So there I was…about to sit down for some lunch with my father, step-mother, Ranger and The Kids. Ranger and Big J were wrestling in the living room when Big J shrieked with laughter, “Daaadddy, you hit me in my penis!”
It was as if a record scratched to a halt in the distance. My father looked up from his newspaper, and my step-mother glowered over in my direction. In a low whisper she said, “Did-he-just-say” (wait for it…) “Penis?”
“Yeess,” I slowly and mockingly whispered back.
Keep in mind that we’re Texans, true “suthanuhs” my father would say, and there are just some topics that those with proper decorum do not discuss in the presence of others. Especially when you are about to eat. Correct terminology for private parts are one of those topics.
I dismissed my parents’ arched eyebrows of disapproval with an, “Oh puhleeease. What is he supposed to say, Pee Pee? Privates?”
The continued conversation of our private parts was about to send my southern Baptist father over the edge so he interjected with, “Now that’s enough. We get the point. I forget that you do live in Austin so this type of discussion is normal for you folk.”
For those of ya’ll not from Texas, Austin is as liberal as Texas gets. And, according to my father, it’s Austin that has made me a “bleeding heart liberal/Nancy Pelosi lover” which therefore excuses the penis talk.
This week we received a sheet of paper from the district—a head’s up, if you will—about a few films that will be shown to the... Read more
When I was a child we used all sorts of cute terminology to describe our private parts but we never actually used the right terms. Saying vagina or penis was like saying a curse word in that it was whispered and giggled over behind cupped hands and hushed voices.
I never gave much thought to the words I used to describe our parts until I had my own children. Being a feminist mama, and feeling rather embarrassed to use “chee chees” to describe breasts, Ranger and I decided that we would use proper terminology around the kids to describe our bodies from the beginning.
I feel that being honest with my kids about their body parts will lead to less confusion as they grow. I’d rather they hear it right from Ranger and I the first time. I believe that talking openly and using correct terminology normalizes the discussion.
The hope is that by doing so my kids will feel comfortable asking questions or addressing concerns they have later on. Plus, I have nursed both daughters in front of Big J and the last thing I wanted to hear come out of his kiddie mouth were chee chees or boobies to describe that which fed his sisters.
I’m also not going to sequester myself when nursing at home simply because my son might catch a glimpse of the flesh! The horror!! Shouldn’t he and my daughters know firsthand what breasts were originally designed for?
I still draw the ire of my family but they’ve gotten used to such terms being spouted off nonchalantly by their grandson. Because I’d rather such talk be normal than taboo like it was when I was a child.
Comments on So, what do your kids call their genitals?
Haha. Not a mama, but a childcare provider for toddlers, and potty training 5+ kids simultaneously means I get to tell all kinds of hilarious genitalia naming stories, despite my own use of correct terminology in the classroom. My most recent favorite was when one kid (call him J) was sitting on the potty while I stood nearby, and he decided to tell me all about his "pee-pee dragon." "This is my pee-pee dragon! Here's his head, and here's his back …" I was cracking up.
Thank you for this! I don't understand why we, as a society, are afraid to call things what they are. I'm looking forward to having a kid comfortable enough with his/her body that they'll call their penis a penis or their breasts their breasts!
I've always taught my two sons that a penis is called a penis. I see nothing wrong with calling it what it is. When my oldest was 3, he asked his daycare teacher where her penis was! My ex mother in law picked up my son that day and of course she found out and wasn't too happy with it. If they want to make up a name with it, I'm fine with that but I think children should be taught the proper terms as well.
When my youngest was 3 I used the term, "booty" and he corrected me real quick and said, "it's not booty, it's gluteus maximus!" Oh man, was I owned! haha
"it's not booty, it's gluteus maximus!"…that made my morning!
My parents raised me with all the anatomically correct language (breasts, vulva) which then led to me getting into a fist fight at age 5 with a friend who insisted that Barbie had "boobies." I informed her that no, those were Barbie's BREASTS, one thing led to another, and the next thing I knew I was getting a lecture from my mom about how people have lots of different nicknames for breasts — and that "boobies" was one of them.
My mother always insisted on breasts, and I'm so glad. And thank you for pointing out that 'vulva' is truly the correct term for the external genitals. Someone corrected my newly three year old when she said vulva ("you mean vagina") and, ugg.
My mom always called 'it' our 'bottom'….probably what was passed down to her from the English side of the family. I'm pretty sure her mom used it, and her mom, too. And now, with our baby, I've caught myself doing the same thing. It is a handy term, covering all the private parts at once. "It's time to clean your bottom!" But I'll be sure to teach her the true words, too. But in the meantime, I like it, and I'll use it.
There's a great monologue in The Vagina Monologues that uses all the different terms — hilarious!
This is an interesting article. As the child of an OB/GYN, I was definitely raised to know and use all of the proper medical terminology (I also called my fingers phalanges, haha!). Even though I totally agree with this approach in theory, I remember feeling kind of weird about it as kid. I never had a problem with "penis" or "breasts", but I definitely had issues with the word "vulva"–while this is clearly the proper terminology for the female body, I just think it's a weird word that I've never enjoyed saying. I'm not sure what a better alternative would be, though, and I would love to hear what other people use.
One of my HUGE pet peeves is people/parents who talk about cleaning your "vagina", or it not being proper to "show your vagina" or whatever. First of all, it's a self-cleaning organ, so there is never any need to "wipe" your vagina. Second of all, it's REALLY difficult to show your vagina to anyone, seeing as it's a completely internal structure! Aside from the vulva/vagina issue…I personally became very fond of the word "cunt" after reading Inga Muscio's great book of the same name…but I have to admit that even I wouldn't be too comfortable teaching that word to a toddler!
I'm totally with you on the whole "vulva" issue — I know it's the correct word, but as a child I always got it confused with "Volvo" ("I can't believe they named a car that!" I'd giggle) and it's just a pretty meh word. I use "crotch" as the catch-all, but you're right that "vagina" has taken over as the wrong term.
Cruising a pregnancy forum once, I saw a woman refer to her "vagina hole." I was completely confused until I realized she was calling it that because she was trying to differentiate between her "vagina" (aka vulva) and her vagina … hence, Vagina hole. (Which would be a great punk band name)
I'm with you both as well. Penis..no problem but Vulva? There is almost something not right with that word (not the meaning of course which I don't have a problem with). I just wish there was a more correct word to use that didn't sound so…odd?
Probably the best "nickname" I've heard for Vulva/Vagina has been Vajayjay. I just love that term for some reason. It's almost appropriate but nicer sounding too.
Now the funniest nickname I've heard was Lady Town. Classic and demure. But that certainly does not top "pee pee dragon".
I'm cracking up right now. I don't think I'll ever look at a Volvo the same way again.
I totally agree with teaching kids the correct terms for body parts now. As a teenager I was babysitting a two year old girl who after he bath informed me that, “You forgot to dry my vulva.” THAT freaked me out, and I calmly informed her that if she knew what it was, she could dry it herself!
though my feminist parents tried to do the right thing by calling my parts a vagina and my brother's parts penis and testes, i was totally confused when faced with a science diagram for the first time. you mean pee doesn't come out of my vagina? so confusing!
i think that's why i'm in favor of teaching the individual parts (labia or lips, clitoris, vaginal opening, urethra, head, shaft, perineum, anus…did i miss any?). and even though that's a lot for a 3 year old to retain, i think it's important for identifying pain or problems or even abuse. it's important for kids to be able to say "she touched my perineum" or "my vaginal opening is itchy".
the problem i have is how to explain that while it's important for us to know our own bodies, know what things are supposed to look like down there, how to take care of ourselves, etc. that these areas are "private" and "special". the good touch v. bad touch stuff just doesn't cut it because sexual abuse can often feel good. it makes my head explode just thinking about it.
When she's ready, she'll get the other names. For now I've worked on getting her to stop calling the whole region vagina 🙂 I don't like vulva either, so taught my bonus daughter the term pudenda. It's accurate to describe the same region as the vulva, and we've discussed that it's a phrase that covers a lot of area – sort of like the word 'face'. We all have faces, but each face has specific parts and those parts look a little different on everyone to make each face unique.
BTW- cunt rocks!
"Hey Kymba, its cool that you and your kids explore different names. I thought you might want to know that "pudenda" is a Greek work meaning "shameful thing". Many people dont know the etymology of the word so Im sure you could still use it if you really like it. BTW, love the term "bonus daughter" as opposed to step daughter!
Boy am I glad I found this page. I have a four year old daughter who I have not talked too in depth w/ regarding her private anatomy parts. She still calls the whole area her butt. I was just reading an article on good touches vs bad touches and how to talk to your child. I thought about the lack of language in our home and looked up this topic online and found you ladies (off beat mamas). Thanks for all the advice and ideas and good laughs too. I’ve picked up some great tips. Thanks from a “Keep Portland Weird” but not creepy mom. 🙂
P.S. I used to teach a little boy who called it his "cowboy". Not *quite* as awesome as "pee-pee dragon" but still pretty hilarious.
I love this post! My daughter is two and since she started talking for some reason I just called her private areas, parts. If she happened to get diaper rash she’d say “mommy my parts hurts” lol. I never meant for her to call it that it just sort of happened. When I realized that this was probably odd I told her the real names. She does use slang she most likely picked up from us. She asked if I was putting my boobs on the other day, meaning bra and everytime she sees her nakey tub picture she screams my booty. We plan on always be honest but she can call it what she wants.
In the book "Breeder" here is a really interesting short story about one mom as she is trying to figure out what name to teach her daughter. She chose "yoni" as the word her daughter would call her vagina. Yoni is Sanskrit (I believe) for vagina, and means something along the lines of "the source of power". Vagina means "a sheath for a sword".
By the way, I think this book is a must read for offbeat mamas. I love it and read it at least once a year.
Growing up calling our boobs "chi-chis" and my vulva "cosita", it was hard coming up with names for my son's parts. I do plan on teaching the correct terms but for now his penis is "pee-pee" and his testes are "huevitos". He was very fond of my "chi-chis" but when I started breaftfeeding his sister they because "sister's cup". The first time I heard that made me crack up. We also call womanly parts "coochie", I think its hard at this point to teach them the correct terms but my hispanic family would not be very happy hearing penis and vagina at this stage.
My son calls his equipment either penis or "winky." We say vagina, which became "yaya" when my 2-year-old daughter started talking. So, we kind of bounce back and forth. I think Ryan has a good point. Maybe we should sit down and discuss the technicalities. Or maybe I should take the kids along to my next gyno appointment. Family outting!
Hate to bring down the light hearted vibe, but there's another very good reason for teaching young children the proper names for their body parts, and that's the unfortunate and awful reality of child abuse (sexual or otherwise).
I've known a few folks who have been in the social services field and have heard terrible stories of perpetrators getting let off of charges in court on the technicality that the child/victim couldn't properly name where they had been violated.
I'm not a parent yet, but of the many reasons i agree with Starr, this is one of the biggest reasons that i personally support the method of telling one's kids what the proper names for body parts.
great post, thanks!
I'd also like to mention that when I was a child, I called mine, "tootie". My sons also call breasts "women" now and I don't know who taught them that! They know what nipples are though because while watching Coraline, one of the characters has large nipple tassles and my youngest says his favorite part is with the girl with the big nipples! haha I crack up when he says that. My four year old also knows what testicles are because when he was two he had to have one removed. He says he still remembers it and what the doctor called it when he was at the hospital. He's a very smart little boy.
