Our daughter is getting to the age where she is learning the words for body parts. She can say and identify "eye," "nose," "mouth," "ear," "hand," "foot," and "head." We figure it's only a matter of time before she starts wondering about what's "down there."
This raised the question, what do we call her little girl parts? Do we use the proper terms for private parts, or do we assign them cutesy names?
Before making any decisions, I decided to take a Facebook poll of my fellow parents. I asked what names they used for the children's boy and girl parts, and also what names their parents had used when they were little. Although I got some hilarious responses, as you can imagine, the answers weren't as all over the map as I expected.
Overwhelmingly, it seems that moms and dads today -- at least among those I unscientifically polled -- teach their children the proper terms for their private parts: penis, vagina, and bottom were the words most frequently used. One mom asked, "Why call an elbow anything but an elbow?" Good question. Why would you?
The primary reasons parents gave for not using the proper terms with their little ones seemed to be related to their own discomfort. It seemed that they weren't ready to hear those grownup words come out of their toddler's mouths. I also heard tales of children loudly talking about their itchy vaginas or sore penises in public. But again, it seemed that the discomfort laid with the parents. The children clearly hadn't yet been tainted by any societal issues about sexuality.
I also learned of a couple of sobering new reasons to use proper words that I hadn't before heard. Apparently, some pedophiles are turned off when potential victims use clinical terms for body parts. I guess a 3-year-old talking about his penis is not as attractive as one talking about his "wee wee". Additionally, it seems that it's easier to obtain specific testimony from young victims of sexual abuse when proper terms are used. There's no room for interpretation when a child is talking about his penis or her vagina. However, discussion about a "foo foo" or a "pea pod" could leave room for interpretation.
Another reason to use proper terms would be to eliminate any confusion for the child. One mom told me that she always called her own downstairs area her "cookie". So when she had a little girl, she unthinkingly referred to the little girl's business as her cookie. The little girl's eyes immediately lit up and she excitedly said, "Cookie?! Where's the cookie?!" She immediately had to find a new term.
I totally understand why parents use alternative words for private parts. They're cute and funny and highlight the innocence of our children. I don't know how I'll feel the first time I hear my daughter talk about her vagina. And I'm already guilty of not using the proper terms when talking about my child's girl parts in front of her. I've referred to her "cootchie" and her "tutu" when talking about rashes and the like with her dad. I know our girl comprehends more than she is able to verbalize at this point; she hears everything. So I know we'll need to make a decision and then be consistent in our terminology.
Of course, the most fun part of my "research" was gathering lists of the best terms for boy and girl parts.
For girls, some of my favorites were: twinkle, vee-vee, tootie, kitten, birdie, hoo-hoo, popo, puff, and front bottom. There also seemed to be a trend toward female names as nicknames for one's lady business, including Minnie, Susie, Lulu, and Mary.
For boys, there was winky, peter, pecker, pee-pee, todger (my personal favorite), tallywacker, winker, schwankster, wanker, dangler, and doody.
Interestingly, some used the same genderless term for both girls and boys. They called it their "area" or their "unit" or their "uh oh".
And some referred back to their family heritage for the terms. A German friend used "muschi" and "pullematz" for her girl and boy, respectively, while a friend of Dutch descent used "plasser and piemel" for hers. And Polish friend used "dupa" for her daughter's bottom, dupa being the Polish word for "ass".
So where did we come out? After taking our poll and talking with our friends as well as our daughter's pediatrician and her Montessori school teacher, we decided to use the proper terms for body parts, knowing that, at her young age, she'll likely come up with her own abbreviated term. A friend's sister referred to her "bajama" when she couldn't say vagina, while I knew another little boy who called his penis his peanuts, because he thought that's what his parents were saying.
And our Maggs? As I was giving her a bath just yesterday, I decided to take the proper term out for a spin. After I clearly enunciated the word "vagina" for her a couple times as I washed the corresponding body part, she looked at me and said, "Jyna?"
A new term is born.
What did you call your children's private parts, and why?
Images top to bottom: Brooke Kelly; Mark Montgomery