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Proper or made-up names for genitals?

When it comes to genitals, some parents come up blank, and others have “pet” names for their child’s nether regions. But many parents feel that kids should be taught the proper terms.

Using the proper terminology
Toddler girl

Which kind of a parent are you?

Children are curious about their body parts, and their genitals are no exception. But many parents feel uncomfortable using the proper names for their child’s private parts. We spoke to parents and found out how they felt about using proper terms for what — to a toddler — is just another body part.

Why proper terms are important

Some adults squirm at the mere thought of our children as sexual beings, which of course includes the future use of their genitals. However, our job as parents is to teach them that their parts, private or not, have a real name that they shouldn’t be embarrassed to discuss. We don’t make up silly names for ears or toes, so why should we for a penis or vulva — or give the underwear-area a broad term such as “down there?”

It can give off the impression that the real words for these parts should not be used or that there is something secret or shameful about them. “I want him to grow up thinking it’s just a body part and nothing to be uncomfortable about,” shared Haley, mom of one.

Quite a few parents agreed that using proper terms for genitalia was the right thing to do. “I think it’s really important to use the correct terms for genitals,” shared Lexi from the U.K. “Especially as we don’t nickname our other body parts — I want her to be comfortable with her body.”

Safety issues

Still more moms felt that the correct terms were vital for their child’s safety. “Proper names are important to teach your kids,” explained Vicki, mother of two. “Not only for educational purposes, but for safety. I need to know that my kids are able to articulate exactly which part is which in the case that someone might touch them inappropriately.”

“My wife is a DCFS worker and she’s had to wade through too many interviews with children who can’t say exactly where they were touched or with what because they lack the proper vocabulary,” shared a parent at “We want to be sure that our children know the proper names of all their parts, and aren’t afraid to use them. Even if it does mean that some evenings out we have to deal with our 2-year-old asking everyone if they have two nipples, too.”

Avoid confusion

Using proper names from the get-go can keep a lot of future confusion at bay. Take Shelly, mom of two, for instance. “When I was little, my parents referred to my vulva as a ‘daisy’ and a penis as a ‘willy,’” she told us. “I distinctly remember being very confused the first time I was told that a pretty white flower growing in the field was also called a daisy. And I remember feeling awkward when I met a guy named Willy.”

Proper terms when they are older

Another thought that can keep your level of public embarrassment down is waiting until they are a bit older, like Skye from Oregon did. “I actually wanted to avoid embarrassing public moments like a 2- or 3-year-old shouting about their penis or vulva. And I didn’t really think that the potential visible discomfort of members of the general public was beneficial to forming a comfortable and healthy body image.”

While there are definitely two schools of thought on using proper names (and for the record, “vagina” is only the name for the birth canal and generally not the part your daughter is pointing to — “vulva” more properly describes the whole package, including the visible parts), it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with your children.

More on kids and embarrassment

How to gracefully handle your child’s embarrassing remarks
Funny and embarrassing things kids say
The embarrassing things kids say

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