I have a problem.
I teach Sacred Daoist Sexuality.
I council and support women and men around sex and intimacy.
I do internal work with women (that is, intra-vaginally).
Not to mention I have my own intimate life . . . with myself and with a lover.
But I don’t know what to call “down there.”
(For the sake of this essay, I’m going to focus on the “lady bits”—but this problem applies to male anatomy too.)
Let’s start with the all purpose anatomical and cultural term: “vagina.”
Her fame has been spread and image enhanced by Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues.” Folks who dared not say her name, now allow it to roll off their tongues (almost) unselfconsciously, and certainly self-righteously.
But did you know this word, originally derived from Latin, means “sheath” or “scabbard”? That is, it’s named for its passive role sheathing the sword of . . . well, men.
Do you know of any women who would think of themselves like this, and therefore think to name themselves “vagina”?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say . . . NOPE.
So, this came from a man, and was obviously accepted by men.
(Not that men can’t give us names. . . but this one? Ick.)
Not to mention: does anyone really want to be impaled—I mean penetrated—by a sword??
Dave Chapelle, in one of his stand-ups referred to the vagina as the “birth canal” throughout the entire routine. I found this hilarious and refreshing.
But still not the whole story.
The word “vulva” is lovely. Although it comes from Latin and means “womb,” its current definition is generally accepted to name the outer sexual anatomy. However I’ve noticed that in use it can refer to the “whole thing”. Beautiful, but not specific, not precise, when we need it.
Cunt. Pussy. Snatch. Twat. Beaver.
Then there’s all the slang. These fill in where anatomical names cannot. Some could be construed as poetic, many are certainly demeaning. Furry animals are invoked. Some are fun and sexy.
In other words, they’re confusing.
Words of sacred origin, like “cunt” have become slang and slanderous. It’s hard to take them back.
“Pussy” can be empowering or demeaning depending if you’re marching as part of a political movement, or marching in the military.
What presses my buttons in one context may turn me on in another. (Right?!)
And what about the sacred?
It seems that in English we have anatomical names and slang words . . . but no functional words that encompass all that, plus the sacred.
“Yoni,” from the Sanskrit, is potentially perfect for the scope of its meaning and its status in its native land of India.
“In the Indian tradition, the Yoni is the divine passage, or the source of life.
The Yoni is both uterus and vagina.
It transcends the anatomical because it is also a temple where the divine female essence can be honored.”*
But although I am working on adapting this word into my vocabulary, I still feel self-conscious every time I say it. It rhymes with “pony,” and with that i-vowell ending, sounds silly and insubstantial to me. It doesn’t sounds like the chthonic, birth and life-giving creature that this part of me is.
I’m not sure it translates so well over here.
Then, culturally, we tend to compartmentalize and personify our sexual anatomy. We speak about “it,” “her,” or “him" in the third person, as a separate being with needs, desires—heck, agendas—different from our own.
Sometimes this is useful and beautiful. Internal practitioner Lauren Rose talks about the “vagina mind,” for example, which I love.
We speak of “her” as a wise being whom we—the other parts of ourselves—are trying to listen to, learn from and revere.
And of course sometimes that distinction between self and genitals is dangerous, irresponsible, dissociative.
But what language, what words do we use when we are whispering our deepest desires to a lover?
How do we find language that gracefully expresses our most intimate and subtle anatomy?
What nomenclature for the tangible body that is so inseparable and indistinguishable from a mysterious and intangible part of our very selves, our very identities?
How do we encompass the global experience of our genitals and sex, while naming the parts and places with specificity so our lovers can find them?
Or so we can identify and differentiate for ourselves, even as we feel them as an expression of our essential whole being?
I find myself wanting to refer to these places and parts in and of me, as “me.”
“Touch me here.” “Come inside me.”
. . .and “you” for my lover’s anatomy.
“Let me see you.” “I want you.” “Can I touch you?"
Even just the words “this” or “that” or “here.”
Such plain parts of speech can become so potent and arousing!
Somehow in their humbleness they can more adequately hold the enormity of eros.
And sometimes. . . there are no words
—only inarticulate utterances, movement, heat, breath.
One thing seems true: there are no absolute names. It seems our sex (the global term I tend to use) is not something that can be fixed or pinned down with a single name for all time.
Really, how could there be such a name?
The feminine and the masculine sex are shape shifters, literally and psychically!
They are as changing as our deepest selves (and our most superficial selves), moment to moment, circumstance to circumstance.
They are the ultimate Daoists, responsive and relative.
In fact, maybe they—WE—are like the great Dao itself: