Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

The Quest to Give Cervical Fluid a Name!

September 25th, 2012 by Kati Bicknell

 

Photo by Acaparadora // CC 2.5

Cervical fluid, the sticky/creamy/stretchy/slippery substance produced by the cervix is arguably the most important substance on earth. Without it, the human race would be shortly extinct, yet not many people even know what it is. This is unacceptable, and you and I are going to change this.

In case you don’t know, Cervical Fluid plays a vital role in helping women get pregnant, avoid pregnancy, and figure out health issues, yet its name has remained merely a description. Cervical fluid is too important to be forever described but never properly named.

Cervical fluid is incredibly valuable. Without it, life as we know it would literally cease to exist. Fertile cervical fluid keeps sperm alive once it is inside the vagina.  It provides nutrients, a hospitable alkaline environment, and aids in transportation. Cervical Fluid helps the sperm survive, sometimes for up to five days, while waiting for an egg to be released. Cervical fluid is like a soccer mom, providing snacks, protection, and transportation to the sperm, while they are on their way to the big game.  Without her, there would be no game, and getting pregnant would be virtually impossible without outside intervention.

And that is just ONE of the many ways cervical fluid makes our lives richer. It also tells an awful lot about the state of a woman’s hormones, which can play a key role in many health issues.

OK, so we’ve established that cervical fluid plays a vital role in the continuance of the human race, not to mention women’s health.  But with just a description for a name, we are faced with an intractable communication problem: unnamed bodily substances have a particular propensity to make people uncomfortable, and currently many people get scared off or grossed out by cervical fluid’s various descriptive identifiers.

You’ll hear it referred to as “Cervical Mucus”, “Vaginal Discharge”, “Vaginal Mucus”, and the slightly less gross-sounding “Cervical Fluid”. It’s not fair.  What if semen was called “Testicle Mucus”, or “Penile Discharge”?  Imagine if saliva was called “Oral Mucus”, or “Mouth Discharge”?  It’s not, for a reason! Even feces gets its own name!  You don’t often hear it referred to as “Solid Anal Discharge”. Each of these substances has an important role to play in the health of the human body, and hence, they have been given names, not just descriptions, so that we can acknowledge and understand them.

This quote from The Simpsons episode The Principal and the Pauper  illustrates my point:

Lisa: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Bart: Not if you called ‘em stench blossoms.

Homer: Or crapweeds.

Marge: I’d sure hate to get a dozen crapweeds for Valentine’s Day. I’d rather have candy.

Homer: Not if they were called scumdrops.

You get the point.  Something can be lovely and beautiful and wanted, but if you call it by an unappealing name, no one is going to give it a chance.

Now, I personally LOVE cervical fluid. It has taught me a great deal about my fertility and my health.  It’s a crime that this stuff is not more not widely popular. I posit that if cervical fluid had a more euphonious appellation, people would be more interested in hearing, talking, and reading about it.  Which would lead to understanding and wider acceptance. This Quest to name Cervical Fluid has broad-reaching social implications. With wider understanding and acceptance of this most sacred substance, women would own their fertility again. The sense of panic and confusion that many women experience when thinking about their reproductive health would diminish and eventually vanish.  There would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and more wanted pregnancies. More wanted pregnancies would lead to happier families and, ultimately, a happier world!  For the betterment of women everywhere and the world at large, cervical fluid needs a name of its own!

I propose we give cervical fluid a name within six months. I will be working towards this goal. If you want to help, please leave your thoughts about this and your suggestions for cervical fluid’s new name in the comments below. Together, we’ll make history.

  

18 Responses to “The Quest to Give Cervical Fluid a Name!”

  1. Cindy Schickendantz says:

    I like the thinking that we have two flows per month. The “fertile” flow and the “menstrual” flow. The fertile flow does change to non-fertile or obstructive flow so its even a more interesting way of teaching the miracle of a woman’s body during the ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle. A thought just occurred to me – if we changed the name of the cycle to the ovulatory cycle instead of the menstrual cycle, how would it then be perceived?

