Teach Your Kids the Correct Words for Body Parts

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how to talk to teens about sex. This week, I wanted to cover a what on talking to kids about sex.

Here’s one what: Teach young children the correct words for their body parts.

Now I know some of you are objecting already. I once had argued this point with one of my best friends until my tongue turned blue, so I’ve heard the reasoning:

They can learn those names later. What if they repeat it in public? They don’t need to know about sex parts until they’re close to doing something with them. Teaching them the names will increase their curiosity. Those names sound icky.

Look, I’m not suggesting you give your children diagrams and show them where the clitoris and the frenulum are. But from early on, use the correct words of penis, testicles, and vagina.

Why?

Mother & Daughter reading

Photo Credit: Microsoft Word Clip Art

Because it sates their curiosity. Toddlers soak up the words for anything and everything around them, excited to know what things are called. And children are naturally curious about their bodies. Naming body parts is a common activity in year two or three. They want to point to stuff and hear you identify what it is, so they can learn the word. If you act flustered, or avoid naming each part of their fascinating, God-given bodies, they wonder what’s up. In fact, calling the whole section simply “private parts” or whatever may increase their curiosity. Because inquiring growing minds want to know. Naming the part and moving on sates their curiosity.

Because it demystifies these parts. There is nothing less wonderful about having a penis than having an eyebrow. (In fact, plenty of men would testify that they could yank out every last eyebrow hair but would never want to live without their penis.) Talking in a straightforward manner about a child’s private area demystifies those parts. They are accepted as another aspect of the wonderful body God has given them (Psalm 139:13-14).

Because you establish yourself as a knowledgeable source. If your kids start hearing about penises and vaginas elsewhere, and you’ve never called them the correct names, what might they conclude about your level of knowledge or comfort in discussing the subject? Why should they ask you a bunch of questions about their bodies and sex when you can’t say or don’t know the proper names for those body parts? Use the words, be the expert. Make sure they know that you can handle whatever questions or concerns they have, so that you position yourself, the parent, to be the one to teach both physical facts and spiritual values at the same time.

Because they can communicate better with adult resources, if needed. Your child may at some time need to discuss a health problem with a nurse, doctor, or adult supervisor that involves his/her private part. If your family has named it a beedlebum, that means nothing to the adult. Language is meant to foster communication between people, and it could be important for your child to know the right terms to discuss potential problems with others. Also, I pray that no one ever, ever, ever goes through this . . . but what if your child was molested or approached by a molester? He/she needs to know the proper terms to report what happened.

Because it encourages them to stay away from crasser names. I’m not naive. Of course I expect children, especially teens, to hear, and perhaps say, such crass words as cunt, pussy, prick, wang, etc. However, when you arm people with better language, they are more likely to use it. I personally don’t have a huge problem with less crass words, such as dick or balls, but the words you teach someone are more likely to be their go-to terms when they discuss the subject. You can decide what best reflects your values, but penisvagina, and testicles are universally recognized and not inappropriate.

Because there’s simply nothing wrong with penis, vagina, and testicles. Making a big deal out of it . . . makes it a big deal. Make the big deal about what your child does with these parts, not what they’re called. Teach him/her the right values about his/her body, health, purity, and sexuality. Put the focus where it belongs.

Now of course, you should talk to your child about appropriate use of these terms. Just as we teach our children time and context with other topics, such as Aunt Harriet’s new hideous hairdo, how long the preacher goes on and on, and what color our skin is (as a child, I wanted to call blacks “chocolate people” . . . which I thought was super cool and a total compliment — who wouldn’t want to be chocolate?!! — but my parents gently instructed me that it might be construed another way).

You can gently instruct your child about appropriateness when he yells, “My penis itches!” at the Thanksgiving table or she proudly informs a friend, “My vagina is the hole in the middle.” We managed to convince our children not to give away the Santa secret to friends for years, so trust that you can teach your children to handle the information in a honorable way.

But teach them the correct words for their body parts.

What do you think? How have you handled this instruction with your children? How was it handled with you?

