From Tracie: Say It With Me....Vagina

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Say It With Me....Vagina

This is the second post in my "Inspired by Sheena Series". Today I have to address something that, if you have kids, might have kids, or might ever meet a kid, you should think about. This is what Sheena said, "I had no clue at first that I was being sexually abused because I didn’t even know what sex was. I doubt I had even uttered the word vagina before. So how could I tell someone that my dad was touching mine."  I would have to say the same thing about my childhood.

I remember the first time I heard the words penis and vagina. I was seven and my family was watching the movie Three Men and a Little Lady. The girl in the movie had learned those words and said them at a party, making all the adults very uncomfortable. I was smart enough to put together what those words must mean and from the adult reaction that I saw on the screen, I knew that they must be words you shouldn't really say. That made sense to me, because I had already been told by my grandmother that the things my uncle did were not to be talked about to my mother. It was another lesson in silence for a little girl who was living in constant secrecy.

It is so important to begin telling your children the proper words for their body parts from the beginning. Why does it matter?
  • You wouldn't tell your daughter that her nose is called a Hoo-Ha and then send her out in the world. Then why is it okay to say that about her vagina?
  • You want your children to be open and honest with you and come to you with any questions. That process starts with you being open with them, and showing them there is nothing uncomfortable about having those conversations with you. If you don't use the proper words, they will know that you are uncomfortable when they get older and that will make them uncomfortable.
  • Sexual abusers often try to make the abuse into a "game," and using silly words can be a part of it. If you only use the proper words with your child, and one day they use a different word, that is a good indicator that someone else has been having conversations with them about their private areas.
  • If someone touches your child sexually or makes your child touch them, how can they tell someone what happened if they don't have the right words to explain it? How can they explain it to you, to a teacher, doctor, or some other adult? If someone touches your son, and he tells the teacher that a person touched his talleywacker, the teacher might just think he is being silly; when he is actually asking for help.

I know that a lot of you out there grew up similar to me. You might not have been sexually abused, but you had a family that didn't say those words. Maybe you have never even really said them. Sure, you know them, but say them? Nope! Not you.

I have a little advice for you. It comes from Peggy Hill.  
Get in front of your mirror and start practicing!

Did you notice that Hank comes running in, and accuses her of cussing? That is all part of the preparation. There will be people who are shocked that you would teach those words to your kids. Those people might even be related to you. You have to be strong and try to educate them. If they won't change their mind on this, ignore them.

Those words are not cuss words. They aren't dirty. Saying them doesn't make you dirty, and it will not make your children dirty.

Vagina And Penis Are Not Bad Words

I recently watched a video about using cutesy names versus proper names, and read all the responses.  One of the responses really got to me.  The woman said, "I totally use nicknames for private parts...I like the point that Lou makes about school-age children needing to know proper names for their genitals so that they can address an abuse issue. That completely makes sense, and I'll be sure to roll over the use of "ween" into "penis" once he is potty-trained." This is such dangerous thinking!

School age children don't need to know proper names in case of abuse issues - ALL AGE children need to know. I was four when the abuse started. Many kids don't go to school until they are five or six. I know lots of survivors of abuse who were younger than that when it started.

Please do not wait until your children are going to school to teach them about their private parts and talk about what to do if someone abuses them.

I always used the proper names with Katarina. When it was time for potty training, this stepped up a notch. This is what I told her:
When you have a bowel movement, the "poop" comes out of your anus, in the back. When you urinate, the urine comes out of your urethra, in the front. In the middle, you have a vagina. (I know that some people use the word vulva, and as she has gotten older I have added that to her vocabulary, but for ages one and two it was urethra, vagina, anus.)

This is also a great time to address the fact that boys are different. Boys have an anus. They also have an urethra, but it is located in their penis, which girls don't have. Also, boys don't have a vagina.

*We also use the word breasts - never boobs.

Using the proper words from the beginning makes it easy to transition into a discussion about private areas. What areas are private? Anything that is covered up by a bathing suit. It makes it easy to start that conversation where you explain that no one should look at or touch their private areas (even if they keep their clothes on), and that no one should ask your child to look at or touch theirs (even with their clothes on). I am not going to go into that entire talk in this post, but I hope you are having it with your children often.

All of these conversations are a good stepping stone to "The Talk!" Do not wait until your child is thirteen to have that talk. By then, someone else has probably had it with them, and if it was their peers, it is possible they were given misinformation. Start talking early; that will cut down on the uncomfortableness. Remember our Peggy Hill lesson? If you feel uncomfortable just thinking about it, practice looking at yourself in the mirror and saying what you need to say. Then practice with your spouse or a close friend. Make sure that you can get all of those words out without flinching, and that you know all the details you want to cover before you begin. Your child will pick up on your emotions. If you are nervous, scared, and uncomfortable talking about it, they will be, too.

Do you use "proper" names or "cutesy" ones?  Have you thought about it?  Is your family on board with the words and names you have chosen to use?


  1. mom always used cutsie ones. I use proper ones.. period.. drives her batty but oh well.

  2. I can really relate to this. I actually know a couple of girls who were sexually abused when they were little but nobody could dare say anything to anyone.

  3. Tracie good post. Wish we had this back in the day when I was being abused. Thanks for sharing. Blessings.

  4. great post. I had never really thought about it before.

  5. Ok, I was guilty of using cutesie names. I did discuss the issue of private parts with them though on more than one occasion. As a victim of attempted molestation, I was rather paranoid probably.

  6. Really good post and important. My family used cute names too. There was this whole shame thing too I remember, that's kind of a cultural inheritance, it wasn't intentional just from a lack of awareness I think.

