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Starting without slang: Teaching our kids the proper names for their bits Starting without slang: Teaching our kids the proper names for their bits
We have a special guest blogging for us today.  Marnie Goldenberg writes a fantastic blog called Sexplainer- Helping you raise sexually intelligent children. Welcome... Starting without slang: Teaching our kids the proper names for their bits

We have a special guest blogging for us today.  Marnie Goldenberg writes a fantastic blog called Sexplainer- Helping you raise sexually intelligent children. Welcome Marnie and thank you so much for this important information!

Starting without slang: Teaching our kids the proper names for their bits by Marnie Goldenberg

Because they are grown up and kind of embarrassing parts of the body, in our house, we called kneecaps ‘stick benders’.

Can you imagine?  For many of us, when we grew up there were body parts that had made up names. If we try to articulate why exactly, it seems rather absurd, and yet many of us perpetuate the absurdity.

We might think it’s cute to hear our toddlers say ‘pee-pee’ instead of vulva and penis but really, it’s no cuter than hearing them say banana or shoe.  Everything they utter is adorable.

We don’t really have made up names for body parts other than our genitalia.  When we provide pet names, the message is that real names for those parts of the body are unacceptable.  Somehow wrong.  And this creates a kind of shame, and a lack of dignity for our bodies, that we pass along to our kids.

Maybe that feels like hysteria or at least an overstatement but I don’t think so.   We live in a culture that glorifies one type of body (thin and taut) which leaves most of us desperately disappointed.  Body pride is definitely the way to go.

Equipping our very young kids with slang terms for their genitalia keeps them in the dark about their body parts and also puts them at risk of harm. Research shows that some kids do not report sexual abuse because they learned they shouldn’t say ‘those’ words.  Or kids try to report abuse but because they’re only equipped with cutsie names, they’re either misunderstood or disbelieved.

With the proper names for their body parts and our ongoing openness about how they function, our kids develop comfort in communicating honestly and openly about their bodies.  If your kid has an infection (bladder infections can cause burning when you pee) or if they’re hurt (a fall can cause bruising of the pubic bone or if at the water park they somehow scrape their labia or scrotum), you’ll hear about it right away.  Proper words also protect our kids since abusers seek out children who don’t know about their bodies.  Ill-intentioned adults look for kids who are ill-equipped. Dinky and vava might scream ‘uninformed kid’ while vulva and testicles says ‘my parents tell me about appropriate and inappropriate touching’.

It’s not just important to teach our kids to love and respect their own bodies.  It’s equally important for them to learn the names of the body parts of the other sex.   We ought to highlight all the similarities among males and females and point out the fabulous differences.  If our kids can express their curiosity with a sense of wonder today they’ll more likely talk to their future sexual partners about bodies without hesitation or embarrassment.

From the book: It’s NOT the Stork! A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends. Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley

From the book: It’s NOT the Stork! A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends. Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley

Of course our kids will learn slang. But it makes sense that as parents we equip our kids with the right words from the beginning and let the other words be added later.

In June, my six year old and I were walking home.  He said ‘Mommy, I know another way of saying ‘penis’. ‘Dick’ was the word he had learned at school that day. I concurred that dick is indeed another way of saying penis but that it’s slang and not the scientific word.  We talked about what ‘slang’ is and I gave him some other examples.  Balls is slang for testicles.  Boobs is slang for breasts.  Bum is slang for anus or buttocks.

He asked if it was ok to say dick.  I said that some people use that word all the time, some people think it’s a rude word, and other people still, might think it’s ok for an adult to use, but somewhat rude for a kid to use.  I then explained that with most people, if he needs to talk about his penis, he should probably use the right word for it but that if he is talking to me about his penis, and would like to use the word dick, that I’m ok with that.

I reinforced that using the word penis or dick can seem rude if we are using the words in particular ways.  If we are trying to shock friends or be really silly, we need to show some restraint and consideration.

My way of handling it isn’t the only way.  As parents, we all get to set rules for our kids that reflect our values around bodies, words and behaviour. Since we are all motivated to keep our kids safe and prepare them for the rest of their lives, proper names for their bodies parts is a great place to start.

Marnie is trying to be a sex-positive parent and wants you to be one too. She trained as a lawyer and worked in the voluntary sector including several years at Planned Parenthood of Toronto.   Now working full time as a sexual health educator, Marnie takes  every opportunity to talk about raising sexually intelligent kids.  She is regularly featured on Global’s AM/BC   ( You can find Marnie on her blog ( or on Twitter (@sexplainer).

Jessica Blumel

Nice to meet you! I'm Jessica a.k.a North Shore Mama. This site was born out of my love for my daughters and the desire to share my motherhood journey with fellow moms. I believe we're all in this craziness called 'parenthood' together and North Shore Mama is my way of reaching out to anyone who needs a laugh, a cry or dinner inspiration. Thank you so much for reading!