32 thoughts on “Teach Your Kids the Correct Words for Body Parts

  1. Becky

    My mom was never one to say the correct name, I hadn’t heard the word vagina until sex-ed! My children know the correct names for their body parts, and not once have they blurted them out(I’m so thankful for that!)

  2. Anonymous

    Growing up, my mom kept everything private part related a secret and made it seem like it was dirty, wrong and shameful. My dad made anything sexuala joke and crude. Proper names were akin to swear words, but some slang terms were ok. Menstruation was so shameful in my house, I was teased about it and my sister hid it. Sex talk? None other than being told by mom how wrong it was and by dad, “just don’t get knocked up!’.

    Dealing with this growing up, I wanted different for my kids. I use real terms, answer their questions and I am very straight forward, but age appropriate. My preschool daughter is very curious and can explain conception and birth (not sex, but conception). My son has very little interest and would rather not know about it and that’s ok, too.

    Also, I talked with hubby that we should not tease or make puberty shameful for our children.

  3. Rebekah

    We use common names and the hilarious versions our kids make up or say trying to pronounce the common names inter-changably. They know what to expect as they get older, but we have discreet ways of saying things in public. Also, my kids( aka the boys) think penises are really funny and interesting, definitely not weird or creepy. My kids are exposed to breastfeeding and homebirth, and just aren’t that surprised by body parts. It is not a taboo subject in our house. My kids ask a lot less questions about sex than I did at their young age; what they are curious about is much more age appropriate than the info I asked for/was given when I was ther ages.
    Before I had kids talking about sex was a huge worry for me because of the scary job my parents and my husband parents did for us(one too much to early, the other to little to late) but I have found now that it really it is not hard, scary or weird. If you look for natural conversations, and like you said, don’t feed curiousity, it just isn’t that hard.

    1. Anonymous

      Yes, penis has become pee-nuck, and my daughter says she has a bagina. LOL. One of our sons used to say girls had “butt penises.”

    2. Anonymous

      In the movie “Return to the Blue Lagoon”, as the mother is trying to explain the facts of life to her son and daughter…

      Mother: Well, God in His infinite wisdom decided…well, nature…gave us different parts! Ah; well, you see a female has a…

      Richard: …A cowry-shell!

      Mother: What?

      Richard: Lilli looks like a cowry-shell down there.

      Lilli: So that’s what you call mine—a cowry-shell! And we call Richard’s a…

      Mother: (embarrassed) No, no, no, no, no, no…um, never mind; I think this has gone a little far. I should have explained certain of life’s facts to you years ago.

  4. mamarachael

    Oh, yes. We decided when we were pregnant with Little Man (before we knew he was a boy) that we would use the ‘proper’ terms. Yeah, I’m teaching him that he has heart, and there is an arm. Why would I not use the correct name for THAT part? Esp for a boy, its hanging out there, he sees it, he touches it. Sometimes, due to diapers and such, he gets poop on it and we’ve got to clean it. Its a fact of life, its the name that society uses and that ‘science’ has endorsed.

    I esp don’t want my son (or daughter if God should give us any) to end up in a situation with his friends using a slang word and not know the proper word. Thus, we name the parts with the proper word, but other words might get used every now and then.

    Yeah, I think this issue is important. We ought not dumb stuff down for kids. Yes, you leave parts out… a 2 year old doesn’t need to understand how babies are made, but he is learning about his body — all the parts. He will learn the word I use (and that Daddy uses), so lets learn the correct word (not a slang word).

    Okay, I should get off my soap box now. This is as much about teaching my son he can truly talk to me about whatever he wants/needs, but also about my own philosophy of education.

    Good topic to take on, J. And a good handling of it. Thank you.

  5. Nylse

    Better to use the correct names even for young children. I’d never heard those arguments for not using the correct names – and really why go to so much trouble?

  6. Anonymous

    Honestly, I don’t see a problem with having my 3-yr-old son call his penis his “pee-pee” until he gets a little bit older.