  7. I have told them all the 'real' names, except for 'boobies' -- for some reason we call them that, but my 6-year-old told me she was just going to call them her "b's". I never thought of it for the reason of them being able to explain something like that to me -- but now I do!

    I have already told them a bunch of times there are no secrets from Mommy and Daddy. They can tell us anything, no matter what anyone says. And I hope our openness will continue throughout the years.

  8. As mentioned, my family didn't even use cute names. They just didn't talk about it at all. Such a disservice and it left room for all sorts of misinformation, confusion and abuse to say the least.

    This article is helpful too found on Simple Mom.

  9. Wendy Murphy would love you! She hates the word panties. Said it minimizes. Say underwear. Panties are cute things and there is nothing cute about rape or abuse.

    You rock my world with this one, Tracie! SQUISH

  10. Tracie, kudos to you for this post! I never thought about it before, but reading what you wrote here made me realize that the fear of the proper words is probably the reason their are so many slang synonyms!

  11. great post Tracie! well written and well said! We used proper names but I never thought of it as a way to help prevent possible abuse (or to stop it). thanks for making me think.

  12. I use cutesy names AND proper names.
    I know, I should just use the "proper" words but sometimes it can be a little daunting to use the word "penis" and "vagina"
    But I will.
    No more hoo-hah talk for me.
    Except I won't have to use the word penis 'cause I have ALL girls.

    Except when I have "the talk" with them.

    Anyhoo, great post.
    I put you on my blogroll cause for some reason I would NEVER know when you updated your blog.
    NOW I know...
    I got my eye on you girl. :)

  13. I never thought about it that way. My brother-in-law's kids say those words and people gasp...but he says, "What? They're just body parts." I like his attitude about it...and now I see even more reasons for him to feel that way!

    1. This is so true. They are simply body parts. I would rather not feel so squeamish when speaking to my doctor if something is wrong. My kids have a book about "Body Science" by Meg Hickerling. Understanding that this is simply science takes the taboo out of it for once and for all.

  14. I couldn't agree more. Its sad that we as mothers and fathers have to stay posted on the watchtower for our kids before they even are old enough to go to school! I believe that proper terminology is the best way to go, but still be age appropriate. For example, use the proper term along with your "family" word that you are used to.

  15. Happy SITS Saturday Sharefest.

    Great article. I like the way you presented this important topic, and I completely agree.

    When I was a child, my parents (both psychologists) were good about using the proper names for our body parts. I'm glad they were open and honest with us, but I probably wouldn't have minded knowing the clinical terms as well as having a few euphamisms at my disposal. Sorry, but I'm not a huge fan of the word "Vagina". Kinda an ugly word for something so important and powerful. But I entirely agree that children should know what their parts are actually called.


  16. I am also guilty of using cutesy names. It's funny I should read this because I just had a conversation with my friend about this and we both agreed we should start using proper names.

    I can't even bear the thought of something happening to her and she not being able to tell me about it.

    My parents never used the word vagina which is probably why I'm uncomfortable using the word. I don't want my daughter to feel like that is a dirty word.

  17. I totally agree. I would at a counseling center for about 2 years where we worked exclusively with sexually abused children and non-offending parents. We were always stressing this point. Good post!

  18. This is great advice. I'm going with proper names all the way! (I'm pregnant with my first child.)

  19. Wonderful, informative post.

    I have used the proper names for everything from the minute my girls could comprehend what I was saying. I grew up in a household where these sort of things weren't talked about. And by the time I started dating, I knew very little, just the bits of information and mostly misinformation my friends knew.

    I vowed I would do better by my girls. And yes, some people were mortified at my girls' proper names and the fact that they had no problem saying them, but that was their problem, not mine.

    And along with proper names and giving them the Big Talk, I have also talked to them about dating and what to expect from boys on dates. I feel this is something so vital, yet ignored in society. I have always told my girls that boys are different from girls hormonally and that boys will want sex and will say or do just about anything to get it. I make sure to tell them that this is nothing against boys, they can't help it, it is their genetic makeup. And this segues into the talk about waiting when it comes to sex.

    The girls squirm when I'm saying these things, but they listen and they talk to me and no matter how difficult it may be, I think every parent should bring these topics out of the dark and into the light.

  20. This is an inspired post, Tracie. While there was no touching that occurred in my childhood, we didn't even use cute names for our private parts, we just pretended they didn't exist at all. Sad really, and it was only when I had children myself and had to figure out what my style would be that I needed to grow up and be an adult about the subject of sex.

    I read (Meg Hickerling's writing) that any adult who has issues talking about sex in appropriate straightforward ways with their children probably have maturity issues themselves. This rang very true for me so I chose to grow up fast. <3

  21. Such a great post- so informative and rightly so. I have always used the correct names. But I love all your points about it all. My heart breaks every time I think of what you went through Tracie. I am so inspired by your purpose to increase awareness and education in this beastly secret area of so many people's lives...

  22. This is truly thought provoking, Tracie. Excellent post!

  23. I really like this post. This is something I'd never even thought about, but I really dislike that these words are so taboo to say, especially for children.

    I was raised using cutesy names, which I now see has made a big impact on saying those names as an adult even. How sad. I will definitely give this some serious thought and aim to use proper names and be clear with my children when the time comes.

  24. When I was growing up, it just wasn't a topic of discussion at all. I will admit I've used the cutesy names when my kids were little, and now that they are older they know the proper names for everything. I honestly never thought about it from this standpoint...very eye opening!