Why is a Vagina Called a Box? Demystifying the Misconception

For centuries, women’s genitalia have been referred to in different ways. One of the most common terms used is “box” to describe a vagina. However, many women have wondered why their anatomy is referred to as a box. The truth is, this has been a long-standing misconception that needs to be demystified. In this article, we will talk about the different myths that contributed to the misunderstanding and why it is time for us to change the narrative.

Myth 1: The Shape of the Vagina Resembles That of a Box

One of the most popular misconceptions about why the vagina is called a box is because of its shape. Many people believe that the vagina looks like a box, which is why it was given the name. However, this is not true. The vagina is an internal organ and not visible outside the body unless opened apart.

Myth 2: The Term ‘Box’ is Referencing the Vulva

Another myth that contributed to the misconception on the term ‘box’ is that people used it to refer to the vulva, which does resemble a box shape when viewed from the front. The vulva includes the labia majora, labia minora, and clitoris. Although the vulva looks like a kind of an inverted pyramid or triangle, it can’t just be constituted as a box since it’s a 3-dimensional structure.

The Real Origin of the Term Box

Origin from Greek

The term box comes from the Greek term pyxis, which was used in ancient times to describe small containers or cylindrical boxes made of wood or ivory. These boxes usually had a lid that could be removed by pulling it. When early medical practitioners started sketching anatomical drawings of the female genitalia, they noticed that the labia majora and labia minora could be pulled apart to reveal the internal structures. The likeness of this to the pyxis boxes led to the term, box.

Reference in James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’

Another possible origin of the term comes from literature, specifically James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses. In the book, he uses the term box as a euphemism for vagina. The use of the term in the book may have contributed to its popularization in modern times, although it is still not clear whether the author himself coined the term, or if it was a common term in Dublin in the early 20th century.

Why it is Important to Stop Using ‘Box’ as a Term for the Vagina

Even though the term box has been around for centuries, it is time to stop using it. One of the main reasons for this is that it devalues women’s genitalia. The term box is often associated with being a container, which can be seen as objectifying and dehumanizing. Women’s genitalia are part of their bodies, and they deserve respect and dignity, just like the rest of their body parts.

Correct Terminology

The correct anatomical term for the external part of the female genitalia is the vulva. The term vagina, on the other hand, refers to the internal structure that connects the outside of the body to the cervix.

Sex and Gender Equity

Using accurate terminology is also a matter of sex and gender equity. The medical language associated with male genitalia has historically been more precise, specific and revered. The medical field should strive to close the gap to create sexual health equity for all people.

The Importance of Language Used in Healthcare

The language and terminology used in healthcare have a significant impact on patient experiences and outcomes. Accurate terminology helps reduce confusion and prevents misinterpretations that can lead to missed opportunities for the detection of diseases and disorders. Inaccurate language can also increase stigma or shame, which could result in a delay in seeking medical care.

Statistical Findings

According to a study conducted by the Journal of Women’s Health, accurate terminology is essential for symptoms reporting from women about their genitals. Research found that 85 percent of the participants in the study believed that accurate anatomical words made it easier to discuss sexual issues, and 95 percent believed that medical terms were helpful in understanding their overall health. Accurate anatomical naming also helps to frame sexual function as a positive attribute of human health instead of a taboo subject.


In conclusion, the term box used to describe a vagina is a misconception that needs to be addressed. The term originated from Greek, and has been in use for centuries. However, it is time to stop using it and refer to the vagina and vulva with the right terminology. Use of the correct anatomical term helps promote sex and gender equity and framing of female sexual function as a positive part of human health. As healthcare professionals, we have a responsibility to use accurate medical terminology that respects all genitalia.

Common Questions and Answers About Why a Vagina is Called ‘Box’

  • Q: Is using the term ‘box’ harmful?
  • A: Yes, using the term ‘box’ to refer to a vagina could be harmful as it devalues women’s genitalia and promotes an objectifying view of women.
  • Q: What is the right terminology for female genitalia?
  • A: The correct terminology is the vulva for external female genitalia and vagina for the internal structure that connects the outside of the body to the cervix.
  • Q: Why do people still use the term ‘box’?
  • A: Some people still use the term out of ignorance, or it’s a misinterpretation of the term. Others use it for shock value, as it’s considered a ‘naughty’ term.
  • Q: How does the terminology affect the healthcare of women?
  • A: Using accurate terminology about the anatomy of the female genitalia helps reduce confusion and prevent misinterpretations that could lead to missed opportunities for disease detection. Accurate anatomical naming also helps to frame sexual function as a positive attribute of human health instead of a taboo subject.


  • Manning, R., & Tiquia, J. (2016). “It’s high time we said vulva”: Embodied menstrual politics in information behaviour. Library Trends, 64(4), 796–809. https://doi.org/10.1353/lib.2016.0024
  • Woolf, S. (2014). Language and Medicine: Clarifying the Distinction between Vagina and Vulva. Journal of Women’s Health, 23(2), 101–101. https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2013.4651

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