Mar 182010

Ya’ll will have heard by now that Kotex wasn’t allowed to use the word “vagina” in an advertisement for a product designed to be inserted in a vagina in order to obstruct the flow of menstrual blood out of the vagina.

Shall I join the chorus of sex educators, feminists, progressives, and shamelessly female people out there who find this hysterically – and I do mean hysterically – funny? I shall. But I won’t bore us all with the standard diatribe about body shame. We all know already, right?

Instead, let me tell you a story that has given me hope when I most needed it, lo these many years.

100 years ago I was tabling at a health fair (“tabling” is a sex educator term for standing at a table during a public event, to answer people’s questions and give away condoms) and this nice kid comes over and asked me why his girlfriend felt like she had to pee during intercourse.

One day I’ll answer this question on the blog, but in the meantime, here’s the point of the story:

Always glad to have the opportunity to give an answer that’s good news (easily fixable problem!!), I had already started answering the question when I suddenly became aware of the hand gestures I was using (finger-miming penetration) in the middle of Frangipani Room of the Indiana University Student Union, in front of literally hundreds of strangers, while talking to a 20 year old boy. I was maybe 23 at the time, but had been doing sex education for 5 years and was already well inoculated to sexuality. I looked at the kid and said,

“Uh, let me know if you feel uncomfortable with me being so explicit.”

“Oh man, no!” he said seriously, “Penis penis penis, vagina vagina vagina. It’s all good!”

And so I carried on.

I’ve remembered this for, as I say, these last 100 years because it was terribly refreshing to be able to answer a question without having to use euphemism or to worry that I was causing the other person to FREAK RIGHT THE FUCK OUT at my casual description of the anatomy and physiology of human reproduction.

Too often, I’d be nattering on about shafts and lubrication and contractions of the anal sphincter only to realize, too late, that the other person had begun to blench and edge away, as though preparing to escape. Part of me would feel sad and guilty that I’d put the person off, when I was meant to be helping them, but another part of me would go, “You ASKED ME how this works. I’m giving you an extremely accurate and thorough answer that will improve your quality of life! What the fuck is the MATTER WITH YOU??”

Only gradually did I learn the patience necessary to allow that people generally would not have the problems they were asking me about if they felt as comfortable with penises, vaginas, pubic hair, the flavor of seminal fluid, and the smell of cervical mucus as I do.

So, frat kid, wherever you are, you rock socks. I bet you’re a great lover. Congratulations.

And for all you ladygirls and gentleboys who love a vagina, including the word, I offer for your amusement Disney’s Story of Menstruation (brought to you by Kotex), which makes it sound like pregnancy happens spontaneously and without cause. Excellent. I love misleading vaguery, don’t you?