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Where does the squeamishness come from? Author Sutel feels sex education in schools is lacking. She says there aren’t enough teachers like the one she had in 8th grade who “went around the room and made us say `penis, vagina,’ just to get used to the words.”

Comedian Gold sees a darker reason _ misogyny, and the over-sexualization of women by men. “The woman has become so sexualized, and saying `vagina’ takes the sex out of it,” Gold says. “Men prefer other words for that body part.”

Mia Blitstein, a 34-year-old Philadelphia mother, thinks the issue may stem from our parents, whose own attitudes about sex we absorb at an early age.

“The attitudes that our parents model for us, and the words they use, are very important,” says Blitstein, who says she tries to impress upon her own son that names of body parts are not dirty.

In fact, Blitstein herself is very comfortable with the V-word, a fact she attributes to her “hippie-ish” parents who even let her watch her brother’s birth. When her son was born, she was so overcome that, wheeling down the hospital corridor with her newborn, she yelled out: “A person just came out of my vagina!” Some laughed. Others looked at her like she was crazy.

Dr. Judith C. Wenger, a New York gynecologist, finds the issue a generational one. “I think the older people are, the more difficulty they have with the word,” Wenger says. Echoing Blitstein, she adds that an important factor is the way people’s mothers spoke to them growing up.

So what does lawmaker Brown think was the real reason for her censure? She says leadership first said the ban, which in effect only lasted a day, was about the V-word, then changed their story. She has her suspicions, though, that it’s all politics. “If you watch the video, it’s all Republicans sitting behind me. There’s no gasp, there’s no jaws hitting the ground,” she told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “The fact that it came out the next day, to me it’s very suspicious.”

In any case, support has poured in for Brown from organizations across the country _ from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Organization for Women and NARAL Pro-Choice America. A petition has collected more than 48,000 online signatures calling on the Republican House speaker and the majority floor leader to apologize to Brown.

And most visibly, some 3,000 people gathered by the Michigan House steps to watch Brown, other lawmakers and several actresses perform “The Vagina Monologues,” Eve Ensler’s groundbreaking 1996 play on the vagina as a symbol of female empowerment. Ensler flew in from California to oversee the performance.

“Half of these people who are trying to regulate vaginas, they can’t even say the word,” she told the AP. “They can legislate it, but they can’t say it?”

But perhaps the best “vagina zinger,” which is what late-night host Jon Stewart called Brown’s original remark, came from Stewart himself.

“What are they worried about?” he said on “The Daily Show.” “Vaginas aren’t like Voldemort or Beetlejuice. Invoking the name `vagina’ doesn’t make them suddenly appear. Believe me, if it did, high school would have been very different for me.”


Associated Press writer Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing, Mich. contributed to this report.