Since When Can You Say Vagina on TV?

Cindy Y. Hong


Photo of Whitney star Whitney Cummings by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

As Slate’s June Thomas recently pointed out on Brow Beat, there’s been an uptick in the number of vagina jokes on television this season. You can now catch Kat Dennings complaining about her customers’ attitudes toward her vagina, or Whitney Cummings asking “When did vaginas get so boring?” during primetime. Since when can networks get away with saying vagina all the time?

Since always, given the right context. As long as a word isn’t used to titillate and doesn’t describe sex or excretory acts in explicit detail, it is not considered “indecent.” Anatomically correct terms, which aren’t exactly sexy, mostly fall outside this category. The agency that regulates TV and radio broadcasters, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has never fined TV broadcasters for using anatomically correct terms for genitalia, and has only seldom fined radio broadcasters. One notable exception is when Uncle Bonsai’s song “Penis Envy” got radio stations in trouble due to its frequent repetition of penis. Despite the term’s anatomical nature, the FCC deemed the lyrics (“If I had a penis/ I’d still be a girl/But I’d make much more money/And conquer the world”) indecent.

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