At home vulva terminology, under fives edition.
March 27, 2013 6:38 PM   Subscribe

When I was a little girl I was encouraged by my parents to refer to my vulva by a name, which not explicitly vulgar, was inappropriate and pedo-ish. Now that I have a small daughter who is learning to use a potty, I find I need to refer to her genitals but I don't know how, and I don't have anyone irl that I can ask. Is vulva too text-booky? I see 'yoni' here and there which is cute, but is maybe too wholemeal for me? I find myself saying things like 'there' and 'yourself' but I don't really approve of myself for doing so, and I don't want her to feel my shame, or worse, not have the words to talk about a part of her body. What is a word my daughter and I can use that is not weird or creepy or too scientific? Thanking you in advance.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (60 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've got girls. We say vulva. Vagina is inaccurate and I want them to be able to unambiguously talk about their genitals, as a child protection issue.

Modern parents do this a lot. Go forth and celebrate anatomical precision!

Vulva is a great word. Well, compared to any other alternative. It's not creepy, and not harsh sounding.
posted by taff at 6:41 PM on March 27, 2013 [40 favorites]

My experience only, but I was not traumatized or squicked or whatever as a little girl when I was taught to use proper anatomical language for my parts. I learned cute and other slang terms from my friends and used those contextually, but as I got older it was kind of nice to think back on how my mom taught me the real words for them when I was really young.
posted by rtha at 6:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

My circle of mom-friends all use correct anatomical terms. It's accurate and could be important if, god forbid, they need to discuss things with a doctor or other trusted adult that isn't you.
posted by chiababe at 6:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ha! My best friend's family called it their "duke" though it was a more generally term for all the nether-regions. Like, "wash your duke" etc etc.

Naturally I found this hilarious and have since called her Duke as a regular nickname. She calls me Duke right back, and there you have it. We are weird.

On a similar note, we were driving one day, came across "Sachem Lane" and decided that Sachem sounded like a perfect pseudonym for the lady-parts.

I vote what taff et al l say, just call it what it is. Couldn't resist sharing the duke story, though.
posted by keasby at 6:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure why you're hesitant to use "vulva." It doesn't seem overly clinical and it's actually a pretty word.
posted by Betelgeuse at 6:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's not like the clinical names for the various lady parts are 10 syllables of Latin. Vulva is two syllables and pretty soft sounding. Just have her call it what it is.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:48 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know it's not anatomically correct but we went with vagina. Vulva was kind of weird to me but I'm sure that's just me. I'll probably get more specific in the next few years. (She's 4.5 now).
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:48 PM on March 27, 2013

I grew up saying "private parts" or "girl parts" it was my brother and his peepee/wiener/dongle/toogie/mr happy that got all the fun ones.

I vote for vulva. It is what it is.

And now I have this song stuck in my head, so thanks for that.
posted by phunniemee at 6:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

My girls say "girl parts" or "lady bits" only because I loathe the word vulva in any context. Seems accurate enough and not vulgar.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:55 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]

Vagina may not be exactly anatomically accurate, but its a pretty close, and its a word that's become pretty common place, and should be fine if you feel more comfortable with it than vulva.
posted by Kololo at 6:59 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with using proper technical terms around a child, including anatomical terms. Children are constantly learning lots of new words, and most of those words don't need to be turned into cutesy kid versions of the adult words.

But here's something to consider. I have friends who are parents who specifically told me they made a point to accurately use the word "vulva" around their child. They suggested that they might have had second thoughts about this when their child spontaneously used the word in unexpected contexts in mixed company. Think about it.
posted by John Cohen at 7:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, vulva. I'm not sure why the actual term for a part of her body strikes you as inappropriate or "pedo-ish" (I really, really hope you're not suggesting that using the actual names of body parts is connected with child sexual abuse). But using the actual word has two benefits: first, she won't have to be embarrassed or feel silly when she eventually learns that she's been using baby talk well past babyhood (which is how I felt in middle school when I finally learned the real words for my vulva, vagina, etc.). And second, and more importantly, you'll be teaching her that this part of her body is just as deserving of respect and care as any other part of her body, rather than that it is something shameful that can't be talked about. I think that teaching children cutesy slang also teaches them to be ashamed of their sexuality and to be secretive about issues related to their genitalia. It teaches them not to ask questions, not to seek help when they need it (including if someone is being sexually inappropriate with them or, god forbid, committing sex crimes against them), and not to celebrate the awesome things about their bodies. And I think that does them a big disservice, above and beyond the disservice that we do when we use baby talk with kids.
posted by decathecting at 7:02 PM on March 27, 2013 [17 favorites]

