Busy Philipps Wants to Teach Us About the Vulva

Fitness

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Do you know where your vulva is? Are you sure? Would you bet $50 bucks on it? Would you swear on your ability to feel pleasure, or touch grass, or peruse TikTok (that is to say, your life)?

Busy Philipps wants to make sure you’re very clear on the anatomy.

Her way of making that happen? She just became the spokesperson of a new “intimate care” brand called Say La V.

The V is, of course, for vulva, and Philipps hopes the products — which are designed for vulva skin and include a mist, a wash, and a cream — will help destigmatize conversations about the body part. In Philipps’s mind, the more we can talk about our vulvas, the happier and healthier we’ll be.

Many of us might be naturally shy to use this anatomically correct phrase, even if we know what it means. (FTR, the vulva refers to the external genitalia and includes the clitoris, labia, opening of the urethra, and vaginal opening.) In fact, when it comes to the word “vulva,” centuries of societal shame are baked right into the definition. The Latin term for the vulva is “pudendum,” which translates to: “the part to be ashamed of.” (Meanwhile, “penis” means “tail.”)

But being unfamiliar or ashamed of your own anatomy can cause serious harm, impacting both your physical and mental health in the long run. That’s just one reason Philipps says she wants to promote body literacy. Being educated about your body is a shame buster, and so are the frank conversations required to help people learn about their physical selves.

For what it’s worth, no one needs a skin-care product for their vulva, and if used incorrectly they could even cause health issues. In particular, people with a history of UTIs, yeast infections, vaginitis, contact dermatitis, herpes, or sensitive skin should avoid them, says Heather Bartos, MD, a gynecologist and menopause specialist in Frisco, TX, and the host of “The Sex Podcast,” or at the very least talk to their doctors before trying one of these products. Plus, the language around “freshness” and “odor” is so loaded — in part due to the stigma and shame Philipps hopes to break down.

But Philipps believes that these products help further her mission of encouraging people to talk about intimate health with as much frankness as they might talk about the health and hygiene of the rest of their body.

We asked more about why she believes so strongly in the need to destigmatize conversations about sexual health — and how she practices what she preaches.

POPSUGAR: Do you remember when you first learned about vulvas?

Busy Philipps: As a kid, I don’t know if I ever had a specific conversation about vulvas. I knew that the vulva and the vagina were different things, but I don’t remember ever having that conversation with anyone, especially not growing up.

I do have two children and have been to the gynecologist a lot in my life — but I don’t know the first time I ever heard the word “vulva.” But, I saw a statistic that 60% of women don’t know the difference between their vagina and vulva. It makes sense, because there has been so much shame and stigma around body parts, especially the ones that are attached to women. A lot of people grow up with these weird, anatomically incorrect names and ideas about the organs they have.

PS: Why is it so important to you to destigmatize conversations around the vulva and how we talk about it in terms of body image and body literacy?

BP: It’s important to take the power back and demystify the words and all that encompasses women’s health. On social media, words like “vulva” and “clitoris” are banned, even in an awareness post, because they’re deemed too sexual. It blows your mind — how are we supposed to educate people if we can’t even say the proper word for it? I get pop-up ads all the time for erectile dysfunction, but we can’t say the word ‘vulva’ on social media. Some might say it’s a double standard.

You see politicians making wild statements about things they clearly have no idea about. And these are people who are, in most cases, highly educated — yet they have a total lack of awareness because people don’t talk about it. Because of the stigma and shame that has surrounded just simply being a woman for so long. facebook They’d be like, “Is that that car from Sweden?”

PS: How do you practice what you preach and talk to your own children about their vulvas?

BP: I’m sure my children at some point will be open about how annoying I was about always using the proper terms for our bodies. In our household, we’ve just normalized talking about our bodies — in the same way that it’s been normalized for boys — from the time when they were very small.

I remember my older daughter saying in middle school, something to the effect of: “I was talking about the cramps from my period at school and these boys got annoyed, and I said, ‘I’ve had to hear about wet dreams for the last two years, you can hear about my cramps.'” I was really proud of Birdie. That’s so my kid.

PS: How does naming the vulva also help people gain confidence?

BP: Normalizing our experiences as women, as people with vulvas and vaginas, helps us be in our own power. And, ultimately, that’s what we should all want, especially men and boys, [and] the people who love the people with vulvas.

PS: Regarding stigma, was there a specific time when you felt too embarrassed to have a necessary conversation about your vulva? And what were the impacts of that?

BP: As an adult, never. But I hid the fact that I got my period as a kid. I was too embarrassed to talk about that, and I think that that’s common because many people don’t have any discussion about women’s reproductive health normalized in their homes. Compounding that is the bigger societal shame and stigma at large.

But continuing to have these conversations is what is so important in helping people never feel that embarrassment or shame to ask a question at the doctor’s office if something doesn’t feel right — especially when it comes to your vagina or your vulva or any part of your body.

PS: Is that because, if you’re afraid to ask about your vulva, it can have real impacts on your health?

PS: Right — that’s why, with my kids, we talk very openly and freely. I ask them questions about how they are feeling, especially around their bodies. Being able to identify what you’re feeling and pinpointing it and articulating it is so important. So many women and girls have been denied that their whole lives. And then you get into cases where people are in dire health situations simply because they didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. Or they didn’t know there was something abnormal about the pain they were feeling.

If there’s anything to be grateful for, in these last few years, I am grateful that conversations have continued to build around women’s and girls’ health care, specifically involving their vaginas and vulvas and reproductive organs.

PS: I know some similar products to these washes and mists, in the past, have focused on masking odor, which has historically contributed to some people feeling shame or embarrassment about their vulva. How is Say La V Different?

BP: It’s doing something different because it’s really about balancing and treating the skin on the vulva with as much care as you would the skin on your face. I know most of us spend a lot of money, time, and consideration on the kinds of washes and creams that we put on the skin on our faces, or the more delicate skin under your eyes.

There’s a difference between your vagina and vulva. Your vagina is a self-cleaning oven. Your vulva has lots of oil glands and trillions of bacteria that are working to keep you healthy, so it’s important to use products that help facilitate and continue the health and wellness of your vulva.

In the ’80s and ’90s and 2000s, when a lot of us were growing up, there was an idea that [the vagina and vulva were] just this one “thing.” There were these products that were not great for you that went into your vagina [like douches], and that is not at all what we’re talking about here.

Also, there’s no shame. I wear deodorant in my armpits. What is the difference? The only difference is societal shame and stigma.

This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.

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