This past weekend was the usual flurry of activity: late nights, early mornings, family, friends, dog training, tri training, a regrettable lunch at McDonald’s, hockey victories, Scrabble victories and a little karaoke.

The two day frenzy began Friday afternoon, when I attended a dress rehearsal of The Vagina Monologues.   I’ve been enamoured of the Monologues ever since I saw my first production, five years ago.  A couple years later, I had the pleasure of performing Because He Liked To Look At Them as part of Ottawa V-Day 2007. A memorable event, not for the privilege of performing in front of hundred but also because it was only three short weeks after my son was born.

I’ve a strong bias in favour of  organizations/movements such as V-Day who seek to end violence against women.  I have great respect for the people in Ottawa and around the world who raise money through performances and readings of The Vagina Monologue, to end violence against women. I applaud the women from all facets of our community who get on stage and perform.   The final production is always beautifully unpolished – tender and vulnerable in a way I find difficult to describe.

Empowerment. Activism. Theatre. Community. So much with the good.  And yet the sex educator in me can’t resolve the one annoyance I’ve always had with this show:

VAGINAS ARE ON THE INSIDE!

People often use the word “vagina” to describe external female genitalia. The vagina is the tube that leads from the cervix of the uterus to the outside of the body. The birth canal for some. The outer stuff – the clitoris, labias minora and majora and the urethral and vaginal openings are known collectively as the vulva.  It may seem like an unimportant distinction, hearing the vulva called the vagina peeves me deeply.

People who are smarter than me have made similar critiques about the Monologues misuse of the term “vagina”.  I’ve heard repeated suggestion that the play would be more aptly named “The Vulva Monologues”.  Even though the whole “vagina/vulva” issue is a semantic annoyance, I can understand why Eve Ensler chose to use “vagina” vs. “vulva” in the title.  I suspect the word “vagina” is more familiar and relatable for most people. Also? The play deals with what happening on to and because of genitals on the inside AND the outside. Ultimately, “The Vulva Monologues” would be an equally inaccurate title.

If  The Vagina Monologues was just the title, I could totally let it slide.  It’s the use of “vagina” in the play itself themselves.  For example, the opening monologue “Hair” makes repeated mention of a man wanting to shave his wife’s vagina.  Subtle variances in anatomy notwithstanding most vaginas don’t have hair. And they do, shaving would require tremendous feats of dexterity since

VAGINAS ARE ON THE INSIDE!

As children, many of us learned that “boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.”  Yeah…sometimes. Not always.  Sex doesn’t define gender. But also? The vagina isn’t the homologue of the penis. The clitoris is. I think it’s important to acknowledge those distinctions for many reasons, not the least of which is sexual pleasure. The vagina can be a source of sexy awesomeness for many people, but because of nerve endings and other anatomical designs, it’s not the central pleasure centre for many people. Meanwhile the vulva – the lips and specifically the clitoris tend to be quite potent in terms of the sensation they deliver. But stimulating the vulva often gets designated as “foreplay” – the thing that come before the sex – while vaginal penetration is billed as the main event.

Even though it can be wonderful for many of us, vaginal stimulation isn’t the sexual highlight. But there’s still kind of this expectation that it should be and I wonder if it’s due in part to the fact that we say that A)vulvas and vaginas are basically the same thing and B)  vaginas and penises are basically the same thing.

Besides, I just want people to call my bits what they are. We don’t call testicles a penis. We call them testicles. Or balls. Or nuts. Meanwhile the penis gets to be a penis or cock or whatever. The point is, there are distinct sets of words and we understand penis and testicles as related but distinct anatomical parts.  Vulvas and vaginas deserve the same respect.

Vaginas are awesome. As are vulvas. They’re connected but different in form, function and response. So one more time:

VAGINAS ARE ON THE INSIDE!

As for The Vagina Monologues they are mostly empowering, thought-provoking and awesomesauce.  But I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that Eve Ensler may have missed an opportunity to counter the vag-centric confusion around female sexuality.   I will continue to support and participate The Vagina Monologues and V-Day, even as I holler my new mantra in all caps:

VAGINAS ARE ON THE INSIDE!