Labia or vulva: Which is the better term?

When it comes to topics like female sexuality or female genitalia, many people feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Part of the reason for this discomfort is the term "labia," which we at femtis find to be outdated and not in line with contemporary language. Instead, we prefer the term "vulval lips."

Let's be honest: How do we, as women, talk about our sexuality or our bodies? Often, we are cautious rather than assertive, discreet rather than direct. Many women have never even looked at their own vagina and feel a great deal of uncertainty and even insecurities when it comes to their intimate zone.

Female shame is deeply ingrained in our memory

Whether it's about desire for sex, menstruation, or the vulva, female sexuality is still often considered taboo, as if it's something that needs to be hidden. In the workplace, in everyday life, and even in social settings, unleashed female sexuality is often equated with promiscuity. Enlightened individuals have long recognized that this is nonsense. Women have just as much right to openly discuss their bodies, their suffering, and their desires as men. Yet, female shame is deeply ingrained in our collective memory. For women, freeing themselves from this is difficult, and for good reason. Our thinking is guided by our language. Language creates reality! That's why a term like "labia," which is over 200 years old, is so dangerous and simply no longer contemporary.

Petition for the term "vulval lips"

Journalist Gunda Windmüller agrees. She advocates for a new term - the term "vulval lips" - and together with cultural scientist and author Mithu Sanyal, they are collecting internet signatures to send to the Duden publishing house, as well as launching a social media campaign under the hashtag #vulvalips. "It's not just a word. It carries a whole range of problems with it: female genitalia, female sexuality, and desire have been restricted, disciplined, and repressed for centuries," explains the journalist in an interview with Deutschlandfunk. While the Duden offers alternatives like "intimate hair" or "genital area" for terms like "pubic hair" or "pubic region," there is nothing of the sort for the term "labia."

"Vulval lips": The term promotes better understanding

Until now. Because the term "vulval lips," coined by Gundula Windmüller, is neutral. "Anatomically speaking, they are lips, and they are the lips of the vulva. The word also has the advantage of clarifying what and where the vulva is," explains the editor. Many women do not know that the vulva is not synonymous with the vagina. The vulva refers to the external part of the female genitalia, while the vagina is part of the internal female reproductive organs.

Switching from "labia" to "vulval lips" in our daily language has two advantages: We improve the understanding of female genitalia, and we change the perception of female sexuality. Language also reflects the changes in society. And the change is happening right now. It is high time to use the term "vulval lips." There is truly no reason to be ashamed of our genitals!

At femtis, we believe it is important not to associate female body parts with shame, and from now on, we will use the term "vulval lips."