I recently asked a handful of girlfriends to give me the wackiest names they’ve heard (or used themselves) to refer to their lady bits. Boy did I get an earful. Turns out we’ll go to some pretty bizarre lengths to avoid using the word “vagina.” What follows is just a partial listing of the wacky names people use to refer to that special body part. Ready for this? (Bonus: Try saying all of these out loud all in one breath). Okay, here we go. Ah one, ah two, ah one, two, three, four:
Cookie jar, va-jay-jay, kitty, inside pocket, beaver, honeypot, purse, box, sugar bowl, hoo-ha, cula, hot pocket, cooka, V, peesh, cooter, bunny, bajingo, passion flower, pink taco, fish taco, fuzzy bank, clam, panty hamster, pony…
…And that doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate how silly it would be to refer to any other part of your body like this (i.e., your ear is not a “sound oreo” or a “listen disc,” thanks) and how amazingly laughable all of these are terms are. I mean come on, cookie jar? Who comes up with this?
But despite the fact that these are pretty universally ridiculous epithets, it’s no coincidence that my girlfriends could rattle off dozens of examples with no sweat. Fact is, this is how many women are brought up to refer to their body. It’s something we’re conditioned to do from an early age (“swimsuit area” ring a bell?). That kind of training runs deep (and has very powerful consequences in how women relate to shame — but that’s a story for another time). Overcoming it enough to be comfortable using the word vagina can be downright intimidating. And pushing your vocab to include words like discharge, labia, or orgasm, words that are fraught with even more connotations? Fuggedaboutit.
Here’s the thing: Cozying up to these words is actually super important when it comes to speaking to your healthcare provider. Being able to accurately describe and refer to your own body helps your doctor diagnose you better. Unfortunately, studies show that many young women still have trouble with this—so much trouble that many avoid bringing up difficult topics altogether, leaving them at greater risk.
If this is you, never fear. There are lots of ways to go about breaking old habits and getting more comfortable using these words with your doctor (or discussing any not so pleasant thing — painful sex, weird-smelling discharge, whatever). Here are some tips for approaching awkward conversations with a healthcare professional.
1. Plan out what you’re going to say (and remember where you’re going to say it).
This sounds like a no brainer, but there’s a big difference between making a mental note to talk about an issue and actually taking a moment to frame the specific question you want to ask. Go into detail about what you want to communicate to your doctor— and what you want to learn from them. Rehearse the conversation beforehand, even if it’s just in your head, but also be sure to mentally prepare yourself for where you’ll be saying this.
Most likely this will involve a too-cold exam room wearing some sort of paper gown, looking at a fully dressed human being who has just poked and prodded you. Lots of people overlook this crucial step and get “stage fright” in the moment. Visualize and prepare and you’ll do great.
2. Admit you’re nervous.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable or unsure of how to talk about your body. Be honest about this with yourself—and your doctor. Rather than waiting until they ask if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss, pre-empt the conversation when they first walk in and ask how you’re doing. Instead of “fine,” try “I’m doing okay in general, but I’m actually sort of nervous to talk to you about some things today.” This will let you break the ice and also tip off the doctor that you may need some more coaxing and help to get it all out.
Bonus: When you make the appointment, tell the receptionist that you’d like to discuss some specific issues with the doctor and would appreciate if she notes it.
3. Write it down.
If the idea of discussing something like “lumpy vaginal discharge” with your doctor still leaves you cringing, consider writing down your specific questions and communicating that way. Lots of doctors even have online portals where you can communicate ahead of your appointment. The important thing is to get them the info — whichever form that takes is fine.
4. Realize your doctor doesn’t care.
That person sitting across from you in the exam room in the stylish white coat? Yeah, hearing about stuff like vaginas and discharge is literally his or her job. This person was tested on this stuff in school. He or she studied really intense pictures in detail. Your doctor has been up to their elbows in far more unmentionable fluids than you’ll ever be able to name.
In a nutshell: Doctors have heard it all before. No one is going to be grossed out or judge you or think you’re a weirdo. Your doctor is going to keep asking questions until you give all the info he or she needs, but that’s it.
And on that note, make sure you invest in finding a doctor that takes the time to listen to you, one that helps you work through problems, one that you feel comfortable with. This might take a few tries, but it’s worth it. The more comfortable you are with your doctor, the more honest you’re likely to be.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.