As a 22-year-old cocktail waitress, I envied one of my fellow female servers for two reasons: 1. Her boyfriend, and 2. The ease with which she used the word vagina. She jumped up on the bar one day and said, "I hope my vagina isn't showing." Obviously I recognized the word, I had just never heard it used so casually.
Ten years later, I too can say the word in any context -- clinically, sarcastically, nonchalantly, or sitting on a bar. I'm not sure if that's a result of me becoming more comfortable with myself or we, Americans collectively, becoming more comfortable with the V-word. It was fifteen years ago this past October when we were confronted with the word, whether we wanted to be or not, as Eve Ensler's groundbreaking play "The Vagina Monologues" hit the Off Broadway Westside Theater.
Now we say "vagina" here, there and everywhere. Some argue this is not a good thing. In an article for the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger says calling genitals by name has ruined the sitcom. He mentions a recent episode of "New Girl," in which Zooey Dechanel's character says the word penis nine times, and an episode of "2 Broke Girls" where it takes Kat Dennings less than one minute into the show to say the word vagina. Genzlinger laments that this seems like "a clumsy celebration of the fact that the censors who used to keep words like 'vagina' and 'penis' out of prime time have apparently all died. We can say this, therefore we're going to say it over and over."
While speaking openly about genitals may not be good for sitcoms, it is good for the rest of us. When a society is too strict with sex talk, people suffer. In a rigid world, children and teenagers are afraid to ask body-related questions or be open about something they may have seen or heard -- and we don't want them to be! Adults, too, can be afraid to open up about sexual fears or problems and they subsequently suffer in silence.
I recently encountered something I never thought I'd see: A 66-year-old woman who spends most of her days talking, tweeting, and blogging about vaginas. Olga Cohen went into early menopause at the age of 43. This reaped havoc on her body and she ended up on a mission to restore her vagina to its pre-menopausal days. Having created the product that works best for her, a remedy called Vaginal Renewal Complex, she now advises women dealing with hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Needless to say, Olga is thrilled that the word vagina is no longer taboo, but she thinks women still need to be more open about some of the aging vagina's problems. Her message is simple: "If you can't talk about the problem, there is no hope of solving it." Olga says whenever she is speaking with a shy woman, she tells the story of her own vagina first, which instantly puts her listener at ease.
Joan Price, also 66-years-old and author of "Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud about Senior Sex," couldn't agree more, "Society's view of older people as sexless or as pathetic or icky if they are enjoying sex is wrong." She declares it's also wrong is for older people to expect sex to be what it was when they were in their 20s and 30s. Joan believes if people are willing to open up about issues such as erectile dysfunction, vaginal pain, and sex after cancer then they can have an active sex-life that is different but no less fulfilling than what they had when they were younger.
It seems to me that vaginas are doing incredibly well 15 years after the monologues. They have taken over prime-time and are enjoying sex well into old age. We should tip ours hats to Eve Ensler for helping to establish a world where two 66-year-olds and a 32-year-old can speak openly and honestly about their vaginas. I'm glad to see there's no age limit on genital speak. It was less than 10 years ago I became comfortable with saying the word vagina, and I don't ever want someone telling me I'm too old to say it.
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