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Vagina is not a swear word!

I’m Jon, I look after Digital Marketing here at TOTM. When I tell people where I work, the first question I’m always asked is “what’s it like being a man in a tampon company?”. And my answer is always the same. “It’s a lot more interesting than when I worked for a bank” (no offence to anyone working in banks). Yet people still seem shocked. Some even find it funny.

I’m used to the reactions, but it’s taken me some time to understand exactly why people find it an irregular role for a man. At first I thought it was just my male friends who may not be comfortable with ‘feminine issues’ (sorry chaps, don’t mean to generalise). I’m aware there’s an ever-increasing number of modern men, however the clear majority still change facial shade at the mere mention of tampons.

The ‘V’ word

Since working here I’ve been surprised to learn it’s not exclusively men who are uncomfortable discussing all things menstrual. In fact, it’s not even just menstruation that’s ‘taboo’. People seem to shy away from anything that has associations with the vagina. I’ve seen people recoil on hearing the word. I find it bonkers. Why are people so shocked and uncomfortable to hear the correct anatomical term for part of the body?

A few years back, my son was in nursery and boldly exclaimed one day “I’m a boy, I have a penis. But girls have vaginas”. When my wife went to collect him later that day, the nursery said they were shocked hear him referring to these bits as ‘penis and vagina’. But why? Why should it be shocking for children to learn and use the proper terms? He doesn’t call his elbow his ‘bendy-wendy’, or his head his ‘noddy-waddy’, so why are we teaching children to refer to their genitals as ‘wee-wees’ and ‘hoo-hoos’?

Vagina is not a swear word!

If we were to suggest any word in the English language being underused, vagina would get my vote. For some reason, there is a part of the human body that we’ve randomly decided shan’t be named, and it’s this ludicrous reluctance to use the word that reinforces the taboo.

I’m sure we’ve all referred at one time or another to our ‘private parts’, and for this reason some people don’t want to speak openly about them. That’s fine. That’s your/their prerogative. But the shock felt when people only hear the word ‘vagina’ is absurd. And unfortunately, companies and society are attempting to “protect us” from this shock and discomfort.

The Google chastity belt

Working in digital marketing, I’m responsible for those irritating banner adverts you see (sorry). But Google is not making my job easy. Oh no.

If you’ve seen much of our brand before, you may know that our core slogan is ‘Be kinder to your vagina’. It’s a phrase we’re incredibly proud of, as it encapsulates our purpose succinctly. Whether you’re using our organic cotton products, menstrual cups or some other alternative, our mission is to generate discussion and raise awareness of menstrual health. It’s an issue we strongly believe needs greater focus.

So, as any digital marketer would, I like to use our slogan in our advertising efforts. However, every time I’ve submitted creative to Google using the phrase ‘Be kinder to your vagina’ it’s been rejected on the bases of “containing inappropriate adult content” … I’ll let that sink in a moment.

Google believes that advising women to look after themselves, to take care of their bodies, to be kinder to their vaginas, is ‘inappropriate’. How in the world have we reached this stage?

Vagina web search

If you Google search the word ‘vagina’, the top 5 results are all factual, medical, or trivia. In fact, I went through pages of results and couldn’t find any content I would deem ‘inappropriate’. So why the sensitivity around the word?

I thought Google was just being silly. However, today I was proved wrong. Google have reason and justification for their caution.

Away from Google, we produced a display ad that included our beloved slogan. It was approved by the publisher who hosted the ad, and all seemed well. Until complaints started to be received about the ad.

Yup, people took the time to complain about the phrase ‘Be kinder to your vagina’.

I’m dumbfounded.

So, what can we do?

There’s no way to deny it. There are people out there who are still nervy of the word vagina. But I can assure you, we’re certainly not going to stop saying it.

Perhaps you’re already comfortable with the word ‘vagina’, you’re reading our blog after all, and we certainly don’t hold back with the V-bomb. I want to reassure you that it’s ok. Remind you that vagina is the right word to use, and you shouldn’t shy away from it. You may sometimes feel like you need to soften your words, and edit yourself so as not to cause offence (trust me, I know, only 10% of what I think makes it out of my mouth). But I need to remind you that vagina is not a dirty word.

If you are one of the people not comfortable with using the word ‘vagina’, that’s ok too, I’m not going to try and convince you to start using it. The last thing I want is to make anyone uncomfortable. But I will ask you this. The next time you hear someone say the word vagina, and you start to feel that tightening and shiver down your neck. Remind yourself, it’s just a word, it’s just part of the body, it’s completely natural.

It’s important to us that we help raise awareness of menstrual health. So, whatever words you use in that discussion (and there’s plenty to choose from – just check out this list from The Independent) , we encourage it. We will however continue to say vagina. And we’d like you to be ok with that.

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