Conceptual Anatomy of the Female Genitalia Using Text Mining and Implications for Patient Care

Article Summary by Carmen Thong and Alexis Doyle

Using the word ‘vagina’ to describe the vulva would be the same as using the word ‘throat’ to describe the mouth; yet, the word ‘vagina’ is commonly used to name the vulva or the whole genitalia whilst the word ‘vulva’ is hardly ever used. Our article analyzes how the use, or mis-use, of words associated with the female genitalia affects the lived experiences of people with these parts and the quality of gynecologic care they receive. We briefly survey the history of these words and the scholarly work on the topic before performing an original study using computational methods on novels and women’s magazines to understand how words like ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ are used. Our analysis shows that words for specific female genital parts are rarely used. When mentioned, they often come with historical and patriarchal associations that are commonly attached to the word ‘vagina’. This implies that in our larger socio-cultural context, patients will have either negative or little exposure to education on the female genital anatomy. Our findings may also explain many negative patient outcomes such as stigma that can be attached to seeking out timely gynecologic care, lack of informed medical consent, and the use of harmful products such as deodorants and douches. More broadly, they also indicate a neglect of female sexual agency, pleasure, and well-being. Understanding historical and contemporary usages of words for the female genitalia has important implications for the quality of patient care today and is a critical component of gender and reproductive justice.


Listen to Alexis Doyle discuss their work below:

Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Portrait of Alexis DoyleAlexis (Lexi) Doyle is currently a resident in Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Utah. She completed B.S. in Biological Sciences with a supplementary major in International Peace Studies in 2017. After college, she received an MSc in Medical Anthropology and an MPP at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Prior to starting medical school, she worked at the Mississippi State Department of Health on a project aimed to strengthen community health worker programs throughout the state addressing maternal morbidity and mortality. While in medical school at the Stanford School of Medicine, Alexis deepened her interests in health policy through research on the impact of state and institutional policies on opioid prescribing. She continued developing her passion for reproductive health through involvement in research on trauma-informed care and work as a teaching assistant for a reproductive health course. She is excited to continue her training to be both a reproductive health provider and advocate.

Portrait of Carmen ThongCarmen Thong is a PhD candidate in English and completing an MA in Public Policy at Stanford University. She also received a MSt in World Literatures in English from the University of Oxford. She works in the fields of Postcolonial/World Literature and Digital Humanities, and studies how texts from the Global South are discovered within the global literary supply chain. She is also a Knight Hennessy scholar and a Jacobsson Family Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow.

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