Do you feel comfortable saying vagina? If you paused, don’t worry. It’s not you, it’s a culture of censorship. The overt kind (such as laws criminalizing the usage of the word!) and the more subliminal type, too. Are there consequences to this type of censorship? You bet. In fact, it directly jeopardizes your health. Because we know that there is power in words, Good Clean Love has partnered with Legalize V to continue this very important dialogue. We ask you to say vagina without hesitation, without shame, or embarrassment. We vow to continue to use real words on our packaging (none of this “hoo-hoo”, “hoo-ha” nonsense). Together, with awareness campaigns like Legalize V, responsible entrepreneurs like us, and informed consumers like you, we can beat censorship.

Be sure to watch our CEO & Founder, Wendy Strgar’s, video on why she supports Legalize V and how having a language for our bodies is critical to sexual autonomy.

Q: When was Legalize V launched?

A: Legalize V officially launched in late 2016, after several months of working with fellow women leaders about how to address the challenges of censorship!

Q: Can you give a brief history of the censorship of the word vagina?

A: Surprisingly, this isn’t new and what’s crazy is that it’s still going on! Since the 1800s, there has been censorship on words related to sexuality, beginning with the Comstock Law that criminalized usage of the U.S. Postal Service to send items tied to sexual health and satisfaction—even contraceptives, personal letters and more. In the 1950s, we weren’t allowed to say the word “pregnant” on television and today, the word “vagina” is still taboo across government, education, news/social media and corporations. For instance, Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown was banned from a House debate for using the word “vagina” in 2012 and fast forward to 2016, teachers have been fired for saying “vagina” during seemingly appropriate lessons. 

Q: How has Legalize V opened a dialogue in your life?

A: We’ve all faced censorship in one form or another and as a female business owner, I strive to lead by example. When speaking with my colleagues, peers or even someone I’m meeting for the first time, I look at it as an opportunity to educate others about women’s health and the Legalize V movement, and how it translates to the overall greater good. If I can empower another individual to stand up for their right to access health and wellness information, then I’ve succeeded in setting the groundwork for an open dialogue that hopefully my peers will embrace, as well as younger generations.

Q: What types of reactions has this campaign received?

A: We’ve received a ton of positive feedback from both women and men on the Legalize V campaign. Many people we’ve engaged with were unaware of and in fact shocked at how prevalent the issue is and we’re happy to share their support—whether it be grabbing a few of our Legalize V buttons to share with their peers, or taking some of our flyers to their office spaces to continue building awareness. It’s also been interesting to see that there’s still discomfort in talking about women’s bodies, or sexual health. It’s a start, but we have a long way to go. The best way to create change is to be inclusive, so consider this a call to action for everyone, in hopes that we spark more interest that results in an even bigger movement. We want to hear from you! In addition, from Buzzfeed to Fast Company, the media has been instrumental in giving our movement the legs it needs to be heard initially.

Q: Using slang terms for the vagina is so prominent in the feminine hygiene industry. When purchasing a wash or wipes it’s like manufacturers are willing to say anything but vagina. They’ll use names as ridiculous as “vajayjay” and “hoo-ha”, or as vague as “lady parts” and “down there”. How could the refusal to say vagina potentially be harmful to consumers?

A: Using the anatomically correct word for our bodies is beneficial to our health, esteem, and safety. Experts have been cited saying that children are less likely to report sexual abuse when they haven’t learned the proper language for their bodies. Professor Christina Fotopoulou, a consultant gynaecological oncologist in London, once reported 57% of women aged 18-24 said they’d rather Google their symptoms than visit an OB-GYN for a sexual health issue. These are just a couple of examples of powerful findings indicative of a larger issue at hand. There are so many more instances like the above that illustrate how censorship has perpetuated feelings of shame about our bodies because of stigmatization and unfortunately, it continues to adversely impact multiple generations. 

Q: Legalize V speaks to a lot of current cultural movements, such as sex positivity and anti-body shaming. Why is reclaiming certain words so important?

A: The heart of our campaign is that words matter. They matter so much that when we don’t use the right ones, or when we use the wrong ones, we create problems within our society, as evidenced by some of the examples we’ve highlighted through Legalize V.

By encouraging an open dialogue, we are setting the grounds for an honest environment that will empower men and women to communicate freely about their bodies no matter the audience—health care providers, family and/or friends.

By the way, we should be saying ‘vulva’, but educating around vagina is hard enough, so we’re starting there.

Q: We are a sexual health and wellness company and yet our ads are treated like adult content on many platforms. Has the Legalize V campaign faced similar issues? I can’t help wondering why Legalize V, created to denounce the censorship of vaginas, shortens the word to just a letter. Would this have to do with censorship?

A: Legalize V is all too familiar with issues of censorship. And yes, Legalize V was created because “Legalize Vagina” would have been censored online, reducing traffic and awareness around the movement. We wanted an audience to be able to engage with us and the same is true for our sexual health site, Fiera.

Our ads have been blocked or banned because our content uses the correct anatomical language, along with words like “sex, arousal, lubrication and libido”. Even though the context is health-related, certain media sites will ban an ad if the site contains what they consider “adult” content. It’s such a shame.

We encountered the same stumbling block with Legalize V until a reporter with The Chicago Tribune reached out to press the media (Facebook) on why an ad related to sexual health was being rejected. As we’ve seen time and time again, there’s always power in numbers—which is why we need everyone’s support in spreading the word and signing the petition on our site!

Q: What is Legalize V doing right now to end censorship of the word ‘vagina’?

A: In addition to sparking a cultural conversation about the censorship issue at hand, we have created a petition via care2.com that can be accessed through LegalizeV.com to reach out to one of the leaders in social media, Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook.

Our hope is that once she understands the importance of talking respectfully and openly about these topics, she will join us in setting an example by clarifying their guidelines surrounding sexual health and well-being content on Facebook. From there, we plan to target other media like Google and national broadcast networks. In the long run, we hope that these platforms will give access to unbiased information to support our overall goal. To aid us in our efforts, we’re encouraging everyone to get involved and visit the site to sign the petition!

Q: Legalize V has an impressive list of partners, all of which are successful businesswomen. Have any men reached out to you about this campaign or shown interest in partnering?

A: At the start of the campaign, it was essentially a voluntary uniting of like-minded women and companies who do good work and look to create change in a challenging environment. Everyone jumped right in when I asked and said “let’s work together to make a difference”.  That’s always been my belief.  We are better together than one woman or one company trying to turn a ship. My hope is that many more women and men become involved and the campaign evolves into something bigger with their input. 

Interview Courtesy of Karen Long

President & Founder of Nuelle, Founder of Legalize V

Read Wendy’s Strgar’s latest blog post: Growing Into Your Sexual Self or learn more about Good Clean Love’s commitment to women’s health here.