  2. Hi Cindy,

    Thanks for your comment. :) That is a very interesting idea, the Ovulatory Cycle, instead of the Menstrual Cycle. That would put the emphasis on ovulation instead. I’m sure more babies gestational ages would be calculated correctly.

  3. Ashley Ross says:

    Kati, you got me giggling and my insides nodding a big yes. Ive heard it called “white blood” and “white juice”, but of course I live in California and we’re looking for more general appeal here.
    There is occasion to riff on “she-woman” (in contrast to semen) but that might be confusing for some.
    If we’re going Greek, white is “aspros” (άσπρος), pronounced “AHS-bros” and water is “hydro” – can anyone come up with a sexy merger of those?
    Thanks for the wonderful question, Kati. I look forward to this creative conversation…

  4. Though I appreciate your enthusiasm for cervical mucus, I doubt that a new name for it will catalyze such a psycho-socio-cultural-economic revolution as to achieve your hope for: “fewer unplanned pregnancies and more wanted pregnancies. More wanted pregnancies would lead to happier families and, ultimately, a happier world!”

    Here I intentionally use the word ‘mucus’ not ‘fluid’. The word mucus describes a viscid slippery secretion rich in mucins, and other substances such as those in cervical mucus. This is the widely acknowledged physiologically correct descriptor for such substances secreted by the human body. Cervical mucus is certainly a critical substance for the continuance of the human race; however cannot alone continue the human race. Conception requires the union of female and male egg cells (gametes). Sperm need seminal mucus and cervical mucus to survive their trek to the female egg cell. Sperm also require for survival mucus produced by the man’s bulbourethral glans, and nutrient rich fluids produced by the seminal vesicles and prostate gland. Cervical mucus is a main player in the act of human reproduction but is not a solo act. Part of the Body Literacy movement sponsored by Justisse is to teach people about all the players in the act of human reproduction. Body Literacy does include the skills necessary to observe, chart and interpret the events of the menstrual cycle (including the presence or absence of cervical mucus) which may then be used as a biofeedback tool to reflect whole body health and when a woman is fertile. All of the above help a woman make more informed choices about when how avoid or get pregnant if that is her intention.

    Now to the specific issue of ‘renaming’ cervical mucus: It is common human practice to engage in the creative and linguistic practice of renaming what one discovers for themselves as a way to lay claim to the knowledge, even though that knowing has been articulated for decades or centuries. With no disrespect, note for example the work of Ekhart Tolle, which is personal rebranding of spiritual practices and theories thousands of years old. Naming is a critical part of the branding—taking a proprietary ownership of something. In my more than thirty-five years of being a fertility awareness educator I have seen many re-naming campaigns, all of which have done little to address the fundamental squeamishness people have about the human body and dealing with the reality of the human body.

    I would agree that “bodily substances have a particular propensity to make people uncomfortable” but would argue that the root of that discomfort has little to do with the particular words used to describe bodily substances. We name breasts, boobs, tits, hooters, the girls, among a litany of terms. We call the vulva, pussy, snatch, cunt, vagina, again among a litany of terms. Still we are uncomfortable with those parts of our bodies and the substances that they secrete. It is not the words that scare people off it is the reality of having to deal with the blood, bone, mucus, flesh, sounds, and desires of our corporeality. When we have found a way to become comfortable with our corporeality it will not matter what we name any bodily substance, we will be comfortable with it. I suggest reading Ernest Becker’s (1973) Denial of Death and Leonard Schlain’s (1998) The Alphabet and the Goddess: Conflict Between Word and Image to get a better handle on the human problem with corporeality. When I work with a woman who is squeamish about her bodily substances, I do not suggest renaming her body parts or secretions, and thus collude in repressing her squeamishness. I go with her to her place of discomfort and help her find a way to love her corporeal reality. Something can only be “lovely and beautiful and wanted” if we love it as it is, not for is appealing or unappealing name. Perhaps, that was the point Oscar Wilde (1895) was making in his play “The Importance of Being Ernest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”. The qualities of loveliness, beauty, and desirability are relative terms. I suggest that helping people find a way to comfortably address their discomfort with bodily substances and processes cannot be accomplished simply by renaming what makes us squeamish.

