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What? We Can’t Say "Vagina?"

Lissa Rankin's picture

Tell me it isn’t true. Rumor on the street has it that TV networks have banned a tampon company for making an ad that uses the word “vagina.” Um, how exactly are we supposed to talk about tampons without using the word vagina? And what’s wrong with that? Vagina vagina vagina! (Okay, did I just sound like a defiant little kid? Good.)

Apparently, after this infamous tampon ad was banned from three networks, they reshot the ad and replaced “vagina” with “down there.” Even with this change, two networks still wouldn’t run the ad. Which means they made a tampon ad without ever once referencing the female genitalia. I mean…duh, people. That’s like making a beer ad without ever referencing the mouth, lips, or tongue. Vaginas are where tampons GO.

Two Steps Back

Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the company ended up killing the ad. Back to the drawing board where feminine hygiene commercials are made about women in running on the beach with billowing white scarves, with no references to any part of the female anatomy.

Once I cooled down after reading about this, I started thinking. Why are we so freakin’ afraid to talk about what makes us uniquely female? I mean, seriously. Every single human being on this planet came out of one of those things we’re not aloud to name on network television. The vagina is the source of all life, the portal of pleasure, the living, breathing heart of the world. But oh no. Don’t even think about saying the word out loud. What gives?

Why Do We Get Squeamish?

First, a disclaimer. Yes, I’m an OB/GYN physician who wrote a book called What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend. I actually wanted to name it Coochie Confidential, but my publisher wouldn’t let me. I was told I could use the word coochie - or vagina or any other reference to the female genitalia - anywhere I wished within the text of the book. But not on the cover. Oh no. Not on the cover. “Down there” was suggestive enough. I said, “How ‘bout Pussy Power?” (Tee hee.)

So yes, I’m probably more comfortable with vaginas than the average human. I’ve delivered other women’s babies through them. I’ve done Pap smears inside of them. I’ve operated on them. I write about them. I’ve changed my daughter’s diapers. And I’ve probably witnessed over 100,000 of them in all of their feminine glory throughout the course of my lifetime. I even have one of my own! So maybe I have a special perspective in feeling horrified that we’re not allowed to use the word vagina on television. But I doubt I’m alone.

Not so sure? Do these words make you feel uncomfortable? Are you one of we socially shy ladies who wasn’t raised to talk about your girly bits? Maybe your mother called it “Front bottom” or “wee wee” or “down there.” But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop the madness and call it like it is. Vagina. Vagina. Say it with me. VAGINA. (You know you’re grinning right about now, even if you are squirming in your seat.)

But it’s more than just a game, friends. Language is a key part of empowerment. How can we be empowered to BE whole, beautiful beings who claim our femininity if we can’t talk about it?

What Will I Say to Oprah?

And – more immediately – it makes me wonder what I’m gonna talk about when my book comes out and I’m out there on the talk show circuit!

Can’t you see me now? “So Oprah. Yes, I wrote a book called “What’s Up [bleep] [bleep]. It’s an empowering book committed to helping women learn to love their [bleep]. The way I see it, you have to love your [bleep] to love yourself. Most of us carry so much shame, embarrassment, and trauma in our [bleep] that we’ve lost the ability to be truly joyful and vital. I wrote this book to demystify the [bleep], to educate women about [bleep] [bleep], and to remind you that you’re absolutely perfect, just the way you are. I’m here to tell you [bleep] RULE!”

Okay, so that didn’t go so well. Maybe I need to paint a picture of a little green bush trimmed into a heart. Then whenever I need to use the word “vagina,” I’ll just hold up my prop and smile. Hmm….

I'm Not Alone

I’ve discovered that women crave the opportunity to talk about vaginas. Wherever I go, women gather and tell me stories. When I teach workshops and join in community with women, they naturally recreate the Red Tent and talk about what makes them female. Maybe it’s me. Maybe having a gynecologist best friend brings it out in women. But I think we need to get rid of this silly taboo and shine a bright Pink light on what makes us female.

I’m not alone in thinking so. According to a study conducted online in August 2009 by Harris Interactive on behalf of Kotex, among more than 1,600 North American women ages 14-35, 7 in 10 women believe it's time for society to change how it talks about vaginal health, yet less than half (45%) feel empowered to make a difference.

