I’ve always referred to my 4-year-old’s multifaceted genital complex as her “vagina.” Although that word doesn’t tell the full, fabulous story, it probably is the most accurate global term I can provide for the anatomical structure sometimes known as “down there.”
I’ve always intellectually agreed with women who argue that teaching little ones cutesy names for their genitals is unwise. It trivializes some of their most important parts. It’s confusing. It’s absurd! We don’t call her elbow an arm-arrow or her ear a squawk pot, why should we call her vagina her “bajingo” or “hoo-hoo”?
Let’s demystify these body parts and promote self-awareness, comfort, and safety by calling them what they are. One mother (whose article I can’t seem to find) even suggested that using proper anatomical terms could even help prevent the sexually risky behavior that results in disease or pregnancy. She said something like: “the union of ‘foo-foo’ and ‘willy’ is not responsible for a single pregnancy. But that of vagina and penis is responsible for quite a few.”
Recently though, while attempting to educate my daughter about “bad touch” I started to question this wisdom.
I started the conversation by telling a simplified, preschool-friendly version of the current Brock Turner controversy. I said, more or less:
“A boy and a girl were at a party. She fell asleep, and he touched her where he shouldn’t have and hurt her.”
“Where’d he touch her?”
“He touched her in her vagina. And she didn’t want him to. And I want you to know that no one should touch ever you there. Unless it’s Mommy or Daddy or a doctor, and only if we’re helping you wipe off pee-pee or because you’re already feeling ouchy or itchy there. Otherwise, that is your private part that only you can touch.”
She asked more questions, I tried to answer with clarity and comfort. I really thought we were getting somewhere.
Then, immediately after this exchange, she jumped down from where she was sitting and struck upon my knee none other than her vagina.
“OW!” she cried, “my BUTT!”
We literally just went over this! And we’d been over this before. We’d defined her vagina many a time. While going potty, at bed-time. While discussing her brother’s contrasting parts. It’s the hole between your butt and your belly near where your pee-pee comes out! Remember?
“No, honey, not your butt. Your vagina.”
“But that’s the front of my butt, right?”
“Then it’s my bottom–belly?”
And that’s when I realized. We do apply pet terms to other parts! Maybe not our ears or elbows, but we don’t refer to her butt as her gluteus maximus. In fact, much of the time, we call it her “tush” or “heiny.” We have never called her belly her abdomen. And I doubt she’s ever heard the word “urine.”
What is it about this area, situated between these two affectionately named points, that causes Mommy to have to deliberately define it in precise, scientific terms, especially when it leads to confusion or insecurity? What if it projects a discordant solemnity about her lovely lady bits that makes her think there’s something wrong with them and later alienates her from their innate wonders?
Maybe — while emphasizing in a clear, comfortable way that those parts right now are not for others to touch — maybe we should also permit an affectionate, or at least non-clinical, term for them. Even if it’s something she’s likely to grow out of when “mommy” turns to mom. For example, what better way to instill a body-positive mindset than to allow a poetically minded preschooler to think of her crotch as a lovely, if private, “flower?”
And yes, probably, I’m a bit to blame here. Probably a lot of women can rattle off “belly, vagina, pee-pee, tush” without hesitation or change of tone over the second word. Maybe I just put off a subtle, unconscious weird vibe when I say vagina.
But then, isn’t that another reason for us to find a better word: to break that spell of apprehensive staidness?
Besides, she’s almost certain to find pet names for it eventually. Because most of the time, vagina and penis (like gluteus maximus and abdomen) aren’t terms she’ll find useful in her adult life while referencing genitals, except in a doctor’s office. Because, I would argue in fact that vaginas and penises, are not actually responsible for very many pregnancies.
Cocks and snatches, however? Plenty.
About the author: Anita Manderfield is the author of the blog SAHMurai and a contributor to Scary Mommy and Mamalode.