Penis and vagina phobia

MATTY SILVER
Last updated 11:39 16/05/2013
Penis phobia
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WHY SO SHY?: Why can't we just say it like it is when it comes to our anatomy?

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Using the word 'penis' in a study of male attractiveness is bound to attract worldwide attention, as a team of Australian researchers recently discovered.

Researchers from ANU, Monash and La Trobe universities set up an experiment in which 105 Australian women were asked to rate various life-size computer-generated male silhouettes. The study concluded that tall guys with large penises ended up being most attractive.

The study made headlines worldwide - 1,400 news articles within 48 hours. I was not surprised that people were interested in reading about it; it just highlights the fact that talking about penises is a taboo for many. Put the word in a headline and it is bound to draw attention.

Most parents do not teach their children the proper name for their genitals, a penis becomes a willie, peepee, weewee, dingdon, twinkie or whatever and there are 100 plus adult names for it.

Some people are more upfront, however. In 1998 Australians Simon Morley and David Friend created a performance show called Puppetry of the Penis. They have entertained crowds around the world by bending their penises and scrotums into shapes similar to hamburgers, the Eiffel Tower and the Loch Ness monster. They described their show as the "ancient Australian art of genital origami".

In 2002 comedian Mick Molloy made the documentary Tackle Happy which showed the public loving the show but also revealing many embarrassed faces.

It is very much the same for the word vagina. Last year the e-book version of Naomi Wolf's latest book: Vagina: A New Biography, was listed as V****a on Apple iTunes and the word was replaced throughout the book's description. There was such a public outcry that Apple relented and the full word was used again.

It was probably the best publicity the book could have had.

In 1996, before Puppetry of the Penis, American Eve Ensler wrote and starred in an episodic play called The Vagina Monologues, which has been staged all over the world including a successful run in Australia.

In 2012 an Australian Carefree Acti-Fresh Liners commercial, in which a young woman explains the biology of the vagina, ended up attracting the most complaints for the year.

Some were funny like this YouTube ad. The Australian Advertising Standards Bureau dismissed the complaints stating the ad "was factual and treated the issues raised with sensitivity to the relevant audience".

Last year in the UK, Femfresh, a brand specialising in feminine hygiene was caught in a social media storm for its radio advertisements calling the female genitalia infantile names. The flood of negative comments only increased when the company posted images on Facebook and public telephone boxes with slogans including 'WooHoo for my Froo Froo' and 'I am proud of my Pompom!' Other posts used euphemisms to refer to the vagina as  'flower', 'mini', 'muffin', 'lady garden', 'kitty', 'nooni' or 'down there'.

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These were for adults. But then again I could not believe that a well-known politician, while a panel member on Q & Arevealed that she makes her 8-year-old daughter refer to her vagina as her "front bottom".

As a sex therapist I always use the correct names, before somebody says I am using the word 'vagina' wrongly (some people find it important to lecture that we should be 'vulva conscious'). And yes the vagina is the canal inside the body, behind the vaginal opening and the outer part is called the vulva which includes the clitoris and the labia, the inner lips.

But as we already have discovered how uncomfortable the word 'vagina' is for so many people, let's not make it any more difficult.

- FFX Aus

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