Before we talk about it, I need to tell a story.
It happened almost eight years ago now and so you might think, What’s the point of rehashing old wounds? Well, there’s definitely a point. Let me get to that in a second. First, the story.
Roughly eight years ago, I worked at what was at the time (and still is) one of the biggest online men’s magazines. Without naming said magazine, safe to say it was beyond culturally hip and the people were as dope as you’d expect magazine people to be. As part of my duties, I was tasked with writing short articles–nothing fancy or life-changing, just the general churn of content with the generic ‘staff writer’ attribution.
One day, my assignment was to do a short write up on a sexual health initiative in Sweeden. They were trying to de-stigmatize STIs and doing some pretty radical outreach and awareness campaigns about the female anatomy. So, naturally, in my write up about clinical matters of STIs and female anatomy, I used the anatomical word for a distinct part of the female genitalia: yes, vagina. I turned my article over to my (female) editor for final approval.
“All good,” she said. “Except, this one word: Vagina. Today’s a Wednesday. ‘Vagina’s’ a harsh word for mid-week publications. Try some kind of… euphemism.”
It took me a moment to compose myself as I digested what she was telling me: that I had to censor a clinical word for a very real part of my body–her body, too. But then, just as quickly we got down to naming what couldn’t be named: our flower. Our yoni. Our ya-ya. We spoke poetically in turn until, eventually, settling on hoo-ha. Yes, hoo-ha was just fine for a mid-week publication targeting grown-ass men. Sure enough, the article went to print. And a part of me reeled, silently, as I vowed to never humiliate or silence our lady bits again.
Fast forward: in an ironic twist of fate, today I work in the sex industry. My sister and I recently launched an organic pleasure spray that refreshes and enhances our orgasms. And by ‘our’, I mean ‘women’. Day in, day out, we work with women, helping to empower their orgasms. Because, let’s face it, the more women cum, the better the world will be. Yes, it’s a pretty bad-ass job.
And yet, nearly a decade after my foray into the world of magazines, censorship around our lady bits abounds. Or, said otherwise: a hoo-ha is still a hoo-ha. Let that sink in for a second: in 2019, it’s still deemed more appropriate to refer to our lady bits euphemistically than to use actual, proper and scientific terminology. It’s like we never graduated grade school biology.
Take this for an example: On Facebook, the word vagina will disqualify your ad from being approved (or ‘orgasm’; or ‘pleasure’). But a casual, euphemistic ‘V’? That’s fine, because we’re not really talking about it, now are we?
So, just like all those years ago, I find myself now having to get creative with the female anatomy. That is, with my words in order to say what I’m trying to say without actually saying it, you know what I mean?
But it goes beyond just a creative word naming association game. Because, not only are we not allowed to run ads with anatomical words like ‘vagina’, but we can’t even run ads, period. Why? Because our product deals with ‘adult content’. Period.
You see, here’s something you likely didn’t know about Facebook (and Instagram and Pinterest): you can’t advertise anything that enhances us, only cleanses us. So, that vagina soap that targeted you on Instagram? Totally fair game. You should definitely be worried your va-jay-jay isn’t doing the job properly itself. But all those gels and lubes and pleasurable things to help you in the bed? Again, we haven’t graduated to that level yet; We’re still just trying to figure out where the hell the thing they call the clit is and why.
Take it from Andy Kinsey who states it plainly about the biggest online advertising platforms in his enlightening article on Medium,
“You can promote products for safe sex eg. condoms for protective sex, but you cannot promote products for enhancement of sex or for sexual pleasure.”
Sound oddly primitive to you? Because it should. We’re talking about words here–parts of our body, of play–that we’re not allowed to say because we don’t think we can handle those discussions. Yes, in the 21st century. Female anatomy is described mono-syllabically as V. Just V. And please, don’t even get me started on that three letter-word that you probably caught your parents doing when you were younger; Or that you probably do yourself as well these days (if you’re lucky, most days, even).
This is why it’s important for me to tell this story–both the one past and the one present– because censorship around the female body and pleasure still very much happens. But before you go serving freedom of speech papers to the big Facebooks and Googles, consider this: while the big social corps don’t necessarily help in pushing the envelope, they’re also not necessarily the ones creating the folds. We are. The truth is that censorship isn’t limited because of our social media platforms, but because of our minds. Meaning, wake up! The sexual revolution and body empowerment you speak of in hashtags is folded into the creases of a social dialogue that is so deeply, shockingly superficial.
Because you see, the question is actually this: How do you talk about things that we can’t even talk about? Or said otherwise: How do you beat around the bush when we can’t even accept that the bush exists to begin with?