While at a friend’s house one day, my three-year-old daughter came up to me and announced very loudly, “My vulva hurts, Mom!” I talked to her for a minute and then sent her back to play.
When I turned back to my friend, she sarcastically said, “Why don’t you just teach her vagina too!”
I admit, her reaction caught me off guard. At my house, we used the correct names for private parts. But, I understood what she was implying. To her, I seemed to be teaching sexual things at a very young age.
So with my own raised eyebrows — and a bit of amusement in my voice — I responded, “She doesn’t wipe her vagina when she goes to the bathroom. She wipes her vulva.”
The truth of using correct names for private parts
Maybe you feel the same as my friend. That’s no surprise at this stage of life. You’re far removed from those blissful years before puberty happened. It’s easy to forget that you had a simpler understanding of your own body back then. An understanding that really didn’t involve sex — at least for a while.
I think my friend’s reaction wasn’t so unusual.
She had mistakenly jumped to the idea that simply knowing the correct name of body parts suddenly informed a person of sexual content.
It’s kind of like thinking that if a child has been taught the word “lungs” somehow they automatically understand that oxygen circulates throughout their entire body. Or that the word “brain” also comes with an understanding of the nervous system and its wiring path.
Knowing the names of their own private parts will NOT magically give children understanding of sexual things.
YOU give them that understanding — over many conversations and over many years. As your child’s understanding increases, you prepare them for experiences that will require that information.
Whoa, wait a minute!
You mean we can be THE PERSON that actually gives meaning to these words? Kind of like an encyclopedia and therapist and life coach all rolled up into one?
Yes! That is exactly what I’m saying.
Knowing the correct names for private parts will give kids the understanding that they can come to you with questions because the topic is talked about in open and plain ways with them.
When your son’s little elementary friends explain to each other over giggles that girls have two bums, you can set the record straight.
When a pornographic picture pops up on the computer screen, won’t you be relieved when your 4th grader tells you about it?
How about when your 13 year old comes home on a Friday night and asks you what a “blow job” is? (Her friends were talking about it.) Your years of experience calmly responding to her questions just gave you the opportunity to talk to her candidly while she’s open to listening. At this age, that’s priceless.
Still not convinced? Let’s tackle some of these excuses.
Excuse #1: I don’t want my CHILD knowing names of sexual body parts!
Maybe you’re thinking, “There are way less offensive words that describe these same areas of the body. My daughter calls her genitals her ‘princess parts’ and my son has always called his a ‘tallywhacker.’ No other words are needed. Besides, those body parts have such stark sexual meaning. Shouldn’t they wait until they’re older to learn about it?”
Hang on for a minute. These body parts are more than just sexual components.
For a split second, you forgot about all the potty training and body processes you were knee deep in not too long ago — nothing sexually appealing there!
These parts are simply and foremost just a part of our incredible and amazing body. Using the correct name for private parts is no different than calling any other body part by its appropriate name.
In my household with young kids, there is plenty of discussion about the digestive and urinary systems and how well they are working. There are also hygiene and medical questions that are answered. It would be a lot more difficult to answer these questions when “just keep it clean down there” is the extent of my explanation.
“Ok,” you might say. “Sure, these body parts have other functions too. But still, they ARE sexual in nature.”
I see where you’re coming from. It’s not your fault though.
We’re constantly being bombarded with messages of sex in songs, videos, advertisements, and print.
And with these blatant messages surrounding us day in and day out, it’s easy to forget the basics. It’s easy to forget those years as a kid when we just thought our bodies were downright awesome without knowing about their sexual powers.
So don’t feel bad. Just go back to the basics. Remember not to tie your adult understanding of these body parts to your child’s understanding.
Kids learn a lot about bodily respect, consent and refusal, communication and sexual safety when parents are open and willing to talk about these body parts.
Not talking about kids’ bodies doesn’t mean they’re oblivious. It just means that they’re getting their information somewhere else — friends, siblings, books, movies, Google. There’s plenty of other places out there handing out information for free.
These body parts become sexualized when you choose to teach about their sexual components — or when you let media and advertising and friends become the primary educators. The choice is really in your hands.
Excuse #2: Potential embarrassment for YOU
Maybe you’re squirming at the thought of your son saying the word penis in front of your mother-in-law.
Or you’re anxious someone is going to think your child has already been taught about sex because why else would he know words that describe that part of his body?
Maybe, you’re afraid he might yell those words out loud at the grocery store or his sibling’s parent teacher conference or at the library.
Or maybe your daughter will simply state in the middle of a conversation with your new neighbors that she has a vulva and their son has a penis.
Honestly, if your neighbors didn’t already know, it’s probably time they found out!
If you really stop to think about it, it’s actually about how you would react to this embarrassment.
So, how would you react?
If using the correct names for private parts were typical in your household, then you wouldn’t have to worry about feeling embarrassed because you would already feel confident in responding appropriately.
Besides, your reaction teaches way more than your child’s outburst.
A simple response like, “You’re right. Boys and girls have some parts that are the same and some parts that are different,” sends a positive message to both your neighbors (“Wow! She’s a calm and confident parent!”) and your daughter.
Excuse #3: Causing naturally curious kids to become curious about sex
Maybe you’d argue, “But won’t talking about private parts make kids more curious about sexual things?”
Hate to break it to you, but your child is already curious about this part of his body. So are all his friends. Remember the time he peed in the bathroom garbage can instead of the toilet just to see how full he could get it? That’s just the beginning, my friend.
Using correct names for private parts in casual conversation allows more important conversations about sexuality to happen easily. You’ll want this level of comfort established long before your child becomes a teenager. And it’s really helpful when you do start to talk to your kids about sex in simple, age appropriate ways as they approach puberty.
Kids are already being bombarded by sexual misinformation. Media is great at showing kids which behaviors and words get the most attention. And technology, although awesome for many things, also gives your kids the means to promote all of these things.
Letting fate teach your kids about the nature of sexual things might turn out fine in the end.
But establishing YOURSELF as the number one source for information on topics related to these body parts has a much higher likelihood of success. Not just because you’re the source of information, but because you can reveal it at age appropriate times and through the lens of your family values.
You want to be that person.
Wise parents use the correct names for private parts.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
So the next time you’re giving your toddler a bath, make sure she knows what body part is getting clean.
When your four year old sees a mom nursing at the park, talk to him about why it’s wonderful that moms’ bodies have the capability to take care of babies no matter where they are at.
After disciplining your 8 year old for watching a video he wasn’t allowed to watch, explain that videos sometimes show people’s bodies in ways that are unkind and disrespectful to them as human beings.
When your 10 year old asks if she can have a bra, consider it the perfect opportunity to casually talk about some of the other physical changes coming up.
There are always opportunities to have these conversations. And using the correct names for each of these parts gives you the foundation to talk confidently.