What Did You Call Your Down There?
Dear Sister of the Heart,
As a little girl, what did you call your down there? For males and females (and everything in between) the technical term is genitalia, but men have it easy. Their down there is a penis and boys don’t have any confusion when it comes to finding a universally agreed upon word to call their external genitalia. For one, it’s easy for them to see.
We need a mirror.
Down there confusion has been perpetuated by the challenge of our not being able to see our genitalia easily.
Down there confusion has been perpetuated by the intricacy of our sexual anatomy. For example: the erectile tissue of our clitoris stretches back toward our vagina to the famed G spot and all the way down each side of our vulva. So it takes a little more patience and a mirror and a visual diagram for us to know, once and for all, what and how our lady parts look and work.
Down there confusion has also been perpetuated by our culture’s shaming of women’s sexuality, sexual desire and the appearance and smell of our genitals. Historically, that shaming has made it challenging for mothers to talk easily and accurately, and with joy and with pride, to their daughters about their lady parts.
My dear friend and colleague, Kimberly Johnson, author of the bestselling book The Fourth Trimester, and birth doula and sexological bodyworker, is dedicated to eradicating that shame once and for all. Recently, she asked me to hold space as an elder for her community of 150 women, from all over the world, who are taking her amazing online course Forging a Feminine Path.
So I have the honor of being on Zoom live, every week for four weeks, with these amazing women who are committed to knowing and loving and healing their relationship to their body and their sexuality. And I am not alone in this community in being an adult daughter who learned next to nothing from my mother about my female body and sexuality. This course is a much-needed resource for women who want to fill in their gaps of knowledge and, by doing so, heal themselves and their motherline.
I am in my sixties and it is common for women of my generation to have learned nothing or next to nothing from their mothers. I was taken aback by how many young women in the course- in their twenties, thirties, and forties- are still left in the dark by the culture and their often well-intentioned but uninformed mothers. Coming from the first generation that had access to the book Our Bodies, Ourselves, I forget that it takes more than one generation to erase centuries of shame and misinformation. It wasn’t, after all, until very recently that an accurate rendition of a woman’s sexual anatomy even made its way into some, but still not all, medical textbooks!
The good news is that there are Kimberly Johnson and Christiane Northrup and Eve Ensler and Regena Tomashauer and Sonya Renee Taylor and Sheri Winston and Tami Kent, to name a few, who are writing books and teaching courses to women who are done with shame and secrecy and misinformation.
This week in the Forging a Feminine Path course, Kimberly asked us a series of questions that would help us explore our legacies and inheritance. Two of the questions she asked participants to consider were:
What did your mother teach you about your body?
What did your mother teach you about sex?
If you are a mother of a daughter, I invite you to explore these questions so that you can begin to process your feelings and heal and fill in the gaps. We mamas can learn a language that was never passed on to us and, by doing so, gain a grounded confidence about when and how to talk to our daughter about her sexuality, her anatomy and her relationship to her body.
If a mother fills in her gaps in the safe community of sisterhood, with the brilliant guidance of an expert like Kimberly Johnson, a new generation of girls will become literate, proud, confident and downright celebratory. Literacy is clitoracy. For instance, did you know that we have an organ whose sole purpose is for pleasure? And did you know that our clitoris has 8000 nerve endings and that a penis has a mere 4000?
At a recent workshop weekend that I attended which was offered by The School of the Womanly Arts, the women support team (they are actually referred to as Team Pleasure) proudly wear tee shirts with 8000 nerve endings on them! How fun is that? Regena Thomashauer (affectionately known as Mama Gena) asked the 1000 women present what they were taught to call their down there.
There was a chorus of funny, curious, delightful and outrageous terms for down there being shouted out, including, of course, down there. This was a global representation of women so the words were from many cultures and languages: changa, pinko, concha, doos, katori, higo, minet, moule, mus, papaya, and then others more familiar (to me anyway) red wagon, tamale, mini, peepe, wee wee, lady bits, muff, camel toe, beaver, fanny boo, poochi, yoni and vagina. I could go on… it sometimes seems like there are as many words as there are women!
Regena is on a crusade of sorts. In her best-selling book Pussy: A Reclamation, she encourages women to reclaim that word (or at least what it stands for). Thousands of women did just that as they donned their pink pussy hats in their march on Washington in January 2017 after a president was inaugurated in spite of bragging about grabbing women by the pussy.
I’m not sure whether anytime soon we will have one agreed upon word. Pussy has been a pejorative word, and many women have a hard time embracing it. But whatever your word was, or is, or becomes, this discussion is rich and valuable.
For instance, the vulva (made up of the labia majora and labia minora) is a more accurate word for our genitalia- what is visible- than vagina, which we can only see with the aid of a speculum and mirror. From an early age, we can be teaching our girls, without shame, and with matter-of-fact confidence and delight as they become curious about their vulva, vagina, clitoris, their secretions and their smell and so much more. That’s sex-positive parenting.
And if you are just learning, mama, and either don’t feel comfortable teaching your preteen or teen girl or she doesn’t want to hear it from you, please don’t be hard on yourself. It takes a village. Bring her to a women’s health care provider who can help her learn. And there are great books on sexuality and body positivity. Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers is one of my favorites.
At Mama Gena’s event, one woman shouted out “Nothing. There was no word in my home.” To which Mama Gena asked the crowd of 1000, how many of them had no word? At least half the participants raised their hand!
It made all of us wonder, with Mama Gena’s guidance, how that might impact a girl’s and eventually a woman’s sense of self: to have her center of sexuality, of power and of creativity to be unacknowledged and have no name. Without a shadow of a doubt, we all knew, that by naming and knowing our female anatomy, and living from our sexuality whenever and however we choose, we could walk this earth with more confidence and pride, and take our daughters along with us.