Practice Makes Perfect: Using Your Words

Art by B.Love

When my son was born I assumed we would teach him all of the correct terms for his body parts, including his genitals. Even as a baby, when we washed him and changed diapers we always used the word “penis. For example, “Now it’s time to wash penis or “Goodbye penis as the diaper covered it.

But what didn’t roll so easily off my tongue at first were the words “scrotum and “anus. Not because I felt they were inappropriate. On the contrary, I felt they deserved as much respect as penis. It was just that I realized I wasn’t used to saying them as much. With my husband, I would use the words dick or cock or penis, depending on the context and the mood we were in, but I didn’t find myself talking about his anus or scrotum nearly as much.

But just by doing it, using the term “anus cream for diaper cream (because let’s face it\’it’s cream for one’s anus, not for one’s diaper) and saying “Awww, look at cutie scrotum it began to feel very natural.

So for parents for whom penis and vulva (or vagina if you insist on reducing your little girl’s genitals to only the passageway between her uterus and her vaginal opening) are a challenge to say out loud in the presence of your children, I suggest practicing. It will get easier. We talk to our babies even though they don’t understand what we’re saying. We talk to express ourselves, to show love and affection. And eventually they will understand the words we use, so the sooner you start, the more natural it will feel. The sooner you can say “Oh my, it looks like scrotum is a little red, better put some cream on there or “We better clean your anus after that messy blueberry poop the easier it will be to continue the conversation as they grow old enough to understand.

One of the first things a child learns as they grow and begin to learn language is that important things have names. Therefore naming your child’s genitals conveys the message that all of one’s body is worthy of respect and care. This notion may seem simple, but it is really quite radical, given the shame that so many kids are taught to feel when it comes to their genitals and their sexuality.

One of the main reasons that parents shy away from talking to their kids about sex is because as a society we associate anything about sex and kids with sexual abuse. Parents think that they are protecting their kids by not exposing them to anything “sexual and therefore not even naming their “sexual body parts. In reality, by avoiding teaching correct terminology, a parent actually leaves their child more vulnerable to sexual abuse. By the time our babies are toddlers, we can start to teach them about privacy and how to protect themselves using the very clear language that we’ve already taught them.

Not to mention that in the event of possible child sexual abuse, when a child is being questioned by a social worker, the social worker is not allowed to use terms that the child does not use, because it could be construed that the social worker put words into the child’s mouth. It therefore makes it much easier to determine if sexual abuse did indeed take place if the child knows the correct terms to use for their genitals.

So rather than promoting secrecy and shame with phrases like “down there or “privates we can begin to nurture high sexual self-esteem and self-worth simply by talking about penises and vulvas, scrotums and clitorises. And don’t forget to pack the anus cream in your diaper bag.

Remi Newman

Remi Newman, MA, earned her master’s degree in sexuality education from NYU and has over ten years of experience creating and facilitating sexuality education workshops in both English and Spanish. As a new mom, she created “Having the talk before they can talk” a workshop for new and expectant parents to help them feel confident as the primary sexuality educators for their kids. Originally from the streets of Philadelphia, she now lives in Northern California with her husband, son, sister and one of her best friends. Find her online at Healthy Sex For Life.

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