A Vulva By Any Other Name

The David Nolan Gallery in New York teamed up with Francis M. Naumann Fine Art to present “The Visual Vagina”, a vulva-focused art exhibition. The art is provoking and were I in New York, I’d be giddy to check it out. (Seriously, they have a vulva yurt. The real vulva yurt is image #18 in this NSFW gallery.)

People well schooled in genital anatomy are none-too-happy with naming a vulva-centered exhibition “The Visible Vagina.” Why? A vagina is technically an invisible potential space while the vulva is the outside bits.

Marina Galperina at Animal New York did a write-up about the exhibition a couple weeks ago and some commenters got a little upset about the title.

One was teasing:

Clara Hamer

Man, talk about false advertising. All I see here are vulvas.

Another felt a bit stronger about proper terminology:


Enough already! Unless you’re using a SPECULUM, it’s the VULVA you’re seeing. The vagina is a tube. And it’s inside.

Francis M. Naumann Fine Art and David Nolan Gallery, shame on your[sic] for proliferating this!

So Francis Naumann stepped in to defend the title:

Francis Naumann


I’m getting tired of people trying to correct the title. Of course we know the difference between the vagina and vulva (so do most kids who take sex education courses in high school), but the rapport that the show shares with Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” would have been lost. Although anatomically inaccurate, they two words have been used interchangably[sic]. All proceeds from the sale of the catalogue will go to Ensler’s not-for-profit organization, V-Day, which is devoted to preventing abuse to girls and women worldwide. All of this information is provided in the catalogue, as well as in our press release.

Fair enough Mr. Naumann, though as someone working with youth I can assure you that most teens look at me weird when I say vulva. Not really a well-known term. Also, since the show paired up with Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, I get why vagina is used.

But I suspect another reason: far less people would see the “Visible Vulva” because the term is either foreign or steeped in the feminist sexual politics of its advocates. People know what a vagina is. Not everyone knows what a vulva is.

I don’t blame them for using status quo terminology. You can’t communicate with a person if you don’t speak their language. But if art is something to provoke our critical minds and to challenge our reality, why is there no mention of vulvas on the website press release? What I would advocate is setting up a prominent info piece in the gallery that explains the difference between the two and why the distinction is important.

Aside from that, I am tickled pink that so many people are screaming “Vulva!” in response to this art show. Only referring to the hot spot between a woman’s legs as a vagina privileges penetrative sex and renders the clit, the Almighty Pleasure Button, invisible. The clit is very important. Respect the Clit. Command the Clit.

5 thoughts on “A Vulva By Any Other Name”

  1. I’m one of those people who gets so annoyed when people call my pussy a “vagina.”

    For instance, in the new Em&Lo show, the narrator suggests “licking the vagina side to side.” How are you supposed to lick the birth canal from side to side? Em&Lo hate the word “pussy.” Why? What’s so bad about it? I like pussy and cock best for referring to male and female genitalia.

    But if you want to be more correct about it, vulva is more accurate, clit even more so. No harm in reeducating people on more accurate terminology. I also like the idea of “yoni” which encapsulates the whole female genital region.

  2. Huge pet peeve of mine: People who don’t know their damn basic sexual anatomy. I was about to repeat the same line as the poster above but alas, let us not be redundant. 😉

  3. Yes, when the women I’m fucking start using terms like “frenulum” and “glans” and “meatus”, I’ll then start talking about the cervix and the vulva minora and majora, and the Skene’s glands and the clitoris etc-
    Until then, I’ll stay in the place of “this thing of mine feels good when it’s inside that thing of yours, oh and how exactly do you want it? forceful? soft? deep? teasing?

    It’s about the experience, not the terminology 🙂

  4. The portions of a woman that appeal to man’s depravity
    Are constructed with considerable care and
    Physicians of distinction have studied these phenomena
    In numerous experimental dames.
    They’ve carefully tabulated the female abdomina
    And given them some fascinating names.
    There’s the vulva, the vagina and the jolly perineum
    And the hymen in the case of many brides.
    So isn’t it a pity when we common people chatter
    Of these mysteries to which I have referred
    That we use for such a delicate and complicated matter
    Such a short and ordinary word?

    Author uncertain. . . could be Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein

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