Learn from the Brits. Call it her "bits" - in casual conversation.
posted by yclipse at 7:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, vulva. I'm not sure why the actual term for a part of her body strikes you as inappropriate or "pedo-ish" (I really, really hope you're not suggesting that using the actual names of body parts is connected with child sexual abuse).
The questioner said that their parents used a name that was such, not that they used the name "vulva" and it was such.
posted by Flunkie at 7:07 PM on March 27, 2013 [12 favorites]

[Folks, question is simple. Do not make this into a larger discussion of a larger and more problematic topic. Please.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:12 PM on March 27, 2013

My parents did the same as yours - they encouraged me to use a name for my vulva that was very weirdly euphemistic and childish and in retrospect, totally inappropriate and pedo-ish, and ultimately when I got far enough along in school and learned the accurate anatomical terms for my body part I was extremely embarrassed by the childish nickname I'd been using all along at home - and ultimately all it taught me was that my parents were weird about this stuff and I'd have to be secretive about anything regarding my sexuality. It didn't damage me permanently, but it was completely unnecessary and didn't make me feel like I'd be safe confiding in them about anything, which really sucked when I was 20 years old and sexually assaulted by a friend's boyfriend and felt completely trapped.

Bottom line: you've got the right instinct here. There's nothing wrong or crude about the word vulva. Nthing everyone who's said vulva is the way to go.
posted by thereemix at 7:16 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

My dad is a GYN so my sister and I grew up knowing all the real names of parts. I did embarrass the daylights out of my aunt by using these words to a pregnant woman we met at the zoo, but you know, kids say stuff. My vote would be "vulva" and use the inevitable over share that will result as an opportunity to teach a lesson on privacy/delicacy. The short term might be awkward, but probably better in the long run.
posted by elizeh at 7:19 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think most terms other than vulva are either too cutesy/euphemistic or too sexual.

I grew up with "vagina" and while it isn't technically accurate, it is scientific-sounding and that wasn't a problem. It was kind of annoying to learn at age 20 that I'd been using the wrong anatomical term, though. Hence, vulva seems like the best choice to me.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:19 PM on March 27, 2013

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but I'm a little grodied out by the word "vulva," myself. However, I don't see the point in teaching my kids to be grodied out by anatomical terms. And it's worth it to teach the correct terminology while they're young and starting to learn about their bodies, before they start finding private parts weird or gross.

If you just can't bring yourself to say "vulva," "privates" is a reasonably safe generic euphemism. But fear of a name implies fear of the thing itself, and the surest way to teach your daughter to be comfortable with her anatomy is to teach her to be comfortable with the correct words.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:27 PM on March 27, 2013

Vagina or vulva. It's ok.
posted by tristeza at 7:31 PM on March 27, 2013

I say 'girl bits' to my daughter (8) but if she has questions, especially about sex, I use the correct terms.

Her father (my ex) has generically called both girl and boy bits 'bum' and this has created a lot of confusion. For example her thinking that 'putting bums together = sex' - annoying. But I think after a few corrections in passing conversation she got the idea.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:42 PM on March 27, 2013

I grew up with "vagina" and agree that it annoyed me later that it wasn't really the right term for the outside parts. I suggest going with the appropriate word from the get-go, and then it'll never sound weird or embarrassing to her. That's our baggage, not the kids'.
posted by Miko at 7:43 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a 4 year old girl and we use vulva.
posted by gaspode at 7:49 PM on March 27, 2013

Most of the parents I know use technical terms, but many of us also have a family slang (ours happens to be "bits" in fact, as a catchall for the whole bathing suit area, applicable to both genders).
posted by padraigin at 7:50 PM on March 27, 2013

I like privates. Privates are something that belongs only to you and you decide who has access to them. Because they are private. I think calling them privates is empowering. And gender neutral. The privates include the vulva and the vagina, so you can still talk about them if you like.

I don't like "bits" because it seems too frivolous. When you use "privates" it is also a teaching moment because you can discuss who should have access to one's privates.

