*WARNING! If you are a man, you may want to stop reading right here. Or maybe even if you are a non-parent. Or someone who feels uncomfortable discussing anatomical labeling. Doesn’t pertain to you? Great- keep reading- at your own risk. Today’s topic involves the tricky subject of teaching kids about body parts. Grab some coffee.
When my daughter was born over six years ago, there were a lot of things I didn’t think about. Things that wouldn’t become pertinent until later- when you have an infant, you aren’t exactly planning for how to handle tantrums, when to start potty training, which preschool she will go to, and a host of other issues.
Here’s another one that might not cross your mind at first- What are you going to call your kid’s private parts?
OK, stick with me here- perhaps this seems like a non-issue to some; I only have girls, so maybe all parents of boys just call it a “penis”- that seems reasonable. Or a pee-pee. But with girls, it seems like there are so many more options.
I bet most people go with whatever terminology they learned when they were kids. See, here’s where I squirm: I just can’t use the word “genitals” anymore. That’s what we were taught, and for some reason, it kind of makes me want to gag. Or giggle.
I also didn’t really feel like calling my toddler’s girl parts her vagina. Maybe I have some sort of problem, but it just seemed like a little bit much and plus, the part that she’s talking about isn’t the vagina- I mean, it’s the fleshy part, not the hole. She probably didn’t even know there was a hole down there at all. (Well, not for long…keep reading.)
Now, just because vagina seemed too technical for my preferences, that didn’t mean I wanted to call it a “hoo-hoo” or a “ta-ta” or God forbid, something really inappropriate like her “cookie”.
So I took a slightly different approach and labeled her girl parts with the word my aunt taught my cousin- the good old labia. Go ahead and laugh, but it seemed to fit, given that it describes the specific part of her nether-regions that my kiddo was interested in.
Over the years there have been many times I have regretted my choice to use the word labia. Here are some examples:
- The December my daughter was four, we were shopping at Target for a pair of holiday boxers my husband was certain to never wear. (He wore them once.) As we browsed the mens’ underwear section, my daughter noticed a package of briefs. You know how all the models on the underwear packages are, ahem, rather well-endowed? Yeah, she noticed too, and loudly inquired, “Why do men have funny labias?” Of course I giggled nervously, steered our cart away from the middle-aged woman who was laughing, and made a mental note to update her gender specific anatomy terms later.
- Before bath time my one year old was waddling around sans diaper and my daughter hollered, “Mommy! There’s an apple seed stuck to Sophie’s labia! Never mind…it fell off!”
- Then there was the time she tried to start a dinner-table game with the extended family by taking turns answering questions such as “What is your favorite place in the world?” I knew things had taken a turn for the worst when she asked, “What is your favorite body part?” She cleverly answered for the family dog with, “Bowie’s favorite body part is her labia!” Tee hee.
You can understand why I cringe when hearing this word dropped in conversation. But what alternative was there?
As she got older, our uncomfortable interactions grew even worse. This problem is likely compounded by the fact that I cannot seem to talk about this stuff without laughing. Or at least without smiling unnaturally like an idiot. Seriously, what’s wrong with me? Am I 12 years old? Shouldn’t a 34 year old mother of two be able to calmly discuss private parts and keep a straight face even though her six year old is writhing with peals of laughter?
Our most recent conversation was by far the worse. I will spare you the details of how our anatomy lesson began, but as we chatted, Izzy mentioned something about her “tooth-hole.” Doing a double-take, I asked as casually as possible, “Your what?”
“My tooth-hole,” she continued conversationally, “You know, that hole by my labia.”
Aw, shit, I thought. It’s time. “Well, honey, “ I began, trying like hell not to laugh at her inventive vocabulary, “It’s not really called a tooth-hole. Why do you call it that?” I immediately regretted asking, because, having just lost a few teeth, it seemed obvious that she had found some similarities with the sensation of the gummy gap left by her tooth.
“It’s called a vagina,” I reminded her and she roared with laughter. When she recovered, she decided to take it a step further. “What about the hole in your bottom?” she asked.
I stalled, trying to buy myself some time to figure out what my response would be. Surely “butthole” seemed unsuitable. “You mean, what’s the grown-up word for that part?” I asked hesitantly. When she nodded, I bit the bullet and disclosed, “Well, that’s called your anus.”
She was nearly incoherent, and I felt that surely I had failed as a parent to provide her with this technical education at the right time. Maybe I should have been saying “vagina” and “anus” since she could crawl, rather than the half-assed “bottom” and watered-down “labia”. Perhaps then we could have avoided my juvenile lack of composure and her downright hysteria. Sex education lesson one: FAIL.
Then, because she’s Izzy, she made up a tune on the spot that she began to belt out, “We have two special parts! The first ho-o-o-le is the vagina! And the se-e-e-e-cond one is the a-a-a-a-nus!” What choice did I have but to succumb to laughter? My call for decorum was obviously hypocritical, so I may as well let it go.
So…what is your philosophy on labeling body parts for children? If you have the secret to discussing this stuff with your school-age kids without feeling like a total dumbass, let me know! And if your kids are still babies and toddlers, well, best of luck to you as you navigate south of the border!
I say “vagina.” Mr. Sandwich says, “Lady Parts.” I think it’s a dad thing.
I’m sorry, but I just want to giggle every time I read, “Mr. Sandwich.” It makes me smile. Yeah, my husband *never* says “labia” or “vagina”. It makes him terribly uncomfortable. 😀
LOLOLOL! Awesome! I have no words of wisdom for you. My philosophy is to use what words are not going to embarrass me in public. We use pee-pee – gender neutral. I grew up calling it a tutu. So, of course I still get embarrassed watching any form of ballet. I majored in Biology and had to sit through a number of reproduction lectures. Even in my 20s I was still turning red and giggling whenever they said “penis” – and don’t even get me started on working my way through a dissection.
I was at Target with my sister and niece a few years ago and my niece picked up this well-endowed plastic horse. She called out, “Look at the giant penis on this horse, Mom!” My sister and I both turned stoplight red. It was at that point that I decided I didn’t want to turn red every time I went to the toy section in Target. So, we went with pee-pee.
OK, my face hurts from smiling at that. “Tutu”- HA! And, “Look at the giant penis on this horse?!?!” I would have lost it. I’m glad I didn’t forever alienate you with this potentially inappropriate post! 😀
Hahahahahahaha!!! As a doctor, I’ve always gone with the actual body part names each step of the way. My kids have yelled out all kinds of vagina and penis remarks over the years—at the grocery….at Target…at my in-laws home. You name it. The good news is that I have no shame at all so it doesn’t bother me. (and in the case of my in-laws, it actually makes me laugh like the dickens to see them so flustered. Now you know why I’m not the favorite daughter-in-law)
Well, as a doctor, I think you pretty much win the “What do we call our private parts?” debate. I mean, who’s going to try to argue with you that it is more appropriate to call it a ding-a-ling?
Thanks for sharing… 😉
This is what I do too. I was raised with the actual terms and have no shame about them being yelled out wherever, whenever. The only time I was embarrassed growing up is when I once said the word “penis,” and my friend’s entire family went silent and stared at me out of the corner of their eyes as if I had begun shouting racial slurs. I couldn’t even figure out what they were upset about at first.
Your new blog layout is very fancy and shiny! Ooh la la! I’m not sure if my e-mail subscription went through, because I didn’t get an activate notice. I’ll keep an eye out and try again if I’m not getting your posts.
Oh, thanks for the website compliment, though I didn’t have much to do with the design, but I am definitely thrilled with it! Switching to WP has been interesting…Thank you so much for resubscribing- you have my heartfelt appreciation.
I am happy that someone as creative and smart as you was thinking of the same subject as me! Not sure what it says about us both! I actually like to write about subjects that are out there and are complicated. Probably you do too….I LOVE your title (wish I had thought of it) and you did such a great job conveying your uncomfortability with the whole subject. I think most parents share it, but want to seem so sure of themselves. Personally, I had not even begun to contemplate the ANUS! Oh dear lord, you have added another dread to my list!
Aw, thanks for the nice compliment! I agree- complicated topics are more interesting! 😉 I know- I was SO not prepared for “anus.”
Has she studied the solar system yet? (and if she has, has she put 2+2 (or Ur anus) together? 😉
I know, I know… I’m a terrible person/influence 😉
Oh Lord, that crossed my mind, too! It’s only a matter of time….
Considering this dilemma has caused me some amount of consternation, as well. I’m inclined to use the technical terms- she’s got to learn them eventually, right? But I cringe at the thought of my daughter, and eventually my son, just randomly spouting them out at inappropriate times. In particular, I’m worried about upsetting some fellow parent someday when my kids proudly share this knowledge with theirs.
So far, I’ve only referred specifically to her butt (as tush), and my daughter has generalized that term to her girlie parts as well. I realized this one day when she pointed to me there and said, “Mommy’s tush.” Still trying to decide when to set her straight on that one, and just how I will do so. She’s only two, so I’ve got time, right? Eek!
Oh, yes, I had forgotten when Izzy was three and used to refer to my “ladyparts” as my “bottom.” And seriously, when is the right age to jump in and say, “Actually, that’s not called a bottom…” It’s not black and white that’s for sure!
Hehehehe That’s awesome. I’m still in the toddler/baby phase. You have my sympathies. Right now we are SUPER inappropriate and call the toddler’s lady parts either her ‘lady parts’ or her ‘clam’. She prefers to lounge in extremely unladylike positions. Right now names for the lady parts are just jokes. I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do when this nonsense gets real.
