Female genitalia have become a hot topic in pop culture during the past few years. Television shows, movies and magazines alike are abuzz with talk of vajay-jays, bush and hoo-has. It’s no wonder that so many of my patients are obsessed with their own genitalia, but not necessarily in a healthy or informed way.

For many of my patients, the word vagina is all encompassing. They use the word vagina, or some slang word for vagina, to refer to their vulva, their labia, their clitoris and their perineum. A little anatomy lesson is in order. The vagina is actually the flexible, muscular canal that connects the uterus to the outside of the body, no more, no less.

The media obsession with physical perfection has extended to even our most private parts, and it has created unhealthy behaviors in women of all ages. Many of my patients report cleaning their genitalia excessively, some even admitting to scrubbing their vaginas with washcloths or sponges. They use antibacterial soap or strongly scented gels to wash, sometimes three or four times a day. They wax or shave every bit of pubic hair. And then these patients wonder why they have inflammation, irritation, odor or unusual discharge. 

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There seems to be a pervasive disgust at the normal female genitalia structure and function that has resulted in women waging war against their own bodies. I’d actually like to start a campaign for female genital awareness and health. Women need to know that the vagina is not supposed to smell like flowers or cookies. Pubic hair serves as a barrier to help prevent infection and is not dirty. The vagina is supposed to be moist, and physiologic discharge is a sign of a healthy reproductive system.

When a celebrity like Cameron Diaz publicly brags about forcing a friend to shave her “bush,” it disturbs me. This is a prime example of media creating insecurities. How many girls and women now think there is something unnatural and disgusting about pubic hair?

If we are going to publicly talk about female genitalia, let’s really talk. Let’s use correct terminology and discuss what the vagina is and isn’t. Let’s brag about the unique features of female anatomy and create pride in our bodies, and the amazing and complex female reproductive system.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.