In response to this, Kotex has launched a campaign to get women talking. They’ve created a series of hysterical ads that poke fun at the whole sterility of feminine hygiene ads. (I mean really, people. Periods are messy. Get real. Own it!)

I say kudos to them. Let’s tell it like it is. Let’s get this party started. Let’s say VAGINA. And let’s change the way television (and the rest of the world) talks about what it means to be a woman. I mean, come on. We’ve all got ‘em. There’s nothing dirty or shameful or icky about them. And don’t forget. Vaginas make the world go round.

What do you think Pinkies? Tell us how you feel. Does all this V-talk turn you off? Are you grossed out? Ramped up? Pissed off? Turned on? Come on. Get real. Dish…

Vagina vagina vagina,



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Melissa Lehman's picture

I don't disagree with the

I don't disagree with the sentiment here, but.....

At least this is one where it's "fair" - Viagra and similar don't use the word penis. (But I DO submit that "erection" is WAY more graphic, scandalous, whatHAVEyou than "down there" - come ON!) So I want to be on board with this, yet I can't say that I'd want to start hearing about penises in commercials, either. (I've actually heard quite enough about what do when an erection lasts more than four hours, thank you very much!)


(Incidentally, it's not a "professional," medical book, but there IS a book titled "Cunt." How 'bout them apples?)

Diva Carla's picture

Dr. Lissa, I invited you and

Dr. Lissa, I invited you and your What! We Can't Say Vagina post to join me at my blog for Naked Coffee Friday today. Linked back to your wonderful blog and community!

Mark Riffey's picture

At least one guy has to chime

At least one guy has to chime in on this, so let it be me.

Finally. A real tampon ad, saying what most people are probably thinking when they see everyone else's tampon ads.

Do these companies ever get fan mail from guys? After this ad, they should and it just might come from me.

Christa's picture

Ok, that potato visual for

Ok, that potato visual for birth control is going to stick with me for a while?

Do we have a therapist in the house? I think I need some talk therapy now.

I hope I don't start giggling in my yoga class tonight thinking about ChiChi and her vine growing potato jojo.

ChiChi and her vine growing potato jojo...almost sounds like the title for a blog, or, a chapter in a book! "What NOT to insert into your vagina". A coochie primer by Lissa Rankin, MD. lol

Lissa Rankin's picture

Whew! What a relief! I can

Whew! What a relief! I can say vagina on Oprah without getting bleeped! And I say that too (the self-cleaning oven thing!)

At least your 4 yr old has the right idea. My 4 yr old Siena just told me she knows how babies are born. Since we haven't discussed this yet, I asked her to tell me.

She said, "First I was a twinkle in your eye. Then you swallowed me and I grew in your belly. Then I jumped out of your belly when I was done cooking." (I did have a C-section and she's kind of obsessed with my scar, so at least she got that part right!)

And yes, Melissa. I CRACKED UP when I say this ad. Especially the blue liquid part. ("That blue liquid is so helpful.") LOL!

Suzanne's picture

Lissa, Can't wait to read


Can't wait to read the book. It is soooo needed!

Melissa's picture

Best tampon commercial EVER.

Best tampon commercial EVER. I love it when she says it makes her want to hold really soft things, like her cat!!!!!! hahahahaha I can't stop laughing. Or the blue liquid part. AH! Tears keep flowing.....


Stacey's picture

I'm way late to the party,

I'm way late to the party, but so glad I didn't miss it!

Whenever my 4 year-old son and I are in a public restroom stall he likes to talk about how he has a penis and I have a vagina and he came out of my vagina. This usually elicits a lot of mirth from the neighboring stalls. (We live in a pretty progressive community!)

Oh, and Lissa: you won't be "bleeped" on the Oprah show because I've heard Dr. Mehmet Oz say "vagina" on the program many times. One particularly memorable story: he answered a viewer's question about douching and cautioned against it, saying that it wasn't necessary, and could be harmful. He described the vagina as a "self-cleaning oven" - which gave Oprah a serious case of the giggles. She's going to love you!

Lissa Rankin's picture

VOLVO! I love it! Ha. I've

VOLVO! I love it! Ha. I've been keeping lists of what my patients call their coochies for ten years now, but that's a first! Volvo it is...

