There I was at my keyboard, writing about something sensible and semi-important, when this news popped up on my screen: “Nearly Half of Young Women in the U.K. Don’t Know Where Their Vagina Is.” And because a headline like that can’t be ignored, you’ll just have to wait for a sensible, semi-important column another time.
My first reaction to this news, naturally, was shock. I hadn’t realized that so many British women share a vagina. And not a one of them could track the thing down? To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, for one woman to lose such a thing may be regarded as misfortune; for hundreds to lose it looks like carelessness.
I kept reading and learned that a survey of 1,000 British women revealed that only half of those aged 26-35 were able to correctly identify the vagina on a simple diagram of a woman’s reproductive system. And I mean simple. Like if there’d been a “You are here” icon, the survey participants could have spun 180 degrees and seen their vaginas is how simple it was.
The survey also showed that while young gals generally did not know which way was up, older women could tell an ovary from a uterus just fine and a cervix from a fallopian tube, thank you very much.
The study was conducted by women’s cancer research group The Eve Appeal to promote Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month. They say the results point to a potentially dangerous ignorance among young women about their own sexual and reproductive health. My personal concerns about the findings tend less to the medical ramifications and more to the sociopolitical implications, which can be summed up thusly:
What the, SERIOUSLY??!
I asked The Eve Appeal for their best guess as to how such a thing could happen.
“We don’t feel it’s appropriate for us to speculate on the reasons behind young women’s lack of knowledge around gynecological health,” a representative told me.
But I have no such qualms. So let’s speculate:
I’ll grant that cartoony illustrations of the female reproductive system can look, as one of my male friends said, like a “headless alien pulling out its eyeballs from under its armpits.” Yep. I totally see that.
And I’ll allow that young women may be less likely to have borne children and thus have not flipped through What to Expect books, which indelibly illustrate the whole egg-meets-sperm rom-com with its grisly didn’t-see-that-coming ending. (Mucus plug? Who knew.)
But — don’t teens learn this stuff in health class? Sure, women’s plumbing is more complicated and less conspicuous than men’s, and yes, girls supposedly have weaker spatial skills than boys. But one shouldn’t need GPS to find one’s own front door.
It would be forgivable not to know where, say, your soul was located. Or your G-spot. Or even your gall bladder. But any 30-year-old who thinks her hoo-ha is an outie rather than an innie really needs to schedule some quiet alone time.
Which reminds me: The survey also found that most young survey respondents were uncomfortable using the words vagina and vulva, with many resorting to “code names” like lady parts or women’s bits. (And leave it to the birth nation of James Bond to assign secret agent names to their naughty nethers, right?) The Eve Appeal believes this “shows the urgent need for us all to talk more openly about these issues in order to break down taboos.”
Look, I’ll talk openly about this stuff ’til I’m blue in the … women’s bits, but I ought to be able to call it whatever I want and here’s why:
(1) The Eve Appeal itself is a cutesy euphemism for “women’s cancer charity,” and
(2) I could pin the tail on my vagina blindfolded.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Broad Assumptions.