A Pocket Guide to Vaginal Euphemisms

Yesterday I noticed this fact sheet about vaginas circulating on Tumblr. It includes a list of common euphemisms, most of them pretty negative. I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing the list so you can draw your own feminist conclusions:

a list of vaginal euphemisms with color-coded categories delineating which terms indicate your vagina is food, gross, scary, just a place to put a penis, a strange animal, a geographic location, a mode of transportation, a made-up word, a victorian lady, and finally, awesome. Sorry to folks using screen-readers, this image requires visual referencing.
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  • Heather

    Ann, I would counter that “yoni”, at least, is not simply a made up word, but a sanskrit word referencing the vulva in rather reverential terms. It may be alone in that respect in words for female genitalia, but let’s give it the credit it’s do, ya?

  • Bridgette

    Um…ok…I didn’t know that there were that many euphemisms. I just say vulva and vagina. If anyone has a problem with me being correct in my terminology, tough. Besides, I have always thought that ‘vulva’ has such a wonderful quality of sound for a word. It sounds so rich and wonderful. Sorry, I can wax poetic with regards to words.

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    As far as penis-receptacle names go, you could do a lot worse than the name “Black Bess,” esp if you continue to analogy of orgasm as a “little death.”

    “If your dick rides me, I can go all night and it will be the stuff of LEGEND.”

  • Shavaun Jamieson

    Yoni isn’t a made up word! It’s just not English. :D

  • Shelly

    “Yoni” is a Sanskrit word for female genitalia; it’s not a made-up one. Personally, I think it’s a very beautiful word, and a much better one than “vagina”.

    So instead of a green blob, how about a magenta one? :)

  • T

    “Yoni” is actually not a made-up word. It’s the Sanskrit word for female genitalia.

  • marissaao

    “Yoni” isn’t just a silly made-up euphamism, it’s the term used in the kama sutra.

  • Alba Rosario

    Actually Yoni is not a makeup word, is Sanskrit for vagina and “origin of life”.

  • dark_morgaine_le_fey

    I just want to point out that the second from the bottom on the right, “yoni,” is a Sanskrit word for female genitalia, used as a counterpart to the phallic “lingam.” These symbols appear in Hindu beliefs, that I don’t want to describe in detail because, as I’m not a Hindu, I would probably mess up. The point is, that isn’t a word that was made up to euphemise “vagina,” though it may be used that way now by ignoramuses .

  • Lauren

    Yoni is a real word – it’s Sanskrit for the female genitalia. Just FYI.

  • Joshua Mostafa

    Doesn’t the actual act of using a euphemism – even one with positive overtones – involve a tacit implication that the thing referred to is somehow awful or nasty? The word ‘vagina’ is itself a euphemism – we don’t speak Latin, we speak English. I don’t think we should accept the taboo or the negative connotations of the most honest old English word we have for it: ‘cunt’. Does it sound awful that a man is using this word in a comment on a feminist website? I don’t think we should stand for this. Be proud of your cunts, sisters: they don’t need euphemisms.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      Yeah, dude, I’m personally not real comfortable with you using that term on a feminist website, despite you coming up with a pretty clever rationale.

      More importantly, I’m not comfortable with telling women how to feel about and/or verbally label their genitals. You, on the other hand, seem to feel pretty comfortable doing both, in public, and in writing (“Be proud of your cunts, sisters: they don’t need euphemisms.”) Please don’t do that; it’s condescending, rude and borders on mansplaining.

      • albonie

        Oh, for shit’s sake. “Condescending”? Next you’ll be calling education “bourgeois.”
        I and Germaine Greer are totally 100% OK with “cunt.” It’s the only word for female genitalia that is any good, besides “vulva.” Please never call mine by any other word or I will not sleep with you until you correct yourself.

        • Matthew T. Jameson

          Ok, yes. You and Germaine Greer, two women, agree that cunt is preferable (apparently vulva is OK). Does that make it OK for a man to tell women what to call their genitals?

          Moreover, did you even read my comment?

        • vexing

          How about the word ‘penis’ being acceptable to describe female genitalia? Because I’m a woman, my genitalia is female but it doesn’t look remotely like yours – it comprises of a penis and testicles.
          Or are cis genitals the only ones that matter?

      • Cat

        I disagree that ‘cunt’ should necessarily be accepted as the correct word (we don’t speak Old English any more than we speak Latin, our language has evolved and the word ‘vagina’ has become correct, I see no issue with this), but he does make a good point about euphemisms. ‘Cunt’ is considered to be a hugely offensive word, but instead of just accepting that that’s how it is, it’s worth reflecting on why that is the case. Your plain dismissal of his suggestion as offensive to women could be contrued as equally dictatorial.

        • Matthew T. Jameson

          I said that I was uncomfortable with his using the term on a feminist website. Can stating a feeling of discomfort really be “contrued as equally dictatorial”? I get to feel uncomfortable when things make me uncomfortable.

    • vexing

      And if you’re a ‘sister’ and don’t have a cunt?
      What then?
      Nice cis-centric thinking there, ‘sister’.