    Editor’s Note, 9/30/2012: This comment was originally posted as a response to the 9/27/2012 post, “moments of girl-bonding”. I moved it because it was clearly intended as a response to this post, and I thought it should be seen by others in this conversation.

    • Hi Geraldine,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that normalizing bodily functions and processes to reduce squeamishness is of the utmost importance.

      What I am saying is that I would like Cervical Fluid to have a “name” like all the other bodily secretions. I stand by the point that it is not fair for such an important substance to be called merely by a description, however medically accurate it may be. As mentioned above “Semen” though it IS “seminal mucus” is generally referred to as “Semen” NOT “seminal mucus”.

      I am also not suggesting that I “discovered” cervical fluid, nor am I trying to assign a particular name of my choosing to it. I am merely opening up a conversation about the topic, because I think it is so important.

      I appreciate your input on this post, and I can’t thank you enough for all the work that you’ve put into learning and teaching Fertility Awareness, throughout the years. However I do think that giving cervical fluid a name of its own, not just a description, will help Fertility Awareness become more well-known and popular, an outcome that I think would be very pleasing to you in particular.

  5. Lisa Leger says:

    Personally, after calling cervical mucus exactly that my whole career, I have no problem with continuing to call mucus “mucus”. My strategy has always been: “Behave as if its normal and it will eventually come true.”
    I apply this strategy to talking about menstruation without lowering my voice, recommending natural remedies in a pharmacy setting, talking to doctors as colleagues, and assuming people care about food, environment, and social justice.
    I try to say Mucus on the radio and TV as often as possible. I think of it as kind of desentitizing people to any squeamishness they may feel and helping them accept that mucus is a valid thing to talk about. I see it as my contribution to chipping away at the wall.

  6. Hi Lisa,

    I love your strategy! I’m so thankful for women like you! Without all the work you’ve done to normalize cervical mucus to date, I probably would have never even heard of it.

    I do think though that the time has come to properly “name” cervical mucus with more than just a description. Once things get a name, they get more power.

    You have a name, I have a name, all the plants and birds and trees have names. Not to give cervical fluid a name, when all the other bodily substances have them seems unfair to me. It would be like having 5 children and naming them: Cindy, Ashley, Geraldine, Lisa, and Female Human.

    My idea is that if cervical fluid had a proper name, it would be less about “chipping away at the wall” and more about going around the wall.

    What do you think?

  7. Will Sacks says:

    Hi All,

    lol: “female human”.

    (disclosure: I’m Kati’s co-Founder at Kindara)

    As a man who only learned of the existence of Cervical Fluid/Mucus when I was 29 years old, I was stunned that I had never been taught about fertility awareness in high-school sex ed. There are so many benefits for women and men, it’s a crime so few people know about it.

    And that’s why I feel some of the comments here are missing the point. Kati is pointing out a marketing problem: Fertility Awareness is an amazingly valuable and useful collection of knowledge, but one of the stars of the show, Cervical Mucus, has a description that most people find off-putting. This gives Fertility Awareness a handicap. It’s not just, or the way things SHOULD be, but it’s a handicap nonetheless. I know because I’ve tried to explain Cervical Fluid to enough users, investors, friends, and would-be Kindara supporters as we’ve been trying to bring fertility charting into the mainstream over the last 2.5 years.

    The issue isn’t whether cervical fluid/mucus should or shouldn’t be off-putting (it shouldn’t, and it isn’t to those of us in the business), but rather that it IS off-putting to the majority of people, and this makes it hard for Fertiltiy Awareness to get the recognition it is due.

