The first few years of your child’s life, and of your being a parent, come with many exciting, scary, and even dreaded milestones, like the naming and talking about of your child’s genitalia. As with a lot of my posts, this, too, is founded on what has become my “parenting style,” that of clear, honest, educated communication.
We are the first teachers our children will have. While a lot of what they learn is through pure observation i.e., watching and hearing us, talk, walk, socialize, etc. We also coach them in these skills, we have mini “lessons” where we ask them questions or ask them to practice a new skill. We even make up games and songs, because we are so eager for them to learn that, wheels go round and round and that, doors go open and shut.
One of the most popular teaching songs even delves, lightly so, into anatomy, Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, head, shoulder, knees and toes, knees and toes, eyes and ears and a mouth and nose…. We happily sing this song while touching the corresponding body part, and relish when our little ones can do it all on their own. However, some parents and caregivers do not share the same enthusiasm for teaching their sons and daughters the names of their genitalia.
A lot of parents and caregivers spend little time explaining anything about their child’s genitalia to their child. I rarely hear adults refer to their baby’s penis or vulva/vagina using the proper anatomical name. Most commonly babies’ genitals are referred to as just, “down there,” some mystery location, referring to something below the waist: knees, shins, feet?! Some adults adopt some fictional, cutsie name for their baby’s genitalia, such as, cupcake, hoo-hoo, pee-pee, wee-wee, va-jay-jay.
I don’t think vagina is an ugly word.
Oprah Winfrey, unfortunately, helped coin the cutsie term va-jay-jay to replace the “obvious” ugliness “vagina” exudes. It became okay to make up “pretty” names for your vagina, all under the guise of a misrepresented feminism, i.e., a pseudo take back/reclaim your vagina movement, but really only further separates us from our sex and sexuality. When grown men and women refuse to call their genitalia by the correct anatomical name, they do so out of embarrassment, a feeling I think most can agree should not surround our genitalia, a very important part of our bodies.
Why it can be hard to say P and V:
- It’s hard for some parents and caregivers to say penis and vulva/vagina because we associate these parts with sex.
- Our parent’s never said penis or vulva/vagina, so now we can’t say it either.
- Baby talk: some parents/caregivers have a hard time talking in anything other than baby talk, so knees could become kneesy-weesies without a moments thought.
- Adults are uncomfortable talking about their own genitalia by the correct names.
- *Some people think penis and vagina are “adult words.”
*While searching for some examples of cutsie names for genitalia I came upon a web conversation on the site, JustMommies entitled, “G-rated names for penis, vagina, etc.” Similarly, I searched “body parts Kids” and while there were many diagrams, none of those diagrams included genitalia. Apparently kids don’t have penises or vaginas. It seems safe to say we have an overarching problem with how we talk, or rather don’t talk about our genitalia. The words Penis and vagina do not need a G-rated synonym because they are not bad words. Penis and vagina are anatomical names, just like elbow or collarbone.
Parents’ and caregivers’ inability to say penis and vulva/vagina when referring to their child’s genitalia bothers me beyond the obvious, which is simply that of embarrassment. I believe that at such a crucial learning stage we should be teaching them the correct names for things, in general. Just like we don’t want our kids to use slang or mispronounce words, we shouldn’t want them to use slang for their genitalia. Our jobs as parents and caregivers should be to present them with correct information. If they decide to change the name of their penis or vulva/vagina to something else, that’s fine. But I believe they should be presented with correct anatomical names for these reasons:
Why we shouldn’t make up cutsie names for P and V:
- Miscommunication: If you call your daughter’s vulva/vagina a cupcake, she will face confusion when someone offers her a cupcake.
- Miscommunication: Others will not know what she means when she says “My La-La hurts.”
Why we should say penis and vulva/vagina:
- Clear communication: Every adult knows what a penis is.
- Clear communication: Every adult knows what a vulva/vagina is, right?! Vulva refers to the outer genitalia, while, vagina refers to the inner orifice.
I believe, strongly that having an open, and clear line of communication in regards to our bodies is key in creating a well-informed, inquisitive child. A child, who will know how to talk about their bodies without embarrassment, is a child who will also know their body’s limitations. They will be able, later in life, when they hit sexual maturity to make informed decisions, based on those early years of clear and open conversations about their body.
You can properly identify your child’s genitalia without sexualizing them. The reality you can take comfort in, is that your babies genitals are not something sexual, and wont be until puberty or after. Even if your baby is touching his/her penis or vagina, they are not doing so out of sexual curiosity. They are touching themselves out of pure and innocent, A-sexual curiosity, so name those parts the way you do when your baby pulls on their ear and you say “that’s your ear!”
Because we want out kids to learn body parts, we should also acknowledge and help them identify their genitalia and anus. These areas will gain a lot of interest from your child, especially during potty training, so get comfortable identifying and saying the names.
- When changing the diaper, simply get comfortable saying something like, “Oh, don’t touch your penis right now, there’s poop on it.”