If you wondered why the Tate has been brandished with the word ‘vulva’, we have the answer

80% of women can’t accurately label the vulva, can you?

If you wondered why the Tate has been brandished with the word ‘vulva’, we have the answer
An image of the Tate Modern with the word 'vulva' projected onto the chimney
The Tate has had a makeover (Picture: Luna Daily)

If you pass by the Tate Modern today, prepare to get an education in female anatomy.

The word ‘vulva’ has been projected onto the gallery’s phallic chimney, in a cheeky bit of guerrilla marketing designed to destigmatise the word and get onlookers learning. 

Shockingly, just 8% of British women say they’ve been taught the correct name for their vulva and the vast majority (80%) can’t accurately label it.

But language matters. More than four in 10 women (41%) feel too embarrassed to talk about their gynaecological body parts, causing health and relationship problems.

Joanna Kenny, 34, from London, says she didn’t even hear the word ‘vulva’ until she hit 30 and has always been insecure about how hers looks.

‘Like so many others, I turned to pornography to learn about how my body should look, due to its accessibility and being a real-life image,’ she says.

‘Sadly, the lack of diversity in pornography made me feel like I was unusual. I was also very aware that anyone I entered a relationship with would be used to seeing this kind of neatly presented genitalia.

‘This shaped my confidence with intimacy relationships. Feeling ashamed of my body meant I didn’t want to look or touch it, which later proved to be damaging to my health.’

Joanna, who now shares body positive content online (Picture: <a href=joannajkenny)" />
Joanna, who now shares body positive content online (Picture: joannajkenny)

When Joanna started experiencing internal pain during sex, she ignored the problem for months, because she ‘didn’t want to have a physical exam’.

‘I looked for the first time in a long time at my vulva, exploring with my fingers to try and find the source of the pain. I remember feeling panicked because I didn’t know what normal looked or felt like,’ she says.

‘When the pain became unbearable I saw a gynaecologist. He confirmed I had tumours in my vagina, which needed to be surgically removed. After a biopsy, it was determined that they were benign.’

The stunt at the Tate won’t shift internalised stigma like that experienced by Joanna overnight, but it is designed to spark conversation and lift the hood on all things vulva.

The projection comes courtesy of global body care brand Luna Daily, who say traditional advertisers have refused their requests to have the word ‘vulva’ on billboards.

Back to Biology

Clearly, our school biology lessons have a lot to answer for. How are women supposed to start using the word ‘vulva’ if they’re not sure what it is?

To help, Luna Daily provided us with these handy graphics to help readers get clued up.

While we sometimes use the words ‘vagina’ and ’vulva’ interchnagably in casual conversation, it pays to know the right words so you can clearly identify pain to doctors or understand where you should (and definitely shouldn’t) be using body wash.

The Vulva
‘Vula’ refers to the external female genitalia that is visible from the outside, and includes the labia majora (the outer lips), labia minora (the inner lips), and clitoris.

Get acquainted with your vulva, aka the outside bit (Picture: Luna Daily)
Get acquainted with your vulva, aka the outside bit (Picture: Luna Daily)

The Vagina
The vagina, on the other hand, is the internal canal that runs from the cervix to the vulva. The vagina is the passage that leads from the uterus to the outside of the body, through which menstrual blood flows, and where sexual intercourse takes place.

Your anatomy including the vagina, aka the inside bit (Picture: Luna Daily)
Your anatomy including the vagina, aka the inside bit (Picture: Luna Daily)

The brand has teamed up with psychosexual therapy expert Annabelle Knight to create a ‘vulva therapy hotline’, to help women shake off stigma around the term.

Calling the free hotline (0800-233-LUNA/ 0800-233-5862) connects you to a set of pre-recorded two-minute scenarios, which say the word ‘vulva’ over 60 times in total.

In the first, callers are asked to imagine they’re looking after a friend’s dog, who’s named Vulva. When Vulva runs off chasing a squirrel in the park, you must overcome self-consciousness to call her name. 

As daft as it may feel, Annabelle believes such ‘exposure therapy’ will unlock our vocabulary by helping us to feel more familiar with the word ‘vulva’.

‘Women are stuck in a cycle of silence and discomfort,’ she says. 

‘If we don’t hear others using a word, we’re unlikely to use it ourselves, which is only perpetuating the problem for female health as well as self-confidence. However, the more we see, hear and say ‘vulva’, the more normal it becomes for everyone.’

Other ads are popping up around town. This one’s in Shoreditch (Picture: Luna Daily)
Other ads are popping up around town. This one’s in Shoreditch (Picture: Luna Daily)

Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Penelope Law says a lot of people are giving their vulva an alternative name or nickname from a young age, but words like mini, fanny or foof are simply ‘encouraging embarrassment’.

‘This insufficient education of the correct anatomical names for body parts. In primary schools it’s unusual to see the word vulva. In secondary schools, their focus is more on relationships and prevention of STI’s and pregnancies,’ she says.

‘Not forgetting the hangover of British prudishness, that as a society we’re still trying to shake. 

‘I see a lot of patients coming to me after using wet wipes and as a result getting an allergic reaction. They then avoid seeing a medical expert due to the embarrassment they feel. Women are concerned about perceived odour and discharge, due to not having an overview of what is in fact normal. All can be prevented if they were educated a little more about their vulva.’

But reeducating the nation isn’t always simple. Katy Cottam, Luna Daily founder, adds that ‘just getting the word on any billboards has been extremely difficult, highlighting how society’s aversion to the female body and female sexuality runs deep’.

‘In fact, several advertisers refused to put up our billboards, citing not wanting to offend their landlords as the reason,’ she adds.

‘It’s crucial that we stop treating the anatomically correct ‘vulva’ as something dirty and shameful, and instead teach our kids (and ourselves while we’re at it) to feel good about our bodies, and feel-good talking about our bodies – head, vulva, knees and toes.’

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