(without getting them or yourself into trouble)
Written By Cath Hakanson
Teaching your child the correct name for their genitals (or private parts) is one of the first steps in sex education and in protecting kids from sexual abuse.
You are also opening the door for open and honest conversations on questions that they may have about their body and sexuality.
Why is this important?
Research tells us that kids who know the correct names for their genitals:
- Are less likely to be sexually abused
- Are more likely to report sexual abuse if it happens
- Have a positive body image
- Have a higher self-esteem
The best way to start is to incorporate the correct names into everyday language. At first, you may feel awkward, but the more you say them, the more comfortable you will become.
If you struggle with saying them aloud, practise saying them in front of the mirror or with your partner before starting with your child.
What terms to use
For girls, the current trend of terms to use is vulva and vagina.
Ideally, we should start off talking about the vulva as the outside part, and the vagina as the inside part. Don’t stress if you started with the word vagina, just start including the vulva as well.
For boys, we use the terms penis and testicles. Technically, the testicles are the inside part (they feel like a peeled boiled egg) and the scrotum is the skin or sack on the outside that holds them.
If you have one of those kids who wants to know what each individual part is, just google ‘female/male external genitalia’ for some diagrams to refer to. Don’t worry about whether it will be too much information for your child. If they are asking the question, it means that they are ready for the answer.
When to use the correct names
You can start using the correct names for the body parts during nappy changes, bath time, when getting dressed and during toilet training. The opportunities are endless.
It is important to make the correct names sound natural. You want your child to think that their genitals are equal to any other part of their body and something they shouldn’t be ashamed of.
If you are already using other names
If you’ve already been using other names, start using the correct terms as well. It is okay to use appropriate slang but refrain from using them all the time.
If there comes a situation where you need to, explaining to your child that you think they are old enough to start using the correct names of their private parts. This applies too if your children are much older.
Rules on using the correct names
Sometimes kids will get into trouble by adults for using the correct names.
You need to let your child know that the names for our genitals are private words and how we should avoid using them in public places, like in the playground or at school.
Also explain that some adults get embarrassed by those words and may get cranky if they hear kids saying them. If this happens, they need to tell you. Kids aren’t stupid – they work out pretty quickly what is and isn’t socially acceptable.
An upside is that kids who have these words as a normal part of their vocabulary are less likely to use them in a silly way.
Books to help
Books are a great way to normalise it all. Plus they provide you with the right words to explain it all. Some fantastic Australian books that you can use are:
- My Body! What I say goes! by Jayneen Sanders
- Everyone’s Got a Bottom by Tess Rowley
- The amazing true story of how babies are made by Fiona Katauskas
You are not just educating your child, you’re empowering them with the right information about their body before they receive the wrong messages through the media and from their peers.
Cath Hakanson is a mother, sex educator and founder of Sex Ed Rescue. Bringing her 20+ years of clinical knowledge, a practical down-to-earth approach, and passion for helping families, Cath inspires parents to talk to their kids about sex so that kids can talk to their parents about anything! Sex Ed Rescue arms parents with the tools, advice, and tips to make sex education a normal part of everyday life.