    1. J

      Maybe I should have been clearer. I don’t think it’s a problem to use a slang term, but I do think kids should know the correct words as well.

      Thanks for commenting!

    2. Anonymous

      Pee pee isn’t bad as far as slang terms go. It’s not crass, and people know what you’re talking about.

    3. Anonymous

      Yeah, I think any adult around knows what he means if he says “my pee-pee hurts”. 🙂 Thankfully he hasn’t talked about it in public… and really, he isn’t at a point where he is asking questions about it yet. Once he starts asking more about it, then we will teach him the real word.

      My husband and I both grew up in homes where the names of body parts weren’t talked about. I STILL struggle to say the names of body parts even with my husband in private. I don’t want my kids to struggle with that.

  7. Tracy

    My grandmother was a nurse and her kids the proper names for the body parts, my mom taught me and I in turn taught my son (who is now 4). My husband thought it would be more appropriate to teach my son to use a ‘baby’ name for his penis, but since I’m a SAHM and in charge of bath time, I had more control over that. Personally, I can only use the correct terms for the male parts and the mildly crass for my own. Even to my own husband in private. That was a good point you made about kids needing to know the correct terms so that they can report to the authorities if they need to. I had to do that when I was a kid and, since molesters still exist, I’m sure other kids will to.

  8. nancy keithley

    Thank you SO much for this post! I was a school counselor for 12 years of my career, and this is one of my ‘things’. Different families have different words to identify one’s personal bits and what is acceptable to one is not acceptable to another…. however, if we use anatomically correct terms, we are nonjudgmental and we not using silly-sounding made-up terms that may or may not mean anything to others – just the facts of it all!

  9. Jon

    Great post J!

    Long time reader – first time commenter. I don’t see a problem with letting our kiddos know the correct (or as you put it “universal”) terms for parts of the body. I think the wife isn’t 100% on board with this yet, but I’m sure she will come around as our little ones get bigger – we have 4 and 2 currently.

    That being said I just had to share what my 4 year old son calls his penis. I don’t remember how long ago this was, he could have been 3 or 4, but nevertheless in his creativity and innocence he came up with the best euphemisms for “it” that I have ever heard.

    “Round thing” Truthful and yet not offensive.

    Keep doing what you do. You are a blessing to so many!

    Jon

    1. J

      LOL, Jon! Just watch out when he reaches the teen years and starts using a different adjective with “thing.” 😉

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. Paul Byerly

    J – Great post, thanks so much.

    I have long said that the person who teaches a young person the biology of sex is given the right to teach a theology of sex. Kind of scary if you think about how that can go!

  11. Anonymous

    “But from early on, use the correct words of penis, testicles, and vagina.”

    If I may, one question: When it comes to teaching girls about their anatomy, shouldn’t they be taught the basic difference between their vagina and their vulva? Simply because they are not the same, and it’s too easy for them to confuse their vulva (the most easily visible of their genitals) with their vagina (which only a gynecologist can really see)? My understanding is that many teens and adults, even decades later, still do not know the correct terminology. Ironically, even Eve Ensler often failed to denote and use the correct female terminology in her “monologues”. So explaining the difference between those two up front would surely help avoid confusion later in life.

    Speaking of gynecologists, during Sunday School at a church I attended years ago, a substitute teacher (who was a gynecologist by profession) for the college and career class accidentally said “penis” when he meant to refer to the “Peanuts” comic strip during his lesson. We sat there frozen for what felt like minutes while he tried to quickly recover and move on with the lesson. 🙂 It pays to NOT be like the now ‘infamous’ youth pastor who made a similar blooper when trying to say “pitch your tents” during a sermon about Lot (Google those words and you’ll see what I mean). 🙂

  12. joleneotten

    I actually have a real problem with teaching little girls to use the word “vagina” with everything. The vaginally actually is strictly speaking a sexual organ. It isn’t multifunction like a penis is. Girls don’t pee out of their vagina. And the urethra is still inside. Actually, I am not sure what word to use for girls (labia sounds so weird) – but I know for sure it isn’t vagina (not saying here that you can’t teach them what a vagina is, but I sure hope it isn’t a word they would use in daily conversations :-).