  • Ms. Smarty Pants

    As many have commented, yoni is a Sanskrit word. It means vulva, womb, and more loosely, source (as in, the source of all creation, source of the universe, etc.). There’s a Mother Goddess in Assam named Kamakhya (literally, The Renowned Goddess of Desire, referring on one level to sexual desire but on a deeper level the desire for total union with divine consciousness) who is considered to be the yoni of the Great Goddess, and a menstruation festival is celebrated there every year. This particular goddess is said to be self-generative, as in, she created herself out of nothingness, and is the power in everything.

    You should add “vagina” to the list of words that mean “just a place to put a penis,” as the word vagina is Latin, meaning “sheath for a sword.”

    For good measure, the word “pudendum” comes from the Latin pudere, meaning “shame” or “to be ashamed.”

    Etymology FTW!

  • Mollie

    Holy crap I didn’t know so many of you read the kama sutra =P

    I’m surprised vajayjay isn’t on that list. *sigh*

  • alex

    pussy and cunt are missing from the list

  • Jack

    Technically, the word “vagina” falls under the heading of “just a place to put a penis.” Vagina is the Latin word for sheath.

  • spiffy-mcbang

    And this is when moderated comments become comical.

    Personally, I think “Silk Igloo” is amazing. It could not possibly make less sense.

  • Shannon Drury

    When I hear the vagina described as a “yoni,” I envision a very pale, smelly white hippie dancing under the moon in a batik dress, not a Hindu scholar transcribing the Kama Sutra 2000 years ago. I wonder if Ann has the same image in her head.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      [snickering]. Well-played.

    • Ms. Smarty Pants

      Well, this is obviously your own problem to deal with, isn’t it. :)

      (My point is that your comment is kind of offensive on numerous levels, both in its presumptive exoticization of Indian culture, as well as perpetuating stereotypes about women and spirituality that includes body acceptance.)

      • Matthew T. Jameson

        Are you actually offended, or just showing off how smart (i.e. knowledgeable) you are?

      • Hershele Ostropoler

        Don’t Westerners in fact exoticize Hindu culture? Westerners who say “yoni” outside a specifically Hindu/Kama Sutra context may not all be engaging in Orientalism, but it’s the way to bet. So I didn’t understand the gist of Shannon’s comment to be “Hinduism isn’t a real religion or a real culture” but rather “people in the West often treat Hinduism as not being a real religion or a real culture.” And indeed you said substantially the same thing not ten minutes after posting this.

        Though “yoni” still isn’t a made-up word.

  • Ms. Smarty Pants

    I’m a little bit surprised (and yet, not) that a community purporting to be a feminist one, which should theoretically conscious and wary of cultural stereotypes, would latch onto the Kama Sutra, which just brings up all kinds of Orientalist tropes about Asian sexuality. The Kama Sutra has been used for a very long time in the West to create dehumanizing and colonialist narratives about South Asian women, which has also contributed to the ongoing narratives about Asian women in general.

    There is a lot more to the word yoni than the Kama Sutra, the yoni is not purely sexualized in India (in fact, an inherent part of worshipping the Goddess is drawing an aniconic form of the yoni), and actually, the Kama Sutra is such an insignificant text in the broad scope of Indian religion and culture that it’s ridiculous it’s one of the best known texts in the West. In reality, it’s barely a blip on the radar. But its continued (misguided) perpetuation as emblematic of Indian sexuality, and its continued use as a means to exoticize Indian culture (and Indian women in particular) in Western culture is a palpable form of Orientalism (i.e., racism) that needs to be examined.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      Wait, so the Feministing community is not really feminist because we, you know, aren’t all extensively knowledgeable about Indian literature/culture/terminology re: female genitalia?

      There is just no need for comments like this. All you really have to condescend on here is the fact that some (3, if I’m counting correctly) posters have associated this term with Kama Sutra. So what? Yes, it’s popular in the West. Yes, it is -according to you- a minor work over in the subcontinent. But how is merely referencing it problematic? Does one need to be a scholar of Indian culture to say, “Yes, I recognize that, I know that it is associated with X book!”

      I hear what you’re saying about the book’s problematic history, but has anyone here used it as a means to exoticize/orientalize/homogenize Indian culture? If so, please cite examples (maybe I missed something, and I admit I am probably not as sensitive to these types of stereotypes because I neither have Indian heritage, nor am I particularly knowledgeable about the subcontinent). However, for you to make a bunch of nasty generalizations about the Feministing community without citing anything but the vague generalization that we are “latch[ing] onto the Kama Sutra,” begs another question: do you really have any point to make, or are you just trying to draw attention to how much more enlightened you are than the rest of the community? Because, you know, doing just that (showing off your own enlightenment) is another way that Westerners have co-opted and comodified Indian culture, to our discredit. If I’m misreading you, enlighten me; you do seem to get a kick out of it.

  • Hershele Ostropoler

    Shouldn’t there be a dot denoting “Your vagina is an injury”? Or is that included in “gross” or “scary”?

  • vexing

    My feminist conclusion?
    The list is cis-centric as hell.

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      Thanks for pointing that out, Vexing. Originally, this post was about “vaginal euphemisms,” but posters shifted to using the term “female genitalia,” which, as you point out, doesn’t have to be a vagina! Thanks for calling us all -myself included- out on our cis-centrism.