Many Nolan is valiantly trying to make an important point in her article ‘Vaginas are us’, in the face of the escalating trend in seeking an illusory image of bodily perfection.
However, her point would be far more effectively made had she used the correct terminology. The vagina is only a very small part, the internal part, otherwise known as the birth canal, of the female genitalia. The external, visible area of the genitalia, which includes the labia, clitoral hood and other features is NOT the vagina; more correctly, it should be called the vulva.
This is more than a pedantic issue. I am aware of many women who experience discomfort or itching in the genital area and complain about it as an ‘itchy vagina’ have been misdiagnosed with, and treated for, conditions such as thrush; only to gain no relief and later learn that they have a condition of the vulva such as lichen sclerosus which may lead to vulvar cancer, which often necessitates the surgical removal of the entire external genitalia. As you can imagine, this has very traumatic and lasting psychological impacts on the women concerned, and sometimes on their intimate relationships. Such cancers are more common than you may think, as most people are uncomfortable discussing them and they do not generate anything like the same public awareness as, say, breast cancer.
Many of these cases could have been prevented if only we had learned to use the correct terminology when referring to those parts of our anatomy. I have a friend who is a survivor of brutal vulvar cancer surgery and for the past 27 years has tirelessly advocated greater awareness of this issue, and I write this letter in support of her efforts.
My message to Mandy, and to all women, is that we need to clarify our communications in relation to those parts of our bodies by always using the correct terminology.