WE need to talk about vulvas. I know it might not seem like a top priority right now, with the UK imploding around us, but this is important. In fact, it could be a matter of life and death.

New research by cancer charity The Eve Appeal has found people aren’t talking about vulvas nearly enough. Specifically, only 1% of parents frequently use that word when talking about female body parts in front of their daughters, with nearly half favouring euphemisms such as “flower”, “fairy” or “tuppence”. Most worryingly, more than a fifth don’t refer to female body parts in front of their daughters at all.

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but good luck googling “itchy rose” if you’re seeking relief from a nasty bout of thrush. Language matters when it comes to talking to children about their bodies, and the creation of taboos has implications for their health, their safety and even their sexual satisfaction in adulthood.

“What about the boys?” I hear the what-about-the-men brigade boom, their ears pricking up at the merest whisper of concern for girls. Yes, there are almost certainly as many cutesy/creepy euphemisms for male private parts as there are for female ones, but the particular taboo around v-words means a significant number of women reach adulthood without knowing the difference between a vulva and a vagina. What message does it send to them that these words are off-limits, even in private conversations? How does this affect how girls feel about their bodies as they grow up?

Almost a third of parents feel it’s only appropriate to use anatomical terms for their daughter’s body parts when they are 11 or over, presumably bearing in mind that most girls start their periods between the ages of 10 and 15. But it would be naïve in the extreme to imagine these young girls existing in a blissfully ignorant bubble of hoo-has, foofs, ginas and twinkles.

There’s a high chance they’ll have heard gash, snatch and much, much worse before their parents feel comfortable saying vulva. And those are just the nouns. They’ll also be exposed to a dictionary’s worth of pejorative adjectives describing the appearance, smell and dimensions of women’s genitals.

In the face of this onslaught, is it any wonder that labiaplasty has been the world’s fastest-growing cosmetic procedure for several years? Is it surprising that doctors are constantly having to hammer home the point that vaginas are self-cleaning and do not require tobe douched, sprayed or otherwise interfered with, contrary to what the worst villains of the “feminine hygiene” sector might have their target market believe?

If a girl doesn’t know what her private parts are called, it’s hardly surprising if she also doesn’t know what they’re supposed to look, feel or smell like. If her main points of reference are pornography and bus-shelter graffiti then how confident will she feel about going to the GP or a sexual health clinic to discuss a problem “down there”?

The Eve Appeal has been warning for some time that women are literally “dying of embarrassment” due to their reluctance to seek medical help when they have symptoms in intimate areas, and to mark Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month the charity is encouraging women to start conversations about their health.

Empowering children with knowledge isn’t just about protecting their health, it’s also about keeping them safe. While awareness of child sexual abuse is constantly improving, the use of confusing terms like “fanny” (which in US English means bottom) and “front bottom” (which doesn’t mean bottom at all) means children’s ability to describe where they have or haven’t been touched is impaired, with a real risk that these ambiguities could lead to misguided and traumatising intrusion into family lives or – even worse – a lack of action where it is needed.

The problem isn’t limited to the home. Psychologist and educator Dr Jessica Eaton told last week of her experience of delivering sex education training to teachers who balked at the idea of saying “vagina” in class. “They felt that talking about vagina and vulva was embarrassing and vulgar but felt that talking about penis was fairly uncomfortable but okay,” she tweeted, adding that when young people are taught about masturbation the focus is usually entirely on males. Hopefully she had the smelling salts ready when she brought up the clitoris.

Even medical professionals – the one group who you might imagine would be blush-proof – are not immune, with one Mumsnet user reporting that her GPs used to “cringe slightly” when her DDs (darling daughters) used the word vulva in their presence.

No-one’s suggesting introducing a vulva verse to the hokey-cokey or launching into Head, Shoulders, Vulva, Toes, but when it’s the time and place for talking about private parts the guiding principle should be educating and empowering, not sparing the embarrassment of grown-ups who should know better. Banish the notion of She Who Must Not Be Named, and you might even save a life.