Over the last year, I’ve been developing a gorgeous line of unguents and serums for women’s personal care. When it came time to name these products, I went online in search of some relatively unknown but beautiful poetic word for pussy. I wanted a name that would honor the fullness of a woman’s life-giving, sexual parts- but nothing too medical or mystical. Instead of finding a robust list of potential names, what I found instead was a veritable catalog of verbal assaults on women’s genitalia. More than 760 terms to be exact.

Personally, I had heard a few of the more derogatory ones before- cunt, cumcatcher, the usual slurs- but was pretty shocked to find such a broad range of insults. And pretty mad, too. I love myself, I love my body, I love my sisters and my daughters- this taxonomy was an in-your-face indicator of our culture’s overall hatred or fear of women. When people use the very body parts that differentiate women from men in an insulting way, it’s a reviling of women themselves.

The insults fall into broad categories: entrapment of men, whoredom, filth, stink, degradation, comparison to other objects or animals, diminishment (to only being valued for the sexual act), and depersonalization or objectification of women in service to a man. In fact, only 3* words (LadyStar, Yoni and Rosebud), might be considered a compliment. Although ‘breakfast of champions’, one of the actual slang listings, wasn’t all bad. If this was a graduate thesis, I could call it ‘Toward a taxonomy of pussy slang’ or something.  *There is an argument to be made that the word cunt could reliably be reclaimed as a compliment- it’s original meaning is wise woman, an older woman of power- but that would have a long way to go in the popular culture.

There’s nothing wrong with the word Vagina. I love the way it’s being reclaimed in the world through the pioneering work of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and the ensuing V-Day to bring awareness to violence against women. There are some wonderful women doing on the ground interventions with their sisters on bringing back the love, integration and acceptance of the pussy: Zoe Kors for example, Mama Gena and other women sexologists, are leading the charge in the US to help women get back in touch with this often shamed part of the the body. The people at One Taste, led by Nicole Daedone, the author of Slow Sex, advocate the meditative connection to a woman’s pussy is a way of waking up to an empowered life (for men and women).

There’s still is a long way to go on that, of course. In India for example, the Indian City of Chennai once banned the Vagina Monologues because that “word” couldn’t be on a billboard. But things are changing: Bollywood star Kangana Ranaut did a fantastic, campy, catchy music video on misogyny in film called Coz I got Vagina that went viral, skewering the film industry.

The pussy with it’s layered, sensitive, multifaceted components is awesome. It offers warm, delicious pleasure; it’s an invitation to seed new life; it is the creative passage of babes. This beautiful part of a woman, that gets very little attention unless it’s causing a problem or engaged in sex, deserves better.

When we name the pussy as sacred, we do this in part to arrest the pathology of a culture that has turned away from the feminine- and we also do it for ourselves. To come back into wholeness. This part of a woman exists in wholeness with and for the rest of the body, not to be of service to another. Make it again a temple, a cathedral, a sanctum. Find a word that is beautiful to you. Say it out loud. Say it in the presence of others, especially men. Don’t whisper it. It’s an important step in rehonoring the feminine. Women can integrate a renewed love of, and vision of, the pussy into our overall love of our bodies, right up there with lips and hips and shining eyes.

Words matter, they encode our values. Use the honoring ones.

And if someone calls you a pussy, you can say back, oh, thank you: I’m warm and strong and flexible and resilient, and I offer pleasure and bring forth life, what a nice compliment.
P.S. If you want the full list, you’ll have to look it up on Urban Dictionary- it’s under vagina. I didn’t feel like using these pages to give out words you can’t unread.