    This is the reality, and rather than spend energy trying to change people’s inherent reaction to the word Mucus (ie. chip away at the wall), I would much rather side-step the reaction all together (i.e. go around the wall) by giving Cervical Fluid its own name . This way we can all spend our energy making sure Fertility Awareness is a body of knowledge familiar to all women and men, without simultaneously dealing with a handicap.

    And for this to happen, I think it makes perfect sense to give Cervical Mucus a name of its own. I have never before heard anyone refer to semen as Seminal Mucus (even if that is the proper name), and for good reason: that descriptor produces an emotional reaction that detracts from an understanding of the substance. Once someone is grossed out, they stop listening, and Seminal Mucus sounds gross.

    Geraldine, you are undoubtedly right about our culture’s invisible resistance to our own corporeality, but in my view fighting this resistance head-on is doomed to fail. If the goal is for millions of women and men to experience their bodies and their fertility in a deeper way, I think the path to success must include packaging Fertility Awareness in a pleasing and engaging wrapper, so that women and men are engaged from the first moment they hear about it. By giving Cervical Fluid a name we can make Fertility Awareness a tool that is finally ready for mass adoption. Which is, I think, what we all want.

  8. Lisa Leger says:

    which brings me to the proposal that the fertility cycle be made sexy. How about a “Slippery Shades of Peak” kind of phenom with sexy, powerful and appealing portrayals of people enjoying their ovarian cycles, mucus, and menstruation with lushous SARK-like enthusiasm. I’d be happy to write such a thing if funding can be found…

  9. B says:

    Glitter glue.

  10. Ashley Ross says:

    Kudos to you all. This conversation has been such a long time coming.
    Lisa, I love your title – ‘Slippery Shades of Peak”.
    What a great idea to have a campaign that shows not only the relief in understanding your body in this way, but the sovereignty and spunk that comes with accepting and appreciating the beauty of our “design”.
    Yes!!! Kickstart it !!!

  11. Now you’ve got me thinking about this book Lisa. A Sark-like picture book/journal would be so fun and cool.

    I think it would help women joyfully embrace the vibrant juiciness of being female, and I want to see it exist. :)

    Also I wanted to share two names that I’ve heard suggested for Cervical Fluid in the last few days:

    WD-28 “because it can be used for almost as many things as WD-40″

    And

    Cerliva “like saliva, but from your cervix”

    I wish the comments on these posts stayed open longer than 10 days, we’ve got such a fun conversation going, and I think many more people will want to comment.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I feel a little late with the comment here, but I have recently been thinking about this problem. People hear the term “cervical mucus” and are instantly grossed out. To me, mucus is the stuff I hack up after I’ve been sick for a week. Why would people have any interest in hearing about fertility awareness methods of contraception and conception when they can’t get past the word “mucus”? Plain and simple, the terminology makes a woman’s body sound disgusting. A woman’s cycle is perfectly natural and can provide women with a huge amount of knowledge and power over their bodies. The term “cervical mucus” must be renamed! I am completely consumed by this issue and want more than anything to help find a solution.

    • Hi Jennifer!

      I’m so glad you found this thread! There must be more women who feel the same way we do. :) I don’t know the best way to find a new name for cervical fluid, but I was hoping that this post would spark some interest. Let’s brainstorm on how to do this. It’s so important!

  13. maung maung swe says:

    i would like to name it nectar!

  14. Lisa Leger says:

    after revisiting the comments, I’ve gotta say that I’m still in favor or calling cervical mucus “cervical mucus”. When teaching about fertility, I describe in glowing terms the amazing properties of this life-giving substance and the fact that none of us wld be here without it. If people get squeamish, then let’s address the squeamishness. We strive to make menstruation normal to talk about, so same applies here. I dont want to make mucus less icky, I want to live in a world where bodily functions are discussed using correct terminology. To tell the truth, I find “fluid” more cringe-worthy; to me its like watering down bright vibrant red to make pale pretty pink. I want to say “Yes I’m a woman and Yes my cervix produces mucus sometimes. Also hair grows from my armpits. Deal with it.” rebelliously yours – Lisa

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