Lissa Rankin's picture

Okay, Christa. This is too

Okay, Christa. This is too good to resist. Potato. I apologize in advance. An excerpt from my book, just for you:

Have you ever heard of a gynecologist finding something weird stuck up a woman’s vagina?

A young woman named ChiChi showed up in the emergency room. The chief complaint listed on her chart was “I got vines growin’ outta my jojo.”

Approaching her, I asked, “What’s the matter, ma’am?”

ChiChi stared at me, wide-eyed. “I got vines growin’ outta my jojo, sister.”

“Yeah, that’s what they told me, but what exactly do you mean by that?”

“I mean there’s vines coming outta me! Just look,” she insisted, pointing between her legs.

I told her I’d examine her after I got the whole story. Impatiently, she began to explain. “Well, I was fine, and then a couple days ago, I start feeling something tickling me, and I look down there, and there’s vines hangin’ outta me.”

So I asked the obvious question. “Did you put any vines inside of you?”

“Nope,” she answered., looking at me like I was nuts.

I snapped on a pair of gloves and pulled out my speculum, getting ready to examine her in the stirrups. But when she opened her legs, an awful stench filled the emergency room. And sure enough, this lady had vines growin’ outta her jojo. I tried to examine her, but I couldn’t get inside. The speculum wouldn’t budge, as if something was obstructing the vagina. “Honey, are you sure you didn’t put something in here?” I asked, rummaging around for a tenaculum, a special instrument with two teeth on the end that can grab things. Clamping onto whatever was obstructing the speculum, I wrangled and pulled, like I was yanking out a baby, when plop! Out came this nasty grey thing with, well, vines hanging off of it.

Clueless as to what ChiChi might have just birthed out her vagina, I asked again, “Are you sure you didn’t put something up inside your vagina?”

ChiChi looked at me as if a lightbulb just went off and said, “Oh, that? It’s just a potato. MeeMaw told me if I put a potato in there, I wouldn’t get pregnant, and wouldn’t you know, it worked!”

True story, I swear. Disturbing? Yes. Hilarious? Sure. But there’s also an important moral here: Please, please educate your daughters about birth control. Abstinence is all well and good (I practiced it until the ripe old age of twenty myself). But if you don’t provide your children with accurate sex education, they may wind up in the emergency room with vines growin’ out of their jojos. I know I’m preaching to the choir here – you all are reading this book. But my heart went out to ChiChi for all she hadn’t been taught. An hour later, she left the ER safe and sound, with a birth control prescription and a business card for Planned Parenthood. But I suspect the scars in her psyche took longer to heal.

jessica's picture

I have three daughters. We

I have three daughters. We say vulva. When I first told my oldest, at age 4, she was so proud. (Long story there, originally we used the word Flower, I grew up in house with mom who is afraid of vaginas and such) My brother came over and she ran up to him, she was 4, and said "Uncle Joe, I have a volvo!" He looked at me quizzically and asked, "You got a new car?" I told him, "No, no, she's trying to say Vulva!" He turned 4 shades of red and nearly fainted. I still tease him about that.

jessica's picture

Potato!? Wild. I used to work

Potato!? Wild. I used to work with a woman who had three daughters, she couldn't say vagina, they all called it "Cookie". Which put me off real cookies for a while.

Christa's picture

My grandmother used to call

My grandmother used to call the BLEEP a potato. Swear-to-gawd. Totally true.

Why a potato? I dunno. As an Italian you'd figure she'd call it a pasta term like "gnocchi".

My sister and I still call it a potato. We like it that way. LOL

Lissa Rankin's picture

Oh- and one note of vagina

Oh- and one note of vagina euphemisms (uh, did someone say fabulous furburgers? Shimmering shrimp shutters? Beautiful birth cannons? OK. So let's just say my agent, my editor and I had fun brainstorming for my book).

As several of you have said, it's one thing to nickname your vulva/vagina lovingly. It's another to be degraded.

If you hate the word vagina, so be it. Don't say it. But call it SOMETHING. Don't pretend it's not there. Accept this part of yourself and honor it with a name you're not embarrassed to say. Personally, I call her Yoni....(but clearly have no problem calling her coochie, pussy, vagina- whatever. She's just a part of me. What's to be ashamed about that?)

