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Coyness isn’t nice

June 2nd, 2005

Dr Petra

Something rather odd’s been happening with women’s magazines recently.

They’re all gearing up for their summer issues, and journalists are fact checking holiday sex stories.

And for some reason there’s a disturbing outbreak of coyness.

This week I’ve had four stories returned to me for fact checking. In two separate features on summer holiday sex I was asked to comment on women’s bodies. I’d used the terms ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ in these features. They came back edited into ‘down below’ and ‘private parts’. In another story about STIs my use of the word ‘vagina’ had become ‘down there’, and in the final story where I’d spent time talking about clitorises again ‘down below’ had been used – with one exception – they’d changed my discussion of clitoris to ‘g-spot’.

I’ve hopefully managed to return the features back to the original quotes, although I’ll wait and see if this is actioned. Vagina and vulva do seem slightly clinical, and I’d have no objections to ‘pussy’ or ‘fanny’ being used if the magazine reader preferred it.

I don’t use euphemisms unless I’m being ironic. I don’t like being made to sound as though I use coy terms in common practice. It’s hardly empowering if women are denied terms to describe their sex organs, and it says a lot about how magazines handle women’s sexuality. So much for being liberated, they can’t even call a vagina a vagina.

The eradication of the clitoris in the final feature was even more interesting. It turned out the editor wanted it changed because “clitoris sounded rude” and that “g-spot sounded more grown up and scientific”.

It seems some editors see the female sex organs as just one thing. Mixing up the g-spot and clitoris would be akin to writing a feature on the human arm where you intersperse the elbow with the hand. They are different areas of the body that serve different functions. It’s the same with women’s sex organs. The vulva, vagina, clitoris and labia are all separate body parts that have unique roles.

But since women’s magazines seem determined to keep on being coy we can expect to see our sex organs being categorised as just one thing, and perhaps look forward to even more shy descriptions – “tinkle”, “ladies parts”, or “married regions” anyone?

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