Vagina vs Vulva

Maybe you’ve already taken part in the conversation, maybe you haven’t, but the truth of the matter is that many of us have been using the word vagina incorrectly for a while now and it’s time that we get the terminology correct. There’s a really good argument to be made about using the correct terminology when referring to issues as important as women’s bodies, their authority over these bodies, and their sexual health. 

What is a vulva?

It’s no surprise that vagina has risen as the term of choice when referring to a female’s genitalia. However, vulva is the correct term when referring to all of the external genitalia which includes the clitoris, urethral opening, outer labia, inner labia, the vagina, and the surrounding tissue. 

So then what exactly is a vagina?

The vagina is the canal, or muscular tube, that connects the cervix and the uterus to the vulva and the outside world. This canal is where childbirth, menstruation, penetrative sex, internal contraception, and conception take place. 

Why is it important to differentiate between the two?

There are, of course, several arguments for why you should differentiate between the terms vagina and vulva when discussing these specific areas. 

On one side, it’s just anatomically correct to refer to the entirety of a female’s genitalia as the vulva instead of the vagina. The vagina is essential for penis-vagina sex and is the canal through which humans are birthed, so over time the word naturally became the chosen term. However, using the word vagina to represent female genitalia completely dismisses the notion that this area is the source of something else, something more taboo than menstruation or childbirth: female pleasure.

As well, understanding the correct and specific terms for body parts empowers those with a vulva to take full ownership of them. The American psychologist and feminist Harriet Lerner believes that neglecting the word vulva has serious consequences and even calls it a “psychic genital mutilation”. Using the word vagina incorrectly obscures women’s sexual pleasure and can have further ramifications for people in terms of confidence and gender equality. 

Viva la Vulva!

After reading this, you may still be thinking to yourself that the world vulva is too technical or scientific to use in day-to-day conversations when you just want to talk about a va-jay-jay (this term is not backed by science). And this is true. The term vulva isn’t widely used outside of the scientific world, but it’s time we change this. 

Language is powerful and so are vulvas! So start slowly by making a conscious effort to reevaluate each time you use the term vagina and ask yourself, “Did I really mean ‘vagina’ or am I actually referring to the ‘vulva’?”. 

Learn more: