repeated triggers in the environment.
These triggers also affect her confidence and sense of hope. In a lecture I give on female sexuality, there’s a moment when I ask the women in the room to recall the names they first heard used in relation to their vaginas, when they were fourteen or fifteen—passing by construction sites, or while walking in the street. I can feel the deep discomfort of, say, eight hundred women all at once remembering where they were at the moment when, just coming into womanhood, they first heard—directed toward them—such phrases as “sit on my face” or “give me some of that thing” (or, as at least one young Asian American woman has recalled, “Give me some of that slanty pussy”). “How did that make you feel?” I ask. “Did it make you feel: ‘Is this what I am, this shameful—or this vulgar—thing?’” Then—those emotions still raw in the room—I have the pleasure of reading them a list of other terms for vagina from other cultures. “Golden lotus,” I read, from the Chinese Han and Ming dynasties’ love poetry. “Scented bower.” “Gates of Paradise.” “Precious pearl.” Chinese Taoist terms are always just as poetic: the vagina is referred to in Taoist sacred texts such as Art of the Bedchamber as “Heavenly Gate,” “Red Ball,” “Hidden Place,” “Jade Door,” “Jade Gate,” “Mysterious Valley,” “Mysterious Gate,” and “Treasure.”2
One could go much further: in sacred Tantric texts, vaginas are classified into categories, but all the categories are fairly affectionate: the Chitrini-Yoni (the yoni of a “fancy woman”) is “rounded and soft, and easily and quickly lubricated, with little pubic hair. Her love-juice is said to be exceptionally hot, to smell sweet and to taste as honey.” The Hastini-Yoni “is large and deep, and enjoys much stimulation of the clitoris.” The yoni of the Padmini (“lotus-woman”) is “like a flower and loves to absorb the sun’s rays—that is, to be seen in daylight—and the caress of strong hands. Her juices have the fragrance of a freshly blossoming lotus flower.” The yoni of the Shankhini (the “fairy” or “conch-woman”) is “always moist . . . covered with much hair and . . . love[s] being kissed and licked.”3 Hindu vagina iconography sometimes referred to a vagina-mind connection that the West seemed determined to obscure: one Hindu synonym for vagina is “Lotus of her Wisdom.”
“What if it were always like that?” I ask my audience. “What if the words you heard as a girl and young woman made you think of yourself—in the most intimate, sexual sense—as a source of wisdom, as precious, fragrant, a treasure?” To be surrounded by comparably reverent or appreciative language about one’s sexuality would make women not only more open sexually, but it would also make them more able to function in the world in ways that increased their creativity, strength, and sense of connection.