  • Lisa C

    July 24, 2013 #1 Author

    This is a great post & I totally agree. Now can we work on all those adults saying things like ‘vajayjay’ when they mean vulva? 😉


    • Tanya White

      February 2, 2015 #2 Author

      Not to mention the fact that vajayjay means vagina and not vulva – the number of adults who use ‘vagina’ when they mean ‘vulva’ is staggering. I always make a point of correcting it when I see it because this misinformation is what is passed on to younger people.


  • Mary

    July 25, 2013 #3 Author

    I need to get that book for my daughter!! ( I have a little bit of time..she’s not even 6 months yet…) but I didn’t even know what a clitoris was until high school. High school. Sophomore year. I had to google it. Found a medical pic pointing out all the parts and was like, “whoa, I have that?? I thought that was where my pee came out of!!” and no, I was not stupid, or ignorant even. I was a pretty smart kid. I was just never comfortable with my body. Never explored it. Was never educated about my body. Not by my parents OR school. It’s pretty sad… So, now, I am going to strive to be a sex-positive parent. :)


  • Jenn

    July 25, 2013 #4 Author

    While I enjoyed this post–thanks(!), I don’t get why you called them “bits”. I personally find that term gross and lewd. Just my 2 cents! Great article otherwise.


  • Marnie

    July 26, 2013 #5 Author

    Thanks for the comments, Lisa, Mary and Jenn. It’s confirming to hear from parents who see the empowering possiblities of teaching our kids the right words for their body parts. Jenn, I appreciate the feedback about your feelings about ‘bits’. It’s always interesting — what some people find gross, others find benign. It’s a great ongoing reminder to me that words have power.


  • Lym

    January 31, 2015 #7 Author

    I integrated genitalia naming with naming of the rest of the body. Nothing will normalize body parts like “This is your ear, your nose, your toes, your penis, your eyebrow….” No special emphasis.

    Of course, there’s that special moment when your kid is old enough to know the names for everything, and NOT old enough to realize it’s not Mom’s fault when he slips off the tricycle seat and hurts himself. “YOU HURT MY PENIS” yelled across a playground filled with parents & kids… I was so proud. Ahem.


  • Kay

    February 2, 2015 #8 Author

    As someone who works in sexual health, I can tell you that it drives me around the bend when people use pet names or ‘down there’…even correct names; when people say ‘vagina’ when they actually mean ‘vulva’ can create all sorts of confusion about what it is actually wrong. Using correct names is so simple, but makes a big difference as a building block to avoid shame surrounding genitals and build knowledge upon as they grow.

    FYI my mother called my vulva ‘ha’penny’ – British slang for a half penny, a coin that ceased to be legal tender 14 years before my birth – never known anyone else call it that. I was 21 before I learned ‘vulva’.


  • Jodie

    February 2, 2015 #9 Author

    I’m curious as to the benefit of using the word ‘vulva’ over ‘vagina’ when teaching it to young kids (apart from the fact that vulva is the anatomically correct word for the external lips). My husband and I are careful to use the words ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’ around our toddler, for many of the reasons expressed in this article. However, I think a lot of adults wouldn’t know the difference between ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’ so I went with the more generally known term and taught our daughter it’s her vagina. If for example my daughter hurt her vulva and I wasn’t around, another adult wouldn’t necessarily guess that the word she was saying was ‘vulva,’ because it is not a word in common use to describe it. However, most adults would recognise the word vagina as meaning her genitals. So although anatomically incorrect, doesn’t the word ‘vagina’ meet the goal of increasing child safety better?


  • Katherine

    February 5, 2015 #10 Author

    EXCELLENT post. When I was growing up I was fortunate that my Mum taught me from a young age about my body and to be comfortable with it and talking about it. This helped as I approached puberty and we discussed everything that that phase of life involves and I always knew I could go to my Mum with questions, concerns, etc. This open communication & comfort from a young age was valuable and I hope to do the same with my kids. I’m curious about the book included in this post & am going to look into it. Thanks Jessica & Marnie for tackling this subject so well.


  • Sara Lima

    February 3, 2016 #11 Author

    This is such a great piece. I know this is only sort of related, but it’s the same when people force their kids to hug people. False! Let your kids make their own decisions on whether or not they are comfortable. I never make my nieces and nephews hug me – and that’s how we all like it.

    I think the author made a very important point about how kids that grow up on a household where they can talk about their bodies and sex are not only going to be better off because they will be of less interest to a predator, but when they get older, and have romantic relationships, they’ll be informed and confident.


  • Kate

    March 7, 2016 #12 Author

    it’s so important to not assign shame or secrecy to these words


  • Krista M

    March 21, 2016 #13 Author

    I should totally get this awesome book for my best friend. She’s been teaching her son for the past couple years to call his “bits” his “dinkerdoo”. He then uses that term at school & now his friends (and even people like his grandparents!) have caught on to that term as well. I think it’s vital to his development to know & use the PROPER terms.


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