Editor’s Note: The word vagina—and several other choice words to describe a woman’s vagina—rang from the Michigan Capitol steps Tuesday, as state legislators and others performed The Vagina Monologues.
The performance, led by Tony Award-winning playwright and V-Day Founder Eve Ensler, was in response to the one-day silencing of Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown for the use of the word vagina on the Michigan House floor during a debate on an abortion bill. Hundreds of women turned out for the performance, some carrying signs saying, “Can’t say it, don’t legislate it!”
“They banned me from speaking because I dared say vagina, the correct, medical name of apart of a woman’s anatomy these lawmakers are trying to regulate,” said Brown. “I’m outraged that there are Michigan legislators that not only want to dictate what women can do, but what we can say.”
Ensler, who created V-Day, a non-profit dedicated to ending violence against women and girls, in 1998, issued a press release stating: “For 14 years at V-Day, we’ve seen the power of saying the word ‘vagina.’ We’ve seen how it’s freed women from their shame and empowered them to break the silence and become leaders in their communities. By saying the word ‘vagina’ and making it okay to say the word ‘vagina,’ we take away the humiliation, fear, and myths that often surround it. Censoring a woman for saying a word that is a body part that 51% of their constituents have is a repression that we have not and should not ever witness in this country.”
Given all of the latest flap over the V-word, what many consider the latest salvo in the “war on women,” we thought Happy Vagina! What YOU Must Know, which Mamiverse first published in March 2012, deserved another run.
Oh, and vagina is only one component of the female genitalia. Actually, we cannot see our vaginas, only the opening of our vaginas. Our vulvas (that is the correct terminology for the female genitalia) is composed of mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, clitoris, urethral opening and the opening of the vagina (among other components). People refer to vulvas as vaginas; they are related but not the same thing. So happy vaginas and vulvas everyone!
Is your vagina having a monologue? Is she trying to tell you something? Are you ready to listen and have a dialogue?
We are always told to take care of our bodies and many times, to take care of specific parts of our bodies. Our hair, our teeth, our skin, they all receive constant attention. Television ads trumpet products to make our hair stronger and shinier, our teeth whiter and healthier, and our skin smoother and younger-looking. Our nails, our abs, our eyes, our feet, they all make the A-list of parts-of-the-body-to-take-care-of, pamper, and indulge. But what about our vaginas? If our vaginas could talk, you would be surprised at what they would tell us….
As Latinas, you were probably taught never to pay attention to your genitalia. In fact, many girls grow up to not even acknowledge their parts “down there.” However, as adults, all women should know better and be in tune with the sensations, colors, odors, discharges, and “needs” of the genitalia and take care of it just like we take care of our mouths, hair, and skin. So, if you have not paid attention to your “down there” lately, I encourage you to do so today.
The vulvar area is very sensitive. Call it your “delicate” part that needs the extra care you would give to your delicate clothes. The female genitalia, composed of the mons pubis, pudendal cleft, labia majora, labia minora, Bartholin’s glands, clitoris, and two openings: to the vagina and to the urethra (yes, you have all that “down there”!) is a set of multiple parts that have a specific function.
Let’s focus on the vagina (yes, the vagina is just one part of the female genitalia, not all of it, despite how your “down there” is commonly called). The vagina is a long canal that joins the cervix to the outside of the genitalia. Through the vagina we have sex, bodily fluids find an outlet, and babies come out. The vagina is an important component of our bodies and our reproductive system and it can tell us a lot about our physical and emotional health.
Your vagina could be telling you something important through these symptoms:
Painful Intercourse— The cause of painful sex could be Vulvodynia. According to experts in the Mayo Clinic, Vulvodynia is a condition characterized by chronic unexplained pain and irritation in the vaginal area and painful sex. The symptoms could include chronic burning, a stinging sensation, knife-like pain, and rawness or persistent irritation. The pain caused by the condition can interfere with sexual activity, tampon insertion, and sometimes make wearing clothes and undergarment difficult.
I had always enjoyed a pleasurable sexual life. When I was 28, I started experiencing pain with during sex. I thought I was not well-lubricated. I tried lubricants and still sex was causing a lot of pain to the point where it became unbearable. I hid it from my husband because I felt like such a failure! Finally I went to the doctor and she said I was suffering from Vulvodynia. I felt relief to know I was not going crazy! —Maria V., Dallas, TX
Vaginal Dryness—Vaginal dryness, also known as atrophic vaginitis can be caused by a drop in estrogen due to menopause. According to experts in Medline Plus, childbirth and breastfeeding, cancer treatments, the absence of ovaries, anti-estrogen medications, Sjögren’s syndrome, allergy and cold medications, antidepressants, using vaginal douches, and not enough sexual arousal during sex.
When I went into my 40s, I started feeling like I was dry, regardless of how aroused I was during sex. It felt like my vagina just dried up all of a sudden! —Miriam C., Miami, FL
Itching—Bothersome itching of the vagina can have various causes. For instance, changes in the pH levels of the vagina can cause itching and these changes can be due to a vaginal infection. You can test your vaginal pH levels at home with an over the counter vaginal pH test kit to see if pH levels are normal. However, this test will not give you specific information on STDs, for instance. Abnormal pH levels may indicate the presence of a bacterial or yeast infection but you need to consult a doctor for more specific information.
Irritation and Inflammation—Vaginitis can cause irritation, redness, swelling, and itching, not only of the vagina but also the labia majora, minora, and the perineal area. Consult your doctor if these symptoms are bothersome and persistent.
Bumps and Lesions—Blisters and bumps in and outside the vagina may be a sign of STDs, cysts, ingrown hairs, or warts. To determine what is causing blisters and bumps in your genitalia, consult your doctor.
I discovered some bumps in my genitalia years ago. I treated them with OTC yeast medication. After treating it for months, I finally decided to go to the doctor. I tested positive for Herpes. —Lisa O., Bronx, NY
Discharge—The vagina is always discharging fluids. However, abnormal vaginal secretions may be the sign of a fungal infection, bacterial vaginosis, or STDs. Stress, pregnancy, certain prescription medications, and your diet may also influence your vaginal discharge. If you notice sudden changes in the appearance, amount, and/or odor of your vaginal discharge, consult your doctor.
Foul Smell—The vagina has a natural smell (you can’t and should not want to get rid of it). However, if the smell is pungent it may be a sign of an infection, such as a bacterial or yeast infection, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), or an STD.
All of a sudden, I started noticing an unusual smell coming out of my vaginal area. Even my husband noticed. I was very embarrassed. I consulted the doctor and it turned out I had PID and did not know it. —Teresa C., San Juan, PR
Your vagina may be telling you something. In order to know what your vagina needs, you must befriend your vulvar area, know how it normally feels, looks, and smells and be aware of any sudden changes. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to get to know your genitalia. Pay attention to its monologue and make sure you seek medical help if it tells you anything unusual.
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