Lissa Rankin's picture

I'm loving this, Pinkies.

I'm loving this, Pinkies. Keep it up! LunaJune, HA! (about Lalalalala boy). How 'bout if you can't SAY it, you can't have it. That would change things lickety split!

And Suzanne, yes I have the same mission- to make "taboo" subjects open for discussion. That was the whole purpose and calling behind writing my book. To take all the issues you would be too embarrassed to ask even your gynecologist and get us all talking about them. In fact, my upcoming book What's Up Down There? even has a book club section with questions you might ask among your girlfriends. Can't you just imagine if every person having this conversation online was sitting in a room together with a glass of wine going DOWN THERE and bringing this all to light, asking questions, talking openly, not being shy, feeling empowered?

I can. I see it happening. Just watch...

JD at I Do Things's picture

I agree with Dana that

I agree with Dana that euphemisms have their place. I don't know how sex-ay it is to be all hot and heavy with some guy (or girl) and suddenly have them say, "Your vagina is ________" (insert adjective). Y'know? But we definitely need to start saying it more so that everyone else can get over their heebie-jeebies.

Does anyone remember what broke the "penis barrier"? It was the case of John Bobbitt, whose wife Lorena snipped his off. All of the sudden, the media HAD to start saying, "PENIS PENIS PENIS." And after that, "penis" became much more accepted in the mainstream.

Now let's try to do that for "vagina"! (Only without the snipping, please.)

Suzanne's picture

AMEN! Once we start owning

AMEN! Once we start owning and using the words, maybe we can start talking about the issues that affect us as women but are "taboo" subjects in public - like endometriosis, vulvodynia, infertility, etc. - leading to a cycle that culminates in lack of research, medical care, etc. And of course we should talk about all the good, empowering stuff, too!

LunaJune's picture

Vagina.. I went out with a

Vagina.. I went out with a man that is you said that word he would literally cover his ears and scream.. lalalalalalaalall also if you said penis too !

I had the priveledge of being in a very intensely open Women in Society course that brought in a woman to teach us all about out vaginas. She came in talked for a bit, drew the curtains, got on a table and inserted a clear speculum and we where given flashlights to go have a close look. It was the best class..and nervous as we all were we all looked and had the most amazing conversations after. We all learned so much about ourselves that day.

Danielle's picture

Speaking of flowers...I'm

Speaking of flowers...I'm speechless with laughter so I'll just share this with you all: http://www.loveyourvagina.com

Be sure to look at the poll too.

Holy vagina-fest!

Danielle xoxo

Dana Theus's picture

Ok. Late to the party, but a

Ok. Late to the party, but a party it is. Good stuff, ladies.

I have to admit that whether it's generational or what, I come from a space where vagina is a word to be used by doctors and pussy is a word to be used by porn-guys. I've never known anyone in my real life (i.e., in the real world where people have to look into each other's eyes when they speak) that's used the words any other way - or even used the words at all. Now... on the internet, things are different. And what I notice - as is evidenced in this discussion - we're OWNING the words. And when they're said with love and humor, they "sound" entirely different to me. So I'm hopeful I'll have a chance to try it on some unsuspecting soul here in the future... though.... I'm not quite sure who that would be...

BTW - i knew a guy once that called it flower names. it was so sweet it blew my mind. he really loved it and honored it with the words he used. so the euphemisms, I think, have their place when said with affection. But said out of shame, it's another matter entirely. Funny how so much meaning can reside in the unspoken.

Love, Light and Sweet Pussies (my fave) ~Dana

Sharon D.'s picture

Our family has been calling a

Our family has been calling a vagina a flower for 40+ years! Too much fun!

Lissa Rankin's picture

Keep on birthing, Pinkies!

Keep on birthing, Pinkies!

Joy's picture

Ooooh, JD, you make me soooo

Ooooh, JD, you make me soooo happy. Please stay with us always. Please comment on everything. Thank you, Christa, for bringing her into the fold (HEE, get it? Fold. Hehehe). And Jane. Yes. Oh my god. You wrote a freaking vagina ballad. Look, Lissa, this post is like a vaginal canal of genius ... they just keep popping out. VVV, Joy xoxoxo

monkey barbara's picture

Finally, somebody has the

Finally, somebody has the labia majora to tell it like it is. Go Get 'em Lissa!

jane's picture

maybe we could have an

maybe we could have an offical verse writing contest and each of us win a vagina badge to wear wherever we feel fit (like on TV Lissa!):-) thanks for the yoni laugh (deeper than a belly laugh) y'all

Lissa Rankin's picture

Oh Jane, you're officially my

Oh Jane, you're officially my heroine. You wrote us a SONG! I love it. Deep bow...

jane's picture





(Feel free to make this a theme tune for the new pink clinic!)

