“Uterus” Is Not A Dirty Word

Last night over dinner, I mentioned to my parents that a colleague of mine had started a project to help our school’s Students for Choice group raise money for NARAL Pro-Choice America.  What did she do?  She crocheted a uterus, and is now auctioning it off, with two options: she’ll send it to the winner, or she’ll deliver it to a Congressperson of said winner’s choice.  I thought it was a great idea, and was just sharing this story.

But it didn’t seem to matter that it was a creative way to raise money for a good cause.  Once the word “uterus” was said, we had a problem.  Because, according to certain people, that’s not really a word we say in public venues.

And my question here is this: why the hell not?

If my colleague had crocheted a heart, it would have been adorable.  If she had crocheted a hand and called it a “helping hand”, it would have been amusing.  Any other body part might have been a little weird-~-a brain, a foot, a mouth, whatever-~-but it still wouldn’t have been off-putting.  But a uterus?  That’s just…downright scandalous, it seems.

This may be something people are reluctant to acknowledge, a uterus is an organ, just like a stomach or a heart or skin.  And it’s perfectly okay to talk about THOSE parts of my body…just not the part that, um, helps keep the species going.  Nope.  That’s off-limits.

And it’s off-limits for the same reason my mother (sorry to pick on you, Mom, you know I love you) says it’s bad to have birth control out where someone can see it.  It’s like it’s dirty or something.  It’s totally fine for me to keep any other pills I need to take on the bathroom counter, but the birth control is a big no-no.

So what’s the reason?  I’m sure you’ve already started to piece it together.  The problem is that women’s sexual and reproductive processes are off-limits for discussion (but not legislation).  The problem is that women aren’t supposed to be having sex or enjoying sex or whatever, and my birth control says that that may well be what’s going on.  The problem is that sex and reproduction are, in America, supposed to be private matters.

And this is where we start running into issues, two of which are really big: 1) There is a fundamental lack of understanding about sexual and reproductive processes among both men AND women in the United States, a country in which many schools continue to teach abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education and politicians have literally no idea how conception works, and 2) We are unable to have reasonable, real discussions about these processes, and yet our politicians continue to politicize and try to govern the ways in which women manage these processes.

“Uterus” is not a dirty word.  I wasn’t talking about anything inappropriate, and yet there was an automatic reaction of discomfort.  Americans are socialized to believe that talking, not just about sex, but about anything to do with sex, is meant to be saved for private conversations.  (Except on Capitol Hill).  But all this does is perpetuate a normalization of sex-negative taboos, shut down important conversations about real health issues, and permit a culture in which people fail to truly understand how biology operates.  We are taught to believe that sex is dirty, that sexual health is dirty, that we should be silent and ashamed of discussing what is going on with our bodies.

This isn’t a problem unique to women, but it is a problem that is, today, disproportionately harming women.  This fundamental lack of understanding of sexual and reproductive health has led to a litany of restrictive laws or even downright absurd laws (looking at you, Tennessee-~-you can’t criminalize miscarriages).  It has led to politicians like Todd Akin.  It has led to a culture wherein friends of mine are scared to ask their doctors for birth control because they know their doctors are conservative/religious.  And it has led to a culture where young people cannot make informed decisions about their bodies, because they don’t truly understand how the processes they are making decisions about work.

Look, I understand that different people have different levels of comfort with different subjects, and that’s fine.  To each his or her own.  But we as a culture need to stop treating sexual and reproductive health like they are topics to be discussed in hushed tones, subjects that should be saved for private conversations.  We in the United States are having a very public battle over women’s sexual and reproductive rights, and I for one and going to keep on trying to talk about it until people start listening.


~ by Randi Saunders on January 5, 2013.

3 Responses to ““Uterus” Is Not A Dirty Word”

  1. Hear hear. I second your post. I think it is so interesting how we as a society can talk about sex and the human body in the erotic sense but when it comes down to being objective and talking about the parts or just basic functions, we completely shut down and call it taboo. this is part of the reason why I love the Vagina Monolouges and dont hestitate to voice my suppport for them. Also as a side note, I think that uterus is adorable.

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