or pregnant, but Casilda advocates for recovering the consciousness and health of our uterus to put it at the centre of our sexual pleasure. She is also one of the gurus of the orgasmic birth movement.
So what’s all this about using a Yoni egg for your Vajayjay??
First of all lets clear up some confusion. The Yoni is generally understood to mean the vagina, but it is, in fact, a mis-translation of the ancient Sanskrit word for uterus. So while it is amazing to build the strength of both your Yoni and your Vajayjay these are not the same thing!
Now we’ve got that straightened out, we can move on to the whole question of Yoni eggs. Gywneth Paltrow recently made news again by claiming that anyone with a vagina should be using a ‘Yoni’ egg to promote vaginal/pelvic health. The idea is that by inserting a small jade or obsidian egg (popularly known as Yoni eggs) into your vagjayjay and practicing your Kegels, breathing exercises and some gentle yoga poses can do wonders for your pelvic floor health and sexual pleasure.
This caused a flurry of criticism from gynaecologists and pelvic floor health specialists to refute that this is in any way good for your pelvic health. To begin with, she is using ‘yoni’ erroneously to refer to vagina rather than the uterus.
When it comes to alternative therapies I am pretty open-minded, particularly as Western medicine has failed to resolve many gynaecological issues except to categorise them as inexplicable pathologies – in other words women’s problems that you just have to put up with.
I had heard of the ‘yoni eggs’ long before Gyweneth decided to preach about them and on a recent visit to Mexico I made an enthusiastic trip to a witches market (yes really) where I found a small black obsidian egg at the bargain price of USD$2 (rather than the USD$40 they usually cost online). I followed all the instructions I found on a ‘Yoni Egg’ specialist website, not Gywneth’s Goop, for cleansing my egg: bathing it in salt water and leaving it under the light of the full moon. On a quiet night at home I inserted said egg into my vajayjay and did some of the recommended yoga postures. I didn’t really feel anything or experience any dramatic change.
A week later though, just before I got my period, I began experiencing unusual pelvic pain. Once I started menstruating this got considerably worse. I have had menstrual cramps all my life and I am well used to dealing with pain during my period but this was like nothing I had ever felt before. My blood pressure dropped, I had dizzy spells and I could barely ride my bike home from work. The pain got so bad I actually had an ultrasound the following day to check if I had a ruptured cyst. The ultrasound showed up nothing and the diagnosis was simply dysmenorrhea. Mortified, I took two ibuprofen went home. I said nothing the gynaecologist who examined me (sure that she would think I was insane) but I had a very strong suspicion that this was all a result of the damned ‘yoni egg’. Of course, I can’t say for certain that it was the cause, but I suspect that the exercises and the force I had to use to pop it out again were not healthy. One thing I do know for sure is that I will ever be using my egg for vaginal fitness again.
I subsequently read all about dear Gwyneth’s recommendation and the criticism which followed, most of which actually makes a lot of sense! Like, its good to tone your pelvic floor muscles but a too tight vagina can actually be a bad thing! So from now on when it comes to stimulating my uterine system and improving my pelvic floor health I am going to stick with my regular Kegels, regular yoga and belly dance classes. Gwyneth can stick her jade eggs up her Yoni!
How do you feel about your vagina, vulva or uterus? Do you have a hard time talking about them openly? Do you feel embarrassed by your body? How do you look after your uterine health? And has anybody out there ever tried a Yoni egg??? Comments below! 🙂
*An on the ball teacher of mine has come up with this term for what is generally referred to as the female reproductive system. I have decided to adopt it for use in this blog, where possible, so as to separate sexual characteristics from gender identification and the assumption that the primary purpose of this system is reproduction.