JD at I Do Things's picture

Yes, Pinkies, please don't

Yes, Pinkies, please don't judge me on just these comments. I can talk about lots of other things, like colonoscopies, rock star bulges, and eargasms. Srsly! I am quite "normal."

Lissa Rankin's picture

OMG! I'm busting out now! LOL

OMG! I'm busting out now! LOL crying, hysterical laughter (my hubbie just came into my home office to check on me. "No really, sweetie. I'm okay. Just imagining VAGINAS GONE MAD. And no, it's not porn." Hubbie just nodding at me again like "Sure honey. Whatever you say."

JD, great to meet you, girlfriend. You...uh...fit right in. Hopefully we're not scaring all the other Pinkies away (hiya, Pinkies! I swear we're not nuts.) See how much fun we all have when we say the word VAGINA? Oh, what the TV networks are missing...

JD at I Do Things's picture

Lissa: The video was awesome!

Lissa: The video was awesome! I was ready for her to whip it out, but then Perez would've whipped HIS out, and that, I am not ready for.

It's fun here! Thanks again, Christa. Yes, I Do Things has been sadly lacking in vagina posts. The time is nigh.

Christa's picture

Ok now, JD's bringin' it home

Ok now, JD's bringin' it home now. I can see her next post: I stuff my pink hibuscus smiley face vagina with socks so you don't have to....

JD meet Lissa and Joy. Visa. Versa. Yadda, Yadda.

JD at I Do Things's picture

Hee, Christa! Can you imagine

Hee, Christa! Can you imagine what all the men on this planet would do if we suddenly let loose our vagines upon the world?! Running down the streets, breaking windows, starting fires. VAGINAS GONE MAD!

Lissa: I love Chelsea! I didn't know about her felt ladyflower, tho. I look forward to seeing it. Er, you know.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Ok- here goes. I was trying

Ok- here goes. I was trying to find the Amy Sedaris clip about it, but it's been removed from You Tube. Bummer. Anyway, Chelsea gives it up here...


Lissa Rankin's picture

OOh- yes. Was just chatting

OOh- yes. Was just chatting with my new friend Jordan and she was talking about Chelsea Handler's felt ladyflower, and I decided that's my new fave euphemism. So wow. You have a ladyflower too! Gonna track down the Chelsea Handler clip for you...back in a sec.

Christa's picture

JD does all sorts of

JD does all sorts of things...she has a habit of stirring things up. God-bless-her-giggly-heart.

And Lissa and Joy, I am also laughing out loud and gagging at BOTH of your comments. Disembodied vagina? Oy-veh!

JD at I Do Things's picture

Well, y'all may have tube

Well, y'all may have tube socks up in there, but my vagina looks like a flower. A pink hibiscus. With a face. A smiling face, you ask? Maaaaaaybe.

Joy's picture

Aaaahahaha. Someone,

Aaaahahaha. Someone, somewhere, sometime in history, must have attempted to fashion one. I'll do a bing image search and see what I find. (Do I look under "tube sock?" "Yoni with arms?") If I come up empty, we know what our next art project is. Maybe one last Mojo Monday exercise ... (still laughing. Actually, half-crying, half-laughing.)

Oh, JD, did you ever think your comment would lead to this (and can you please comment on everything from now on)??

Lissa Rankin's picture

Joy, I just laughed out loud

Joy, I just laughed out loud at your comment (and then imagined a vagina flying out as if I was coughing.)

Not to get too off topic, but what would a disembodied vagina look like? I'm seeing this pink tube sock with little arms and legs....Just call her Yoni...