I don't like vulva and vagina because I worked in a day care and we had one mom who would ask her son if he needed to void his bladder and another mother who asked their child if they needed to defecate. I don't want to be scientific mom! I want to be normal mom.
posted by cda at 7:51 PM on March 27, 2013 [15 favorites]

From the OP:
Thanks to everyone who answered. I will stick with bits for the general area, and vulva for times when more specificity is required. I myself do generally use correct anatomical terms, but I just wasn't sure if that was the done thing, especially in regard to little kids.

decathecting - I agree with your comments, so much in fact that I thought I made those very concerns apparent in my question. Of course I don't consider "vulva" to be a pedo term, I used it myself in my question. The term my father taught me was not "vulva". It was two harmless words that illustrated how appealing he found my genitals. I actually specifically state that I don't want my daughter to feel the shame I feel, and to have correct words to talk about her body.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:51 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Vulva is fine. That is what my young daughter has always called hers, and there will be plenty of time for her to decide on her own name for it later. Ditto penis for boys.
posted by davejay at 7:57 PM on March 27, 2013

We say vulva or bits. It's not a problem.
posted by slightlybewildered at 8:03 PM on March 27, 2013

Vagina and penis. That pretty much covers most sexual organs
posted by couchdive at 8:09 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Vulva seems most accurate from the viewpoint of a young child. That's what they see when they look down or look in a mirror. When she gets old enough to start to notice and differentiate the more detailed anatomy, then you add urethra, vagina and the various labiae to her vocabulary. Best to use the general, correct word and add knowledge later, than to use a specific word like vagina and then have to backtrack when she needs more detailed knowledge.
posted by gjc at 8:17 PM on March 27, 2013

Would it be too weird or old-fashioned to call it the hoo-hoo? I mean, she's little. A certain amount of silly baby talk is acceptable.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:27 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

+1 'vulva.'

Please not 'vagina.' These things tend to stick, as you are aware, and you do not want her embarrassed/confused some years down the road...

However, as another option, one which to me makes more sense than 'bits'...?

front bottom
Definition of front bottom
British informal
a child’s term for the female genitals.
posted by kmennie at 8:33 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm another person not super comfortable with "vulva" though I think I will use it when we get to specifics. I don't know anyone that uses "vulva" IRL over the more common "vagina." My daughter is 2 and, sort of embarrassingly, she calls her bits "punani" -- I don't exactly know how this happened because that's not a word I used growing up but it's a silly word that my husband and I have jokingly used from time to time. So now she uses it like "bits" in that it covers everyone. "Mama has a punani. Daddy has a punani." etc. But, clearly, we need to start getting more specific because I certainly don't want her to go through life saying punani. I was raised with "vagina" so I guess that's what I'll most likely go with, making clear at an age appropriate time what the different parts are.
posted by amanda at 8:50 PM on March 27, 2013

Mother of a daughter. We use "bits" or other sort of non-specific but we-know-what-it-is words for general discussion, but the correct words for more serious talks, but we also sometimes use the correct words in regular talk, too. When she was really little, even though we'd been using correct terminology, she called the whole area down there her "butt," even though she clearly knew it wasn't all a butt. She was 2 1/2 and one day saw me getting out of the shower, I don't know why it was any different than any other time, but she pointed and said, "Mama, you have a hairy butt."
posted by upatree at 8:57 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've used vulva with my daughter from the very beginning as she was learning to talk. As she got older, 5-6, I got more specific, explaining the difference between her vagina, labia, clitoris, etc. So she's 10 now and knows all the parts, will differentiate between her vulva and her vagina. This was important to me. Having said that, knowing that we both know all the right words, we use all kinds of euphemisms for being goofy. Family favourites are hoohoo and petunia.

My reason for using the correct terminology is two-fold. First off, I don't consider vulva any more scientific than "nose" or "elbow" and I think accuracy is important (I wouldn't call her nose a nostril). But secondly, my philosophy on all this kind of stuff, everything that is potentially mortifying for both of you once they become teenagers, is to get it out of the way when they are too little for you to be embarrassed. My daughter has known from a very young age how babies are made, for example, and what a period is. Always in terms she understands, and age appropriate, but I don't have to dread the Big Sex Talk or worry about what age I should be doing it at, because she already knows most of the mechanics. My advice related to wanting to avoid passing on your discomfort to her (which I am familiar with, raised by Catholics who never, ever told me about sex, HELLO) is to fake it while she's little so that she will be more comfortable when she gets older. If she doesn't think it's a big deal, it might help you not feel like it's a big deal.
posted by looli at 9:41 PM on March 27, 2013 [21 favorites]

