In our house, we use proper words for private parts — penis, testicles, scrotum, vagina, vulva, labia, clitoris, etc. Teaching our children about body safety is important because teaching them the correct words instead of using nicknames or words that are easier to say helps protect them from child sexual abuse.
Imagine this scenario: A little girl tells her teacher that “My uncle licked my cookie.” The teacher has no idea that the little girl is actually referring to her vagina, so she tells the little girl, “Next time, ask for another cookie.” Months later, the mother of the little girl speaks to the teacher about a rash on the child’s “cookie,” and that is the lightbulb moment when the teacher realizes what the little girl was trying to tell her. The obvious moral of this story? If you do not teach your children the proper names for their body parts, people can miss important signs of sexual abuse.
If a child is touched inappropriately, like in the case of the little girl above, she should have been taught to tell a trusted adult, “My uncle licked my vagina.” Those words would have substantial weight if the child’s accusations were to go to court.
If the child says to the perpetrator, “Stop! Don’t touch my vagina!” the potential abuser would know the child is empowered with body safety knowledge and is liable to be less likely targeted. Pedophiles are often stopped in their tracks when a child uses correct names for genitals because those are “adult” words, and when the child does tell, adults would not likely dismiss the accusation.
If a child who has been taught proper anatomical terms for genitals starts using pet names for private body parts, this should be a red flag of potential grooming and sexual abuse, so questioning the source of those words would be of the utmost importance.
Additionally, having pet names for private parts could inadvertently teach a child that their private parts are places they shouldn’t speak about, which can lead them to believe that he or she must keep secrets about inappropriate touching.
As children get older, having a foundation of correct anatomical terms helps with the explanation of changes to their body as puberty starts. Furthermore, if a child’s genitals are hurt or there is a medical problem, it’s easier for the child to communicate with a parent or a healthcare professional more accurately if they already are familiar with proper anatomical terms.
Penis and vagina are not bad words and should be vocalized as easily as saying arm or head. Basic anatomy is just that, basic anatomy, and there isn’t such a thing as age-appropriate anatomy. As children get older, there are different resources available to help keep communication open and keep them safe from sexual predators. One of my favorite organizations is called The Mama Bear Effect, a nonprofit organization whose aim is to change the way people think, talk, and respond to child sexual abuse. They offer free online resources, book recommendations, and my favorite, the Rock the Talk section specifically about how to speak with different age groups about body safety rules — one for infants and toddlers, grade school, and tweens and teens. They also have a refrigerator magnet that can be a constant reminder of the importance to tell a trusted adult if someone breaks a body safety rule.
When our daughter was 2, I purchased the book My Body is Special and Private which discusses privacy and body safety in a simplified manner for young children to understand. Reading it to her definitely helped lay the foundation for future discussions about body safety for us. I encourage all parents to use proper anatomical terms with their children and to keep the lines of communication open with them about proper and improper touch. Let’s help save more children from sexual predators through knowledge and communication.