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.
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 penis, vagina, 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?