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The vagina: an analysis

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posted on 06.12.2010, 11:32 by Virginia Braun
The vagina is frequently represented in talk, texts, and imagery, giving us a range of sociocultural meanings, but at the same time, is still taboo -a word that is difficult to say, and a topic that is hard to talk about. My research aims to demarcate and explore the meanings given to the vagina in western culture, and to examine women's accounts of their personal meanings and experiences in relation to these socio-cultural representations. Taking a feminist social constructionist approach, I move beyond the notion of a natural, pre-social body to a conceptual isation of bodies deeply embedded in the socio-cultural, and assume that socio-cultural representations form resources from which women understand and talk about our bodies. The research draws on three different data sources: genital definitions in medical and English language dictionaries, genital slang terms collected through questionnaires, and talk-data from 16 group and four individual interviews with women and one group interview with men. The analytic chapters are divided into two parts. In Part One, I present my analysis of socio-cultural representations, first providing an overview of themes found across a range of socio-cultural representation, and then focusing on two particular texts: dictionary definitions and genital slang. I use content analytic techniques to explore the ideological assumptions in dictionary definitions of women's and, comparatively, men's genitals, and to identify the semantic categories in genital slang. In Part Two, I analyse women's talk about the vagina, exploring the intersections between the socio-cultural and women's accounts of their own experience. In particular, I focus on talk about vaginal size, and talk about gendered identity. In my conclusion, I discuss the importance of such research for challenging, and changing, the way the vagina is constructed, and for women's sexual and reproductive health.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies


© Virginia Braun

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.

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