It’s Not All Mary Poppins

There are no secrets

Three-year-olds are fascinated by genitalia.

What they have, what the other guy has. It comes up in conversation, casual conversation, all the time. I don’t get flustered, I just deal in facts. Well, facts and appropriate social boundaries. Truth be known, I actively enjoy these conversations. They’re funny and sweet, charming and utterly innocent.

The cutesy-prudery that is endemic in our society irritates the ever-loving crap out of me. We cringe at the thought of having “The Talk” with our kids. We wince when they mention their genitalia. We moan together about how embarrassed we are about our children’s perfectly normal (and perfectly innocent) curiosity about their own bodies.

“Oooooo!” some mommy-blogger writes, “My little boy asked how long it takes to make a baby!” (The child, elementary school age, I gather, had enough of the facts that he wasn’t asking about gestation, you understand. He wanted to know how long The Act took.) This mother dedicated a thousand words (some of them, I admit, kind of funny) to describing how she didn’t answer her son’s honest question, but did manage to convey a whole lot of embarrassment, unease, and shame.

Oooooh, lovely.

Or the daddy-blogger who waxed lyrical (and, yes, he was funny, too) about how HIS precious angel is not going to be allowed to have a boyfriend until she’s 30, and that all prospective suitors will have to run the gauntlet of his protective manliness to achieve their virgin princess in a tower.

Irritates the SHIT out of me, people.

Because God forbid we produce children who grow up into ADULTS. Adults who have the information, attitudes and resources to have, among other things, a healthy adult sex life. They don’t get there because we had one squirming, cringing, stilted conversation, aka “The Talk”, or, worse, just had a leaflet thrown at them when they were thirteen or so.

Do we want kids who have confidence and self-respect? Teens who will see us as trustworthy resources, and come to us with questions and concerns? Adults who choose loving and nurturing partners? Then get over yourself and talk. to. your. kids. Talk sanely, calmly, sensibly, respectfully. Your children is much more likely to achieve healthy sexuality when their parents answer straight questions with age-appropriate information. When their parents are relaxed and matter-of-fact about this topic.

Our children stand a far better chance of getting to be healthy adults with healthy sexuality if we act like adults ourselves, instead of sniggering 9-year-old boys or simpering 9-year-old girls. Grow up, people!

So when the topic of genitalia comes up here, and it does, routinely, we use medically accurate terms. No “pee-pees” in this house. “Down there” means “on the floor”, not a body part.

Boys have a penis and testicles. Girls have a vulva and a vagina. Those are the words we use. We use them quite a bit these days, because there are two three-year-olds in the house.

Jazz and Grace stand over Josh, who is being changed.
“He has a penis,” Grace observes.
“Yes, and tessacles,” Jazz adds. They nod, sagely pleased with their observations.

When Poppy is being changed,
“Her vulva gots poo on it.”
“Yes, Jazz, it does. I’m cleaning it now.”
“And you gots to be careful and not get poo in her vagina,” Grace adds.
“Smart girl! You’re absolutely right. I have to make sure her vagina stays clean.”

See how easy it is?

I have done my best to put this exciting vocabulary in the appropriate social context. These are private areas of the body, and so we don’t talk about them just anywhere. I’ve explained that it’s okay to talk about these things with me and with mummy and daddy, but not just anyone.

This morning I had some wiring replaced in my basement. The electrician is also a friend, so he stopped to chat with the tots. Being a sensible man, he admired Grace’s dress.

“Yes, I have a pretty dress, and Mary has a skirt!”

“So she does,” he nods.

“Mary has a skirt and she has a shirt and she has a sweater and she has tights and she has unnerwears, and”

Uh-oh. “Unnerwears” was already too much information, and my electrician friend is snorting into his beard. He thinks that’s the punch line. He thinks the joke is over, but I know better. I can see the trajectory here, and it’s not heading in a G-rated direction. I don’t interject quickly enough, however.

“… unnerwears and she has a VULVA!” Grace stops, pleased to have gotten the Topic of the Month into conversation.

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Only a three-year-old could put you in the position of encouraging your electrician to consider your nether regions. (Is it better or worse that he’s a friend, I wonder?) So much for “private things talked about in private”, huh? Except, from the perspective of a three-year-old, we’re IN THE HOUSE, and he IS A FRIEND, so we’re discussing private things in private, amongst friends. What could possibly be wrong with that??

What’s a little genital consideration amongst friends, anyway? We do it ALL THE TIME around here!! Hee.

Thankfully, my friend the electrician is, like me, a grown-up about these matters. He also has children of his own (children old enough to be producing grandchildren, but still, children). He’s been here. He barely blinks. Well, unless you count the wink he threw my way.

“Medically accurate, huh? Good job!” He raises two thumbs as he heads out the front door.

Me and my vulva, we go make lunch for the children.

November 15, 2012 - Posted by | Grace, Mischief, parenting, Peeve me, sex, the things they say!


  1. 😀 Laughing until the tears run, over here. We have many similar discussions. I’m trying so hard to teach them correct terminology but my, it’s difficult sometimes. For example – I am 90% certain that one of the girls has been taught to call her vulva, her p*ssy. (Trying to keep gross searches from finding you). If that’s not the word she’s saying, I have no idea what else it would be, and I don’t want to ask her parents because what if they say “yes, of course that’s what we call it!” THEN WHAT WOULD I DO???

    Your electrician friend sounds like a lovely man.

    Pssy?? Seriously? Oh, my. What are they thinking? Your block caps question made me laugh out loud. Mwah-ha. People are weird…

    Yes, I think my electrician friend is pretty lovely, though I wouldn’t embarrass him by saying it in quite those terms to him. 😀

    Comment by Hannah | November 15, 2012 | Reply

  2. I’ve never found words I’m comfortable with even with my partner, cutesy word, medical terms, slang, or swear words, I cant bear any of them, the only one I’m vaguely ok with is the yoga-ish term for vagina which is ‘yoni’, but when I said it to my partner he said “my only what?”

    That’s too bad. Have you found yourself able to talk with your children about these things, even if you were forcing yourself a bit? I hope so! When they start to become sexually aware, who better than a parent to help them through this complicated area of life? As I said to my son once, “Your friends like you, but there is no one — NO ONE — who cares more than I do that you be happy and healthy and succeed in life.” (We weren’t talking about sex at the time, but it applies there as in every area.)

    Comment by Jenny UK | November 15, 2012 | Reply

  3. And then I bet he had a little manly giggle fit once he got to his vehicle! 🙂 ‘Cuz that’s just NOT the response you’re expecting when you compliment someone on their outfit! We use accurate/medical terminology, too, because they are real-people-body-parts, just like arms and noses and blood vessels. (But we’ve also had the “private part are private” discussions, too.)

    Exactly! At this age, the genitals are no more loaded than any other body part. Their particular interest lies solely in the fact that, unlike every other body part (at this age), boys and girls have different sets! Now, that’s interesting! (And vive la difference, say I!) But prurient? Not at all. (We can certainly make it so, by our reactions, though.)

    The concept of privacy is pretty vague to toddlers. The boundaries of privacy even more so. You have to expect conversational sparkles like this when you give them the vocabulary! Mwah-ha.

    Comment by MsHuisHerself | November 15, 2012 | Reply

  4. Oh, I was laughing so hard I could hardly keep reading! I’m all for frank and accurate discussions, too, but with the electrician? I think I would want the floor to swallow me up.

    Comment by rosie_kate | November 15, 2012 | Reply

  5. I taught my children the correct names but usually we say private parts. I am very open and will talk to my kids about anything but those body parts are private so I don’t anything wrong with labeling them as such. I take care of 2 sisters that call theirs a cooch. I just had a baby and while I was pregnant they never asked how the baby got in there but they were fascinated by how the baby was going to come out! On more then one occasion while we were out one of the girls would tell a complete stranger “Miss Janis has a baby in her tummy and its going to come out of her cooch!”

    Comment by Janis | November 16, 2012 | Reply

  6. We always use the proper terminology in our house as well, plus my husband and I were both raised to feel that bodies are not shameful. My son has asked about his body and my body and his father’s body, just like my daughter did, but mostly they seem to be of the opinion that bodies are just bodies and it’s not big deal what everyone has. As they get older, their own natural desire for privacy surfaces, which is fine. I like a bit of privacy too! As far as asking about sex and procreation, I remember reading somewhere that it was a good idea to follow the child’s own curiosity without bombarding them with more information than they can handle at any given time or age. So when my kids have asked me questions about my current pregnancy or where babies come from, I start by asking them what they think happens and what they specifically want to know about, and then answer them honestly in terms of those specific questions. That way they’re satisfied with the answers to their questions, but they’re not overwhelmed.

    Comment by Kiki | November 16, 2012 | Reply

  7. Wow! So funny! Dd is 12 so we have long since started the “talks”. She looks super uncomfortable during it but handles things maturely. BTW we have always used the clinical terms for our bits and I got quite a scolding from my mom! lol!

    Comment by scrappyjess | November 16, 2012 | Reply

  8. Scrappyjess – “BTW we have always used the clinical terms for our bits and I got quite a scolding from my mom! lol!”

    Hehehe, I can relate. My sister was mortified when I called my son’s penis, a penis. I asked her what she suggested and she said, “Call it a bird.” I nearly died laughing. I then asked her what I was supposed to tell my son to call those little critters with beaks and wings. I got back *blink* *blink* *blink*.

    Thanks for sharing Mary, love your electrician friend’s reaction. Two thumbs up and I’m outta here. hehehe.

    Comment by Sheri | November 16, 2012 | Reply

  9. Ah yes, Adventure Girl, who just turned three, came to us when she was two-and-a-half, referring to her private parts by names that it took us a couple weeks to understand what she was talking about. We replaced them with correct terms.

    We’re now working on toilet training for liquids (i.e. if you’re awake, you pee in the toilet). So we’re doing a fair amount of modeling. So of course, a couple weeks ago, when we were using the bathroom at her school, along with the rest of her class, she pipes up with “IMA, YOU WIPE YOUR VULVA?”

    Yes, dear, and now all your little classmates and their moms know it. 🙂

    Comment by Molly | November 17, 2012 | Reply

  10. in reply to your reply, we have had plenty of talks and are a very open and honest family, I manage to get round the ‘words’! My 18 year old daughter and I use vajayjay – thanks greys anatomy! Have you seen this book?

    Comment by Jenny UK | November 18, 2012 | Reply

  11. Walked into Owl’s room the other day where apparently he and his father had been having a conversation about some of the more obscure portions of Owl’s anatomy, which he discovered through manual inspection during a diaper change. When I came in he pointed at his bottom, spread his legs and said “Mommy, YOOK! That BUMHOLE!” after, PH was like “well, what was I supposed to call it? His sphincter??”

    Heh. I’d love to hear a two-year-old’s version of “sphincter”. However, for PH’s edification, the word he was after is “anus”. (Bumhole… eesh…) This is what happens when otherwise sensible parents are blind-sided by their child. Hee.

    Comment by IfByYes | November 18, 2012 | Reply

    • It’s probably just as well. They’re learning the planets at daycare and he might be bemused by being shown a planet and told “that’s your anus. It’s very cold.”

      Comment by IfByYes | November 19, 2012 | Reply

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