    1. J

      At some point, girls realize there’s a third hole down there. What would you call it?

      I have no problem with vulva.

      And I doubt any kid is having daily conversations about their private parts. Anymore than they daily discuss their elbows, even though they learn the correct word for them.

      Thanks for your comment, Jolene!

  13. forgivenwife.com

    When I was a child, I was taught to refer to my parts as “privates,” while my brothers had “pee-pees.”

    It was important to me to use the correct words with my own children, although I admit that I struggled to use “vulva” rather than “vagina” with my daughter. Teaching them the right words also provided an opportunity to teach about who should be allowed to touch and see these parts, and when it is okay to talk about them and with whom.

    In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou describes how her grandmother taught her to bathe: “Wash as far as possible, and then wash possible.” If you aren’t going to be accurate, at least be clever.

  14. Anonymous

    I remember having an argument in 6th grade with a friend who always used the word “dick.” I told him that was a “bad word” and he asked what he should say instead. I replied “penis” is the correct term. He argued that he was taught never to say that word. That penis was worse to say than dick. In sixth grade. Yeah.

    So needless to say we’ve used the proper words with our kids from day one.

  15. Anonymous

    Please, please, please teach your children the names of their body parts. I was molested at a very young age and didn’t tell my parents about it for years because I didn’t have any words to describe it other than “hurt.”

  16. Anonymous

    Humorous side, when my son was younger, my husband was teaching him about various body parts, and explained about testicles. He was around 3 or 4. Later when he repeated it to my mom, all proud of what he had, he told her “Guess what, I have tentacles!!

    Now that he is a teenager, it has become a family joke. He brings it up more then we do, so its not done in teasing : )

    1. Anonymous

      lol @ “tentacles”; they’re no more glamorous…which makes me wonder why God put them outside the body when He could have designed them to function equally well inside. Hopefully no-one will have to try and explain _that_ to their young ones…

  17. Karen Yocum

    I’m a mixture on this. We called it a “pee-pee” when they were 2-5, but never made them ashamed or embarrassed to say it in public (which they did, prolifically). We just gently corrected them on their timing of the topic (much like poop, fart, vomit, etc). Now that they’re 9 & 11…they know it’s called a penis, no mystery, no what can it do type moments, so within reason, a “kid” safe version isn’t the problem, but the attitude behind it.

  18. Anonymous

    J, I totally agree with your article and the need to teach kids anatomically correct terms. However, I don’t think it’s naive to expect teens, and especially children, not to use words like c*** that they might pick up in school, etc. Will they hear these words? Yes. Should we expect them, therefore, to use them? I hope not. I think this is another opportunity for parents to guide their children, and with a word that disrespectful to women, I hope it is something parents are trying to instill. Anyway, I really liked your article, but I was a little thrown off by the “Of course I expect children, especially teens, to hear and SAY” line. Nevertheless, great article, and keep up the good work!

    1. J

      I hope and pray that my children do not use such language. I certainly hope that I didn’t give the impression that I would be okay with that.

      However, I do believe it’s realistic that, in a world that tosses these about so freely, our kids might mess up. Indeed, we should be teaching them a better, higher way. But, and maybe this is my natural pessimistic nature, I expect them to have such slips–just like many Christians I know who would never cuss except that one time they stubbed their toe so hard… But when armed with better words, using such crass language is less likely.

      Thanks so much for your comment!

  19. Anonymous

    We were taught to use “crotch” for our girly parts…it’s perhaps a little crass, maybe…but I can see “vagina” being tricky for little girls who perhaps don’t even realize that they even have a “hole in the middle” yet.

    I do disagree that the vagina is primarily sexual – or at least that it has to be construed that way. What with the trend of earlier and earlier puberty these days, I think it’s helpful for even 1st graders to know that they have a vagina, and a brief rundown on menstruation might be necessary. We don’t want a repeat of our grandmothers’ generation where women thought they were dying when they got their first period!

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