No offence taken

When it comes to naming body parts, there’s really no need to beat around the bush

Practical Parenting / July 18 2018

I’ve never been one for using euphemisms with my kids. As a writer and a mother, I truly believe that language is important, and that words can’t be scary. I believe that naming things gives us power, and that being evasive or metaphorical creates confusion and fear.

So I always referred to death as ‘death’, not ‘passing away’ or ‘going to sleep’. I didn’t talk about ‘birds and bees’, I explained ‘pregnancy’ and ‘sex’ (and not as a ‘special cuddle’).

And when it came to body parts, I always gave them their correct names. My son had a penis, my daughter had a vagina, and those cute cheeks at the back were their bottoms. I mean, we don’t make up words for ‘arm’ or ‘ear’ or ‘toe’, so why for genitals? I was being a politically correct feminist mum, and that was the end of that.

Or so I thought it was. My son was happy with penis (or, specifically, the word ‘penis’, although I assume he was happy with his actual penis, too.)

My daughter, however, wasn’t able to say ‘vagina’. Oh, she didn’t have any ethical issue with it; she just couldn’t physically pronounce the word. She tried, but as a small child it came out as ‘shiny’. And although I corrected her about 100 times, it never stuck, and eventually I started to think of ‘shiny’ as the proper name.

Shiny happy people

“Did you wipe your shiny properly?” I’d ask during the early days of toilet training.

“Let’s wash your bottom and your shiny,” I’d say when she showered.

It became so natural to us to refer to her ‘shiny’ that it stopped sounding even vaguely peculiar. And – as much as I had derided people who referred to their daughter’s vaginas as their girl bits/noonie/cookie – I found myself doing exactly the same thing.

So when my last child came along several years later, I tried again. “This is your vagina,” I would say to her firmly.

“Vagina,” she repeated, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But my youngest was not as… well… discreet as my older two. She had no problem at all pronouncing the word ‘vagina’, and no qualms about saying it in public either. And for many years she was quite fascinated with that particular area of her body.

Loud and proud 

“Mum! My vagina is a little bit itchy!” she would cry out in the middle of a supermarket trip.

“Mum! I did a hot wee out of my vagina!” she’d announce after getting out of the pool.

And while I was proud of her for using the correct terminology, I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the stares and giggles from members of the public. Even though a vagina is a body part like an elbow or knee, hearing a child yell ‘elbow’ in a crowded room doesn’t generate the same response.

Still, I’m not sorry I taught my children the real names for their genitals. I do, however, occasionally look back with nostalgia to those early shiny years.