I think "vulva" only sounds weird because people blab on and on about penises and testicles &c., but there is a weird cultural aversion to female genitals. I think this is seriously some stupid bullshit and we should call them what they are, and I am not really happy that I was raised without knowing the correct names for my own anatomy-- I really hate the idea that girls grow up with this "mystery" about what the fuck is inside their bodies. They should all know! Hell, they should know what a clitoris is. That would have really been illuminating to me.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:08 PM on March 27, 2013 [16 favorites]

My parents both used "vagina", and neither of them was comfortable with it. I applaud their efforts to teach us the right words, as far as they knew, but they passed their embarrassment along to their daughters. If you find a word uncomfortable, your kids will too. It would be lovely for you and your daughter to talk as naturally about vulvas as about any other body parts. On the other hand, somewhere between anatomy and smut, street talk in my neighborhood had "hooha" for girl parts and "hoohoo" for boy parts.
posted by melesana at 10:10 PM on March 27, 2013

my parents used vagina from before my memories start. i wish they had used vulva because i was confused later about the way it all worked - but i was super glad that i wasn't the girl in the 10th grade who still couldn't say vagina because her family always used a cutesy name for it. i think bits is fine slang, but i think, like you mention, precision is useful for just plain knowledge and safety (and health) issues.
posted by nadawi at 10:39 PM on March 27, 2013

I have two boys, but this would still apply. I taught them the "medical name" of various parts for girls and boys. I then told them some of the common nick names people used for these different body parts. We had a good laugh at some of the goofy sounding ones and I told my boys to use what term they felt most comfortable with. As a side note, they did not choose penis, but preferred "private area."
posted by JujuB at 12:02 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm really sorry your dad did that and happy for you that you are being such a conscientious parent.

My friends with kids use the correct language, like vulva, clitoris, etc. It was weird the first time one of their kids told me she got whacked in her vulva playing ball in the park, but that did clarify what hurt, where exactly, and what kind of help I needed to offer as the resident adult.

One of my friends uses a vulgar and dated bit of slang to refer to hers and her kids' genitalia. I really don't like that.
posted by spunweb at 2:29 AM on March 28, 2013

Vulva or lady-bits sounds fine to me, but please, please don't use the word vagina to describe the vulva. When I read a comment from someone who refers to the vulva as a vagina, I automatically consider that person ignorant and sloppy, even though that's way over the top for the simple misuse of a word. It's getting more and more common, and that's what I mean by sloppy - too lazy to get it right. The vagina is the inner part, not the outer part; it's like getting the terms for a penis and a scrotum mixed up. Really. If you don't like the word vulva, find something that works, but not the anatomical term for an entirely different part of the body, please?
posted by aryma at 3:14 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

In my house it was always just "genitals".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:35 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My two girls (ages 6 and 9) call that area their 'girl parts.' Every now and then we throw in the proper terms but for basic cleaning and covering up, it's pretty casual, as in, 'remember to rinse your girl parts after your bubble bath so you don't get a rash.' I think my girls actually starting using the term and I followed along. They have a big brother so it makes sense to them. Incidentally, when he was 8 and my middle child was 3, she walked in on him having a bath and came out of there quick, saying that she saw her brother's trumpet. She kept the term. Still uses it instead of penis. She knows the proper words but trumpet is funnier. Now, when she finally meets a trumpet player and tells me about it, my hair will probably all turn white, but, that is for another day.
posted by myselfasme at 6:23 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's worth keeping in mind that "vulva" won't sound clinical or text-bookish to your daughter, who hasn't yet formed any particular associations with the word at all. (For that matter, she isn't likely to have any specifically hippie-ish associations with "yoni" yet, etc...)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 6:42 AM on March 28, 2013

When I was younger, my parents were always very specific about using the correct names for things and actions (although we used the word "vagina" instead of "vulva" which I guess isn't technically correct). I never said anything like "go potty" -- it was always "I have to go to the toilet." This was also encouraged by my Charlie Brown's 'Cyclopedia, which allowed me to explain the process of conception to my mom at age 4.

At about the same time, I got kind of enamored with the idea of giving toasts with beverages. People used to say "bottoms up!" sometimes, so I thought I would be creative.