Sometimes, aside from penis, they will call it a peanut or penor. lol
My grandmother referred to her daughters' genitals as thier "middle" , which My Mom never taught me (she called my sister and my genitals our "birds") , so when one of my aunts, changed her diaper, she noticed a rash and said "Oh, her middle looks red!" I was like "uh… her belly looks fine to me" My aunt looked at me like i was the idiot and said "No, her MIDDLE…her MIDDLE!" so I said "Oh! Do you mean her Vulva?! Here's some Penaten"
Genitals are such a touchy subject. I dont want my daughter to think theres anything about her body that she should be ashamed of, but I also don't want to put her in a position where she could be preyed upon and not realize it, you know?
I use "girl parts" and "boy parts" as sort of catch alls when describing them in general and use correct terms when talking about particular parts. For instance, I was explaining the birth of our son to my 8 year old, I used words like uterus, vagina and after he was born and saw he was different I named the individual parts (penis, testes) but collectively called them his boy parts. However, while chaning his diaper, he managed to shoot a stream of urine over his pack-n-play and hit a window. Since then, my daughter has refered to his penis as a "pee gun".
I can't take the credit for it, but my husband and his ex taught my step-daughters "Labia". My husband said he got pulled aside by a mother of a playmate when his oldest was young after hearing C refer to her labia. She thanked him profusely for using the right language and the fact that her own daughter had picked it up. He thought for sure he was going to get a talking to!
This puts me in mind of a coworker at the Montessori preschool where I work who had someone… was it an adult or a child? I honestly can't remember! Anyway, someone mentioned to her class that there was "a baby in so-and-so's tummy." A 5-year-old boy in the class – a son of a midwife, I believe – said, "It's not in her tummy, it's in her uterus!" One of the other parents in her class heard about this and got all up in arms, appalled that they were letting this kind of language be used. Like "uterus" is some kind of Bad Word. Sheesh. (I also can't STAND hearing people tell children that there's a "baby in her tummy," and if I feel the need to use a specific locational word for myself, I'll definitely be using "uterus" at school!)
I've always hated "baby in her tummy". As a fairly bright 7 year old, I couldn't figure it out when my mom was pregnant with my brother. How is it in your tummy, isn't that where the food goes? Is she going to poop it out later?
I''ve seen kids hear this and be horrified that the pregnant woman must be eating babies. Not a good thing to be confused about.
My daughter's first word was vulva.
Not even a mama before that. And that's generally what we say but I occasionally refer to it as her 'bits'. She also knows about breasts but I tend to call them boobs, and she knows that she used to get 'mama milk' from them. And as for boys, she knows that they have a penis but I'm pretty sure it's registering as 'peanut' in her mind. She's only 2, so boys having a peanut is fine and kinda cute at this point 🙂
I have noticed that quite a few older adults, ie grandparents and what not, get a little huffy about her use of vulva in front of them. So I'm not totally surprised about the uterus story, but it's still awful. I mean I think all kids should learn about where the baby is coming from. Doesn't have to include the sex talk, just that a baby isn't in a tummy it's in a uterus and it's not coming out Mama's but… :p
Thanks Off Beat Mama for posting my story! I am glad this has generated so many thought provoking comments. Big J lately uses the term tenders to describe his parts since that's was Po uses in the movie Kung Fu Panda. They are indeed tender so sure, why not?
As many readers have commented my goal to use the right terminology with my kids has mostly been to avoid misunderstandings about our genitals and what goes on "down there" (as my family sometimes says). I know they'll eventually use the slang to describe their parts. It's what kids and heck, even us adults do. As other have commented, Vulva is just not as catchy as say "Lady Town" or "cunt". But I want them to learn the foundations at least first and be aware of what is what.
As a kid, I remember sneaking into the "sex" section of the public library to learn about sex and my body (imagine my amazement at the age of 12 finding the "Joy of Sex" on a shelf!). Granted, learning such things in a library was not the worst way to figure this stuff out but I also felt completely insecure talking about such things with my parents. Again…penis, vagina etc WERE not said in my household.
