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  • Writer's pictureLeah Jewett

Vulvas vs vaginas – what can I say?

Updated: Jan 30, 2022

Woman in vulva costume doing yoga next to a lake
Photographer Shane LaVancher took the “conception costume” to new heights (Image: Conceived in Brooklyn)

So you’re a parent who wants to talk openly with your child about sex and relationships.

You can be premeditated about it, work out ahead of time a topic you want to get across then take the plunge and mention it (a talking point from a news story is a great way in).

Or you can seize the day with teachable moments – a scene on TV, a song on the car radio, a billboard on the street, something your child says about what happened to someone else.

Whether you leap on a teachable moment or brave a topic out of the blue, you’ll be learning as you go about things like the values you hold here and now, who your child is and where you are in terms of talking openly with them. You might surprise yourself by what you find hard to say and what you can say more easily, by how you react to your child’s reactions, by where the conversation goes or stops.

Talking openly about sex-ed topics is as much about strengthening the parent-child connection and learning how to communicate with your child as it is about teaching them.

To get there, you might need to get over your own fears, barriers and hesitations, maybe by practising saying awkward words out loud. Two of those words might be vulva and vagina.

Here are 10 thought-provoking, conversation-starting questions about vulvas and vaginas to consider – and maybe dare to bring up with your child in your own way, in your own words… 


Why is it important to use the correct terms for body parts?

We’re fine with naming body parts like knees and toes, so by the same token let’s just call a vulva a vulva. If your child knows the anatomical terms for their body, they can more accurately explain when something doesn’t seem right. A child who knows scientific facts and understands about boundaries and consent is a deterrent for sexual predators – partly because an informed child is likely to turn to a trusted adult.

Using the correct terms for body parts validates and normalises those body parts – and “sends the message to kids,” says excellent sex educator Saleema Noon, that bodies are “not something shameful, not a secret, and that kids have the right to learn about them”.

Knowledge is power – and being at ease with using correct terms for body parts gives kids confidence, a positive body image and ownership over their body.

Woman in vulva costume and high heels, happy, at construction site
Living it up (Image: Conceived In Brooklyn/Shane LaVancher)

2) Are we hearing the words vulva and vagina more frequently in everyday life?

Name anywhere you remember hearing, over time, about vulvas and vaginas. What associations do you have through things like…

News stories


Books Theatre Ad campaigns

(Clockwise from top left) Georgia O‘Keeffe; Great Wall of Vagina; the ground-breaking show by V (formerly Eve Ensler); The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago; goop candle highlighting abortion rights; Diva by Juliana Notari; Russian art-protest group Pussy Riot; vulva cupcakes at a Sex Education party; Bodyform’s Viva La Vulva ad; My Little Yoni; exhibition on the anti-Trump pussyhats crafted by thousands of women; My Broken Vagina by Fran Bushe; another goop candle; London’s Vagina Museum; Pynk by Janelle Monáe; Gwyneth Paltrow stands up for vaginas; Oliwia Bober created vulva art in London toilets; vulva toy by Megumi Igarashi (aka Rokudenashiko), who made a 3D-printed canoe of a vulva selfie; the Naomi Wolf book

Did you know…

68% of women don’t know what their vulva is

57% feel pressure for their vulva to look a certain way

44% are embarrassed by how their vulva looks, smells or feels

25% are unaware that no 2 vulvas look the same

Bodyform/Libresse survey for its Viva La Vulva period-product ad – pictured above (2018)

Eva Bloom in a vulva costume that Nadine Thornhill is touching
Eva Bloom (left) and Nadine Thornhill in their YouTube series Every Body Curious

Watercolour drawings by Rosie Haine of 3 naked girls and the word: "Those with vulvas should be proud!"
It Isn’t Rude To Be Nude by Rosie Haine


Do these words make people feel uncomfortable?

If so, why? *

Do these words make YOU feel uncomfortable?

If so, why? * *