Which is how "baginas up!" made its way into our family history.
posted by Madamina at 7:49 AM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

You might enjoy reading '' which is written to help parents talk to their children about sex, genitals etc.
posted by honey-barbara at 8:08 AM on March 28, 2013

Because frst you wash as far down as possible. Then you wash as far up as possible. Thn you wash possible.
Which is a story I heard once. But it feeds the idea that genitalia aren't mentionable, which is how I was raised. Really, I had no word at all for that area. Everything, collectively, was 'bottom.' So I think this possible story is really cute. But I was too old to use it by the time I heard it.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:09 AM on March 28, 2013

Our daughter learned the term "boopah" from her preschool teacher, which appear to be sort of equivalent to "patootie" or maybe "bottom" -- we use that for generic references, as when landing too hard from a slide, and sometimes refer to front/back boopah, but probably "girl parts" is most common, as at bath time. On the other hand, we have talked about anatomy, reproduction, and the rest, so I hope that proper terminilogy can coexist with the sillier euphemisms...
posted by acm at 8:10 AM on March 28, 2013

Everything, collectively, was 'bottom.'

And if needed, we would differentiate between 'front bottom' and 'back bottom'.
posted by CathyG at 8:36 AM on March 28, 2013

My 5 year old daughter refers to everything in that region as her tushie. As in "front tushie" and "back tushie." Two weeks ago, we took her to the pediatrician. He asks her, "What seems to be the problem." She replies, "My tushie hurts." He says, "OK, flip over." Oops. We have to explain that the trouble is in the front, not the back.

So on Tuesday I started teaching her the words "vagina" and "vulva" so that she'll begin calling everything by its proper name. The next step will likely be to let her hold a handheld mirror in front of herself, so she can see what we're talking about.

Sadly, we live in a society where people think that genitals and normal body functions should still be unmentionable, or aren't for polite company. So there's an inadvertent parental benefit to having your kid use a cutesy name for their penis or vagina: no one who leans to the puritanical will get their nose out of joint when your kids reference their genitals in public. I think that's why such things are encouraged?

But I really don't want my kids to grow up with misconceptions or a lack of understanding about how their bodies work. Or to refer to their own body parts incorrectly. Especially not to a doctor.

My .02¢: Let her learn the right words early. She'll thank you later.
posted by zarq at 9:12 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My granddaughter calls her vulva her bits and seems to have come up with it by herself.
posted by Lynsey at 9:28 AM on March 28, 2013

Y'all are helping me come around so thanks for that! I just remembered that in the bath I say, "remember to wash your in-betweens!" But "girl parts" is probably also a good idea so she can differentiate between boys and girls which she really seems into right now.
posted by amanda at 10:44 AM on March 28, 2013

Ying yang.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 12:12 PM on March 28, 2013

My mom used "labia." My sister and I knew the correct terms for each of the component parts (vagina, etc), but we also used "labia" to refer to the general genital area. This could be an option for you if you just plain hate the sound of the word "vulva."
posted by hyperfascinated at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2013

Growing up in my house, we said "private parts" and "vagina".
posted by heatherann at 1:48 PM on March 28, 2013

I used "tussy" when I was little and now thath i think about it it was probably actually "tushie" but I had a speech impediment. I never like anatomically correct words for casual reference because I was always kind of (and still am) freaked out by any medical places and the medical terminology just reminds me of them.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:27 PM on March 28, 2013

Although I taught my daughter the correct anatomical names, she insisted on calling it her "front bum."
posted by Ruki at 5:14 PM on March 28, 2013

amanda, as far as I know 'punani' was popularised by Ali G (and his Julie). You may well have a punani, or poon, but your husband has a peen.

My daughter was quite shocked at me when I suggested poon for her toddler - at some point it becomes obvious there needs to be a word. I can't remember what word they decided on. I think any word will do: tiny children quite often do a bit of wordsmithing themselves on things that interest them.

One Britishism is 'minge'. This is a bit crude but I have heard it used in relation to young children. Another Britishism is 'fanny', quite acceptable when referring to young children. This never ever ever ever means 'back bottom'. No.

I used a pidgin word when my kids were small. That meant they could talk about their bodies but not many people knew what they were saying. As posters have said, it is important for children to have this vocabulary and to feel no shame about their bodies. I don't think the exact words matter that much though.
posted by glasseyes at 7:53 PM on March 28, 2013

A few weeks ago I heard the evening reporter on the news radio station say, "And now, a word from your friendly neighborhood vulva! VOLVO!! DAMMIT I MEANT VOLKSWAGEN!! So, not to make light of your issue but that's MY new euphemism. (I think I grew up without having any word for it whatsoever so this is a big help.)
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 1:53 PM on March 29, 2013

In our house, "privates" is the generic term for genitals of either gender. When addressing questions about specific parts, we try to use the correct anatomical terms.
posted by GeekDad at 8:13 PM on March 29, 2013

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