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The word "vagina" is in widespread use to indicate the external female genitals.

It is my understanding that in actuality the word vagina only means the interior channel, and that vulva is the correct word for the external female genitals. I believe that pudenda is also a word that can be used instead of vulva. There are plenty of other informal (and crude) words in use.

Examples:

  • Saying you saw someone's vagina when you only saw her external genital region (a woman would need to be either bent over, or legs akimbo if you could actually see her vagina).

  • "He patted her on the vagina." (indicates a pat to external region, i.e. vulva).

Why is this incorrect usage of the word "vagina" widespread, even amongst women? Is it because people don't like the words for outer female genitals? Some of the words are overly crude, but surely "vulva" is acceptable?

Also does vulva generally mean the entirety of the female genitals, or just the outer parts? (I initially took it to be the former, due to memories of James Herriot books where he often had his hand up a cow's vulva, helping her give birth. I came under the impression that vulvas were specific to cows).

Wiktionary gives the definition as "1. (anatomy) The external female sexual organs, collectively."

I once saw an article in a reputable newspaper describing a sexual assault that was definitely using the word "vagina" to mean the external region. This surprised me because it was coming from a college educated person, whose profession required the use of good English. I am a high-school dropout, and I use the word "vulva" (and less respectable words, at times).

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, TimLymington, Hank, Davo, fixer1234 Jul 13 '17 at 18:14

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Let’s Clear Up The Vagina vs. Vulva Debate Once And For All. But of course that won't be the end of it. I'm voting to close as POB - this is really just click-bait that won't actually "resolve" anything. – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '17 at 14:26
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    To answer this, it might be interesting to know when broad usage of the term came up. My personal bet is that it was assumed from originally medical language (the actual vagina being more relevant or covered in the field). It also leads me to the question whether 'cunt' means the vagina or the vulva. Good question for sure. – Wottensprels Jul 13 '17 at 14:28
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    @Sprottenwels: Offhand I can't think of a non-slang term encompassing penis + testicles + scrotum, apart from the non-gender-specific [external] genitalia. Which might be an On Topic question for this site (since there might be a word, and even There is no such term would be a valid "Answer"). But the question as posed by OP here has no possible "single, unambiguously correct" answer, nor is it relevant to link it to the use of terms which are universally recognised as taboo words rather than simply neutral references to taboo subjects. – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '17 at 14:41
  • If you're not willing to use the definitions in Gray's Anatomy, not sure anything would satisfy you. – Carl Witthoft Jul 13 '17 at 18:13
  • These are anatomical terms that have standard definitions. They refer to body parts that are among those for which there are endless slang terms and are regularly referred to by people unfamiliar with the actual definitions, or for whom imprecise usage is irrelevant. If you want actual definitions, refer to a reputable source on anatomy. Any exploration of popular usage will be worthless because popular usage for these terms is inaccurate and not intended to be anatomically precise. – fixer1234 Jul 13 '17 at 18:14

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