I tell you what, if my parents went over things like urethra, vulva, penis, gluteus maximus etc with me from the start Anatomy 101 would have been a hellava lot easier to tackle in college!
My grandmother calls her vagina her 'person.' Little creepy, I think.
I wanted to second Sara's comment above; I am a pre-school teacher and we just did a training on child abuse. One of the things we learned is that children who do not know what to call their privates, or who are too embarrassed to talk about them, are more likely to be sexually abused because the perpetrator feels safe that they won't be able to tell anyone. Imagine if the little boy from the first comment came to someone and said, "That man touched my dragon." We'd have no idea what had really happened. Food for thought!
AHhhhhhhhh thank you thankj you THANK YOU! I also live in Texas, and grew up with most kids around me using words like 'teetee' and 'bobo' and I swore I would never make my children embarassed about their bodies. My daughter sometimes says bottom, and like "butt" as much as almost any 7 year old. (Butt jokes are big with her) When she was an infant she had trouble with labial fusion, so it is important for her to know the proper names of the different parts so that she can articulate to us the specifics of any problems she has. She prefers the term boobs, and is acutely aware of mine, but knows the term is breasts, and what they are for.
**Righteous fist pump** for no shame in our body parts!
My parents always referred to my genitals as 'front bottom' and 'back bottom' when I was little, then when they taught me about sex I learned that the vagina existed. No one ever mentioned the rest of the female genitals to me, and it was only when I was in my late teens that I actually discovered the correct names. I think it's entirely correct to teach children the correct names for their genitals- it allows them to communicate properly and I think goes some way towards stopping themselves thinking that gentals are somehow 'dirty' and something to be ashamed of.
I used to look after a kid whose family referred to his penis as a 'wink'. He was about 4 years old and I was getting him ready for bed when, completely spontaneously, he started telling me about his wink and how his Dad had a bigger wink than him. It was all I could do not to giggle.
I was channel hopping a while ago and happened upon a program on one of the Christian channels, and they were interviewing a man about raising small children. He was explaining how he accidentally taught his small (~2 year old) daughter the word 'penis'. He had been shaving naked in the bathroom and hadn't locked the door, and she'd run in and started asking him the names of things. One of the things she pointed to was his penis, so he told her what it was, then she immediately moved on to another object. The lesson he was explaing from this was that children have no shame attached to bodily parts, and that they pick this shame up from adults, so if you don't instil shame in your children they're less likely to pick it up. I thought it was good that he was going on air discussing this.
My sons call their penises dingy-dings thanks to my grandmother. They know the correct term but refuse to use it. We refer to my daughter’s vagina as her “girlies”.
We decided that we would just go with penis with our son – no need for cutesy nicknames. But then of course he couldn't say it properly and said "peanut" instead, which was close enough and it's stuck. This of course provided for much laughter and humor when he saw a Disney cartoon that had an elephant and Mickey Mouse singing "Shake shake shake your peanut!" together. Two years later and that song still cracks him up if he hears it…
This is such a great discussion! Growing up, my family didn't even have a name for these things. It was just "down there." Maybe "private parts" was used? The word pee was even treated as a bad word. We were trained to ask to "use the restroom" and constipation/diarrhea problems were referred to as a BM. Only years later did I understand that it was a "bowel movement." I got to fourth grade health seminars without even knowing where or what a vagina was.
Talk about repressed! My children will definitely know the proper terms for things.
This was my upbringing exactly. And because of it, I am embarrassed when I have to discuss my “lady parts” as my mother called them. And honestly, it wasn’t until late high school that anyone even told me that you don’t pee out of your vagina. I refuse to raise my kids this way, but I’m afraid that they will pick up on the fact that it does embarrass me, even though I don’t want it to. How do you plan to address that issue?