Clam! Oh God, I am dying!!! I am telling you- it is nearly impossible to tell when the jokes should evolve into serious names. I wish I knew at what point I missed the mark. Thanks for the laugh!
The tooth hole association is priceless. To think of the deductive reasoning that went into that reckoning is hilarious. At our house we say “girl parts” and “boy parts” but have explained the proper names for what comprises those parts. Sometimes there is a quiz, and oftentimes confusion, but hopefully never an outburst in public as described in some of the other comments.
I know- I totally cringed with “tooth-hole”- ahhhh! Yeah, retracing her mental steps made me laugh! I think the confusion is pretty hard to avoid!
I taught my boys the “correct” terms when they were little. I figured, they might as well start out calling their junk a penis, right? But now my 8 year old insists on calling his penis a weenie. I hate that LMAO.
Weenie would make me laugh. And roll my eyes…
Wait… your supposed to talk to your kids about this stuff… Just kidding. We actually just call it, in its entirity, the privates. More or less because like you, I am the 12 year old giggling. I can’t help it… I am just that mature I guess. But, for a change of pace, because my son is my youngest, we actually coined his privates is chicken nuggets and french fry. I am sure that will come back to haunt me!
HAHA! I am relieved to hear other moms get the giggles with this stuff. And, please, for the love of God, keep us posted on how the chicken nuggets and french fries label turns out… 😉
This one is hysterical, but it might ruin chicken nuggets and french fries forever, which is actually good in a way.
HA- that is such a good point!
hahahahah! Izzy is such a hoot. It sounds to me like her first sex-ed lesson was AWESOME! She nailed the parts and even sang about them. Can’t ask for more than that! So I’m putting a link here to a story I wrote close to a year ago about my eldest (he was two then). He caught me off guard by asking what ‘it’ was.. http://bit.ly/W9ltlE I’d forgotton about this. We’re back to using ‘willy’ now. Haven’t a clue what I’m going to call Little Miss D’s bits. I grew up calling it tuppence. I HATE that word!!!!
OK, I am tittering to myself now…tuppence. Can’t wait to read that link…
Ha!!! I just called it a vagina from the get-go. Though my youngest couldn’t pronounce it so she called it, “her vagini.” It’s stuck. That’s hysterical!
Seriously, these comments are killing me!
I freaken love this post. We have millions of names. We call vaginas patootie’s in our house. No idea why really. Or just plain vag. The boys are more creative with theirs and the penis is anything from a willy to their most recent term – lightsaber.
Great post, seriously funny.
“Just plain vag…” “Lightsaber…” I have to say, the comments are making this post even funnier! 😀
HA! Hilarious, having one of each we went with willy and twiddle… there’s just something hilarious about little boys doing the willy dance. My daughter named hers Mr twee twee,even though I said it should be Miss, she secretly wanted to be a boy… now they’re 12 and 8, when these things come up they are referred to by their appropriate names. I remember my mother getting terribly flustered when these things were mentioned by my kids but I just move on…. not phased and kids say crazy stuff you just gotta go with the flow 🙂
Mr. Twee twee….kids are so stinkin’ funny!
Duuude, you gotta call them a’ll by their proper names from the get go. Sure, have your own slang (although I’m throwing this out there that labia was an interesting slang choice!) but they’ve got to know the real names – saves them all manner of bafflement and ridicule at school. Besides, as a fellow puerile adult, there’s infinite amusement in hearing your (boy) children talk about your fagina.
Bagina, fagina…why is that so funny? Well, we were being extremely technically correct with “labia”, give that it referred to the specific part of her “private parts” that she could see…but nobody else calls it that!
I’m crying laughing… thanks for the post…
When Eth was figuring it all out (3 yrs old or so), she would tell us that a boy has a “pee-NUS” and girls have vaginas. She would go around and tell us about people she saw… figuring out the differences between boys and girls I suppose.
Aria now says bagina; therefore we call it both a bagina and vagina. Duppa is the Polish word for butt, so we call it that. I’ve gotten the occasional too loud comment about their vagina while shopping… but(t) calling it this has worked for us.
This is from the family that says “Happy Nude Year”. Side note- Annabelle asked if she should say “Happy Nude Year” to her teacher- i suggested probably not 🙂
OK, now I am laughing. “I suggested probably not.” Ha! Boy, do I miss you! I’m not sure what it is about “bagina” that is so funny, but it kills me! Happy Nude Year, friend!