Joy's picture

See, I, for one, am stuck on

See, I, for one, am stuck on the image of "coughing up a vagina ... " Good points, everyone, and thanks again Lissa for this hilarious and TRUE post. This is all going to change soon. It HAS to. Right? Vagina vagina vagina, Joy

Lissa Rankin's picture

OMG, JD, you sound just like

OMG, JD, you sound just like Christa! No wonder you're buds! (Thanks Christa for serving up another dish of your particular brand of giggle humor! You're bleeping amazing!)

And yes, JD. Why all the pussy-footing (LOL!) You tell 'em, girlfriend. My vagina salutes you back (Visualizing....laughing...) Lissa

JD at I Do Things's picture

First off, my vagina salutes

First off, my vagina salutes you!

(I'm not sure how, exactly, but she does.)

Anyway, my good friend Christa (above) sent me, and I'm glad she did. I love your blog and I love this post.

I had an endometrial ablation about 2 1/2 years ago, and now I DO feel like dancing and spinning during "that time of the month," because basically I don't have a period anymore. Or maybe blue liquid comes out. I don't really check.

But I do agree: the pussy-footing (HEE!) around over this totally normal word is ridiculous. I mean, if I have to hear about erections that last over 4 hours, TV commercials can at least cough up a "vagina" every now and then.

Christa's picture

I am an oddball. I prefer not

I am an oddball. I prefer not to talk about BLEEPS either (yukky) but in the context of this ad, not talking about BLEEP doesn't make any BLEEPING sense. Where else but the BLEEP is the tampon supposed to go? Actually, I know. I had a tampon shoved in my nose once...the aftermath of a lacrosse ball being stopped by my face. I broke my nose but stopped the winning goal. YAY for me. BOO HOO for my nose.

P.S. Your comic delivery was hysterically funny Lissa! Now get on out there and encourage all those Vaginas to get their Tampons ON, or more correctly, "IN")! LOL!

Erin's picture

I couldn't help but think of

I couldn't help but think of last week's episode of 30 Rock... Liz and Jack were talking about slippery slopes and Liz said something about how it used to be you couldn't say "crap" on TV but now everything from "asswipe" to "anal rot" is allowed. Which is indeed true, seeing as NBC did not bleep them. So why no vagina?

Diva Carla's picture

You go, Lissa! Let the shouts

You go, Lissa! Let the shouts of Vagina ring through the land. The Monologue wasn't loud enough. Maybe VAGINA needs a cheering section, or a conference, or an OPERA! VAGINA and yeah, I love the word Vulva too. I say both in public and in mixed comany a lot. It's my business.

Sharon D.'s picture

What rubbish! We put up with

What rubbish! We put up with male sex drugs being shoved down our throats repeatedly and during family hour too - like men need help being sex obsessed?!! BUT let women try it - even simply talking about our bodies in any place other than a Playboy-type publication and it gets censored! Sometimes I have to remember we got the vote less than 100 years ago. Evolution takes time, obviously several generations of women trying to convince men of a good idea so they think it's theirs and DO something about it-then several more while they high-five each other.

Don't get me wrong - I like men, but my definition and idea of a MAN, well there aren't that many of those guys around - but I'm hoping that the PINKIES out there are raising quality men who would have the BALLS to run that ad and think it NORMAL!


All the Best Sharon

Joy's picture

Vagina vagina vagina!

Vagina vagina vagina!

lilith gwener's picture



Lissa - VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA! Check out the link - it's to a video by a woman named Storm Large (actual birth name) called "8 miles wide" - as in "my vagina is...". Please watch it - it's really really fabulous!!!!!


Trudy's picture

Ha! Great post. As long as

Ha! Great post. As long as women are ashamed and men lead advertising companies and networks it will be a challenge for this to be accepted. I still think the tides are going to change though, perhaps not as rapidly as we would like.

Thanks for bringing this to the forefront.

Lissa Rankin's picture

Thanks Malena! And yes, Siena

Thanks Malena! And yes, Siena knows about vulvas, vaginas (and the sacred yoni). This is nothing to be ashamed of, people! If anything, it's to be revered. We are the creatixes of the world. We as women have power beyond measure.

When you comment on an Owning Pink blog post, we invite you to be authentic and loving, to say what you feel, to hold sacred space so others feel heard, and to refrain from using hurtful or offensive language. Differing opinions are welcomed, but if you cannot express yourself in a respectful, caring manner, your comments will be deleted by the Owning Pink staff.