News flash: “Vagina” isn’t a dirty word. Yeah, we all love a funny vagina synonym. But when it comes to standing up for your reproductive health, just saying “vagina” is the first step in being your own advocate.

That’s just what comedian, podcaster, and vagina owner Whitney Cummings is screaming at the top of her lungs. No, literally — she’s saying “vagina” as much as possible in an effort to bring awareness that you shouldn’t be afraid of your own body parts.

With the help of birth control brand Annovera and the Just Say Vagina campaign, Whitney is kicking off #VaginaAppreciationDay on April 23.

We sat down with Whitney to talk all things vagina, why women are so afraid to speak up at the gyno, and how to treat your vag right on its special day.

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Design by Mekhi Baldwin; Photography provided by Whitney Cummings

Whitney Cummings is no stranger to the wrath of this six-letter word and the tendency to censor it into euphemisms like “coochie,” “hoo-ha,” “flower,” or “cookie” (*cringe*).

“When I started doing stand-up, I’d go on stage and say ‘vagina.’ And the audience would, like, groan,” she recalls. “A couple women in the back would be like, wooooo and go crazy, but dudes would roll their eyes, which is always still confusing to me. It’s like, you spend most of your time trying to get near vagina, but the word is upsetting to you?”

Many female comics like Whitney have been smacked with the label of “dirty” or “blue” (referring to more adult humor with sexual innuendo and swearing) simply for talking about sex or vaginal issues. And even though these conversations really aren’t anything new (“The Vagina Monologues” has been around since the ’90s, people), vagina talk is often seen as radical and taboo. In reality, it’s just talking about sexual health, something that affects anyone with a vagina.

“There’s something just really institutionalized, you know, ancestral shame that’s been passed on,” she adds.

Off the stage, folks are often taught from a young age not to talk about sex or their own body parts. Did anyone actually feel comfortable saying “vagina” or even “penis” in health class?

Hearing “vagina” on sitcoms was also way more taboo 5 to 10 years ago than it is today. Some shows even had limits on the number of times writers could use the term.

“I did ‘2 Broke Girls,’ and Michael Patrick King and I wrote for Kat Dennings this monologue where she ended with, ‘And that makes my vagina dry up.’ And it was, like, the biggest controversy. It was so ridiculous,” says Whitney.

“I did another sitcom where I wasn’t allowed to say the word ‘vagina’… and they cut to the ads and it was, like, maxi pads and tampon commercials. And then it’s like, OK, obviously women are watching the show. Why can’t I say the word ‘vagina’? The character would in this moment.”

But “2 Broke Girls” was part of a slowly growing vagina-saying revolution in television, which centers on female friends regularly saying the word — as often as men in a bromance make penis jokes. Think “Girls” and even “Sex and the City,” which discussed everything from crabs to infertility (but didn’t have nearly as much literal vagina speech).

Going to the gyno can feel embarrassing and invasive, but it’s a necessary part of owning a vagina.

We all know OB-GYNs are there to help, but it can be hard to ask the right questions and get much-needed answers to burning questions (especially if something is, ya know, actually burning).

“I’ve spent most of my career trying to be able to figure out why this word is so upsetting to people,” says Whitney. “And also because there’s very real ramifications. I was not advocating for myself as a teenager and well into my twenties. I would go to a gynecologist, and I was too afraid to say, like, ‘Hey, what’s this bump on my vagina? Is it razor burn, or what is this?’ You know, I was too afraid to ask.”

Whether you have a vagina or a penis, sexual health is often stigmatized. People may be ashamed of anything that doesn’t appear “normal” and terrified that an STI will make them “dirty” or “broken.”

While it’s always best to take precautions against STIs with barrier methods like dental dams and condoms, STIs happen and are nothing to be ashamed of. It’s more important to get tested regularly and seek treatment if you need it.

PSA: STIs have been on the rise too

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. health departments reported upticks in STIs in 2019, with numbers totaling:

  • 1.8 million cases of chlamydia
  • 616,392 cases of gonorrhea
  • 129,813 cases of syphilis (all stages)

But what about during COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020? That data isn’t in yet, so time will tell.

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The same goes for speaking up about suspected birth control side effects or menstrual pain. If you don’t bring it up, how can your doc help diagnose conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, or ovarian cysts?