As a 65 year old grandmother, I’m loving this discussion. I’m firmly in the camp of teaching children the proper names for body parts, even if you may need to tell them that some things may not need to be announced in public. When my oldest sons were young (they are now 44 and 42) my parents and in laws would not even say the word pregnant in front of them! True! And certainly not the names of body parts, although I did teach them the correct names. One day my mother in law told me that a friend had had a miscarriage. My oldest son, who was three asked me what that was. He knew that she was going to have a baby, so I simply said that it meant she was not going to have a baby this time. My mother in law was aghast that I told him anything. I thought that what I said was age appropriate, but she thought I had a high crime and misdemeanor! Times certainly have changed!
Barbara, thanks so much for sharing your perspective with us! Yes, times have changed, and there are certain things that I think have improved with time, but definitely not all things. I have definitely cringed hearing some of the names people come up with for their body parts!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience. This post is awesome, and timely for us, as I have been thinking more and more about “anatomy”. From the time Nate was a newborn, I have frequently and comfortably referred to his penis during baths and diaper changes. It came naturally and seemed much easier to me than naming the female genitalia. But then I started to wonder what to call his other, erm, “equipment”. Would the term “balls” be to slang-y? Would “testicles” be accurate? And don’t even get me started on the a-word. I can’t even *think* about using that word without squirming. I guess I’ll have to get over it, for his sake, treat it all as normal and healthy and be prepared for embarrassing outbursts at inappropriate times and in awkward places. Just part of toddler-hood. 🙂
I guess I kind of forgot about the, ahem, balls…er…testicles…good point! And yeah, honestly I’m good with “bottom” for pretty much every age. The “a” word doesn’t really need to be integrated into our constant bodily functions dialogue. Yes, those embarrassing outbursts are part of the package (no pun intended!) and make really funny stories later!
Personally, I am a big believer in the technical terminology, served up with as little fanfare and discernible embarrassment as you can convey: penis, vagina, scrotum, etc. Raised by an east coast hippy turned child psychologist and another east coast hippy turned biology teacher, I was destined to hold the personal beliefs that 1) Americans are far too uptight and uncomfortable about the rather mundane reality of our own anatomy and associate biological functions, and 2) children are far healthier about their own sexuality (and waste elimination) when they are given frank but age-appropriate information about their bodies (including what to call it). When I was younger, I took it as a point of pride to be the odd family in our suburban community who took this stuff head on, and I secretly delighted in scandalizing my friends with my lack of hangups. I would have answered this blog post with a sanctimonious rant about how everyone needs to get over themselves (for the sake of their children’s emotional health in adolescence and adulthood) and just make themselves be able to call it a vagina with a straight face and with pride. (In fact, somewhere in the end of high school I took pleasure in humiliating one of my friends at a lunch table when she couldn’t make herself say the word penis in context– “it’s not a big deal,” I shouted “Just say it: penis. Say it!” Yep, aren’t you glad you didn’t know me back then…) Now, however, I acknowledge a wider range of parenting styles and personal philosophies regarding this stuff, and more importantly I recognize how much we are each a product of the parenting and schooling and acculturation we received, so I wouldn’t militantly demand that everyone treat this subject with the same secular liberal social science-y approach I received (even though I am grateful to my parents every day for the healthy upbringing I feel I received). Now I feel that the most important part is to convey as little of our own embarrassment and discomfort about our anatomy as possible, using whatever words make that possible for us. If calling it a pee-pee makes it roll right off your tongue and sound as mundane as an eyebrow or a foot, then call it a pee-pee. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Stephanie, that accidentally allowing kids to pick up slang terms and euphemisms (like cookie) is the one situation to absolutely avoid. These words carry adult registers that kids can’t understand, and even when kids don’t understand the sexual innuendo embedded in the cultural meanings of slang terms, they still pick up the aura of specialness and unexplained power these terms give to those parts. And that can contribute to all sorts of weird beliefs or unconscious associations down the line. IMHO, even “lady parts” is a term that carries too much other meaning– lady parts are what ladies (adult women generally of sexually mature age) have, whereas females from infants to grandmothers have vaginas, complete with labia.
I totally agree with some of the other comments. The different parts of the body should be called by their technical names. Girls urinate from their urethra, so maybe this is the best name choice? Although I was raised saying ‘front bottom’ and ‘back bottom’.
I’m tragically late to this party but I have to chime in- I wish more people would use the anatomically correct words! Good for you! My good friend is sex therapist and she says you should say “vulva” re: the whole non-vagina area… Not only does it just make sense to say the real words, but it prevents sexual abuse in children (no perv is going to mess with a kid who says “Don’t touch my vagina!” because that kid obv learned “vagina” from her mom and is probably not keeping secrets from said mom. Perv is going to prey on someone who is too ashamed to talk about his/her privates with his parents).
All of that said, I was laughing a little (a lot) reading about how your daughter fell apart laughing when you told her that a tooth hole is actually a vagina.