Lissa Rankin M.D.

Owning Pink

What? We Can't Say "Vagina?"

Networks have banned tampon ads that use the word "vagina."

Posted Mar 29, 2010

Tell me it isn’t true. Rumor on the street has it that TV networks have banned a tampon company for making an ad that uses the word “vagina.”  Um, how exactly are we supposed to talk about tampons without using the word vagina? And what’s wrong with that? Vagina vagina vagina! (Okay, did I just sound like a defiant little kid? Good.)

Apparently, after this infamous tampon ad was banned from three networks, they reshot the ad and replaced “vagina” with “down there.” Even with this change, two networks still wouldn’t run the ad. Which means they made a tampon ad without ever once referencing the female genitalia. I mean…duh, people. That’s like making a beer ad without ever referencing the mouth, lips, or tongue. Vaginas are where tampons GO.

Two Steps Back

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the company ended up killing the ad. Back to the drawing board where feminine hygiene commercials are made about women in running on the beach with billowing white scarves, with no references to any part of the female anatomy.

Once I cooled down after reading about this, I started thinking. Why are we so freakin’ afraid to talk about what makes us uniquely female?  I mean, seriously. Every single human being on this planet came out of one of those things we’re not aloud to name on network television. The vagina is the source of all life, the portal of pleasure, the living, breathing heart of the world. But oh no. Don’t even think about saying the word out loud. What gives?

Why Do We Get Squeamish?

First, a disclaimer. Yes, I’m an OB/GYN physician who wrote a book called What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend. I actually wanted to name it Coochie Confidential, but my publisher wouldn’t let me. I was told I could use the word coochie – or vagina or any other reference to the female genitalia – anywhere I wished within the text of the book. But not on the cover. Oh no. Not on the cover. “Down there” was suggestive enough.  I said, “How ‘bout Pussy Power?” (Tee hee.)

So yes, I’m probably more comfortable with vaginas than the average human. I’ve delivered other women’s babies through them. I’ve done Pap smears inside of them. I’ve operated on them. I write about them. I’ve changed my daughter’s diapers. And I’ve probably witnessed over 100,000 of them in all of their feminine glory throughout the course of my lifetime.  I even have one of my own!  So maybe I have a special perspective in feeling horrified that we’re not allowed to use the word vagina on television. But I doubt I’m alone.

Not so sure? Do these words make you feel uncomfortable? Are you one of we socially shy ladies who wasn’t raised to talk about your girly bits? Maybe your mother called it “Front bottom” or “wee wee” or “down there.” But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop the madness and call it like it is.  Vagina. Vagina. Say it with me. VAGINA. (You know you’re grinning right about now, even if you are squirming in your seat.)

But it’s more than just a game, friends. Language is a key part of empowerment. How can we be empowered to BE whole, beautiful beings who claim our femininity if we can’t talk about it?

What Will I Say to Oprah?

And – more immediately – it makes me wonder what I’m gonna talk about when my book comes out and I’m out there on the talk show circuit!

Can’t you see me now? “So Oprah. Yes, I wrote a book called “What’s Up [bleep] [bleep]. It’s an empowering book committed to helping women learn to love their [bleep]. The way I see it, you have to love your [bleep] to love yourself. Most of us carry so much shame, embarrassment, and trauma in our [bleep] that we’ve lost the ability to be truly joyful and vital. I wrote this book to demystify the [bleep], to educate women about [bleep] [bleep], and to remind you that you’re absolutely perfect, just the way you are. I’m here to tell you [bleep] RULE!”

Okay, so that didn’t go so well. Maybe I need to paint a picture of a little green bush trimmed into a heart. Then whenever I need to use the word “vagina,” I’ll just hold up my prop and smile. Hmm….

I’m Not Alone

I’ve discovered that women crave the opportunity to talk about vaginas. Wherever I go, women gather and tell me stories. When I teach workshops and join in community with women, they naturally recreate the Red Tent and talk about what makes them female. Maybe it’s me. Maybe having a gynecologist best friend brings it out in women. But I think we need to get rid of this silly taboo and shine a bright Pink light on what makes us female.

I’m not alone in thinking so.  According to a study conducted online in August 2009 by Harris Interactive on behalf of Kotex, among more than 1,600 North American women ages 14-35, 7 in 10 women believe it’s time for society to change how it talks about vaginal health, yet less than half (45%) feel empowered to make a difference.

In response to this, Kotex has launched a campaign to get women talking. They’ve created a series of hysterical ads that poke fun at the whole sterility of feminine hygiene ads. (I mean really, people. Periods are messy. Get real. Own it!)

I say kudos to them. Let’s tell it like it is. Let’s get this party started. Let’s say VAGINA. And let’s change the way television (and the rest of the world) talks about what it means to be a woman. I mean, come on. We’ve all got ‘em. There’s nothing dirty or shameful or icky about them. And don’t forget. Vaginas make the world go round.

What do you think?  Tell us how you feel. Does all this V-talk turn you off? Are you grossed out? Ramped up? Pissed off? Turned on? Come on. Get real. Dish…

Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, as well as the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get their mojo back. She is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Up Down There: Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, October 2010).

More Posts