“I was so codependent that when I went into a doctor’s office, I was so worried about wasting their time because they rush you so much, and then you forget what you were going to ask,” Whitney says. “And then, all of a sudden, his fingers are inside you. And then they leave, and I’m like, I didn’t ask anything I wanted to ask. I didn’t ask any of the questions, like ‘What is this birth control? What are the side effects?’ I just took what they gave me.”

“I now go in with, like, a list of questions, and I do not leave until they’re answered. And if I feel rushed, if I feel talked down to, if I feel patronized, I’ll find another doctor. You know, if I had put half the amount of time trying to find the right gynecologist in my twenties that I spent trying to find the right boyfriend, my life would’ve been so much better.”

Your OB-GYN visit checklist

Be your vagina’s advocate. Consider asking yourself these questions before your next appointment. Jot down any concerns and bring them to your doctor:

✅ Are you having any discomfort or pain during sex?

✅ Does your vagina or vulva burn, itch, or feel painful?

✅ Does it hurt to pee?

✅ Have you noticed that your vulva or vaginal opening is swollen or red?

✅ Are you experiencing any vaginal dryness?

✅ Do you have any abnormal discharge, especially with a strong, unusual odor?

✅ Are you feeling depressed, especially before or during your menstrual cycle?

✅ Do you have irregular periods? Are you spotting between periods?

✅ Are you having really light or heavy periods? Any large clots?

✅ Do you have extreme pelvic pain or cramping during your period?

✅ Do you have any rashes, bumps, or sores you’re concerned about?

✅ Are you having trouble getting pregnant, or are planning on becoming pregnant?

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Got a new gyno? Clue them in on your health sitch

If you’re visiting a new doc, don’t skip sharing important health background info:

  • Do you have a family history of conditions that might affect your health?
  • Do you have a history of any diseases or conditions, including STIs?
  • When was your last Pap smear, and did you have any abnormal results?
  • What meds are you taking (including birth control, vitamins, and supplements)?
  • Do you have any allergies (including to medications or to latex)?
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Think of Vagina Appreciation Day as your vagina’s “treat yo’self” day.

Many of our vaginas have been through it with periods, births, or yeast infections. So take the day as an excuse to do what feels good for you. That could be getting hot and heavy with a partner (or yourself!).

I think to truly appreciate your vagina, masturbating is really the way that you can understand how your vagina works.

“The other thing no one really tells you is that all vaginas are completely different. They’re like snowflakes… I know a lot of women that are like, ‘Oh, just can’t have an orgasm.’ It’s like, no, you can take control of that. That’s something you need to go on a little bit of a discovery journey with.”

You could also give your vagina a much-needed break from pampering or just reevaluate everything you’re putting your vagina through every week.

“I won’t shave it, or do sh*t, or bleach my butthole — all the things that we’re told we have to do to make our vaginas presentable,” says Whitney. “I’m gonna sort of take a little inventory of all the things that I do that were just habit. Like, remember douche? You had to clean it out, which I think ended up not being so healthy… like you’d put it through a spin cycle, clean it the way you would clean your drain or something.”

“I’m also going to maybe take a break from going in the hot tub without bottoms on, swimsuit-wise. I’m going to put bottoms on this time. I’m not going to let myself get a UTI. I’m going to really just put my vagina first.”

How to appreciate your vagina on April 23

Want to join in on Vagina Appreciation Day? Here are our top tips to show your vag some TLC:

  • Masturbate. Get your solo sex on and self-pleasure with your fave sex toys, clitoris toys, or anything else that helps you masturbate. (Psst… It’s fine to masturbate on your period too.)
  • Have sex. Request positions that spotlight your pleasure, help your partner finally find your G-spot, or ask for oral sex.
  • Don’t douche. Plain and simple: Douching is bad for your vag *all* days of the year. If you’ve been abusing your vag with douching and unnecessary feminine hygiene washes, here’s your sign to stop.
  • Dress for comfort. Lace undies are cute and all, but let your vag breathe for once. Find your comfiest cotton undies and let things air out. On your period? Opt for some period underwear.
  • Go au naturel. Don’t shave it. Don’t wax it. Don’t do whatever de-hairing method you usually do.
  • Leave your vag alone. Give your vagina some space. Srsly, just leave it alone.
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