She Says… Penises and Vaginas

I can’t imagine what kinds of new hits my blog is going to get thanks to that title. And perhaps I should have warned you that today’s post is not necessarily fit to read at work.

Yet still, there is it. The hottest topic in Owen’s world right now. Penises and vaginas.

I was so misinformed. I thought I had at least a few years before the penis talk set in. I thought it was the 4 or 5 year olds who shout “I HAVE A PENIS” and “MOMMY HAS A VAGINA” from the rooftops. Apparently they’re starting younger and younger these days. At a little over 2, Owen is consumed by talking about his penis and my vagina and the penises and vaginas of pretty much everyone (including dogs, cats and even some stuffed animals) we encounter.

A few months ago we were singing the hokey pokey and when it was Owen’s turn to pick what goes in the circle, he shouted, “DOGGIE PENIS!”. Through fits of laughter we sang “You put your doggie penis in, you put your doggie penis out…”. I honestly had no idea the under 2 set could make penis jokes that would rival teenage boys. Hilarious.

As a feminist who was brought up in a linguistically conservative home (vaginas were called “bottoms” and butts were called “bottoms”… you know, “front bottom” and “back bottom”, because the words vagina and butt were just not ladylike — even “shut up” was a bad word around our house), I made a decision long ago that I would call a spade a spade. Vaginas would be called vaginas. Not hoo-has or private parts or bottoms or vajayjays or other silly terms that essentially furthered the notion that our female bodies are something to be ashamed of and hidden and renamed because they are not fit to speak about.

Still, it made me squirm to say to my two year old, when he asked, “Boys have penises and girls have vaginas”. Penis was somehow far easier for me to overcome and say out loud, but even that felt a little strange.

Last week Owen came home from daycare and announced proudly that one of his friends from school has 2 penises. Benjamin and I laughed and asked him some questions to see what he was talking about. According to Owen, one of his friends really has two penises. And he’s seen them. So later that week, in the bath, Owen looked down at his own penis and pointed. “Two penises!”. He was looking at his penis and his balls. While stifling my giggles, I attempted to tell him that those were his balls. No sooner had that come out of my mouth, then Benjamin interjects, “You can’t call them balls! He plays with balls all day! That’s too confusing.”. And that, ladies and gents, is how my 2 year old learned the word testicles.

For several months now, Owen has been very interested in his body parts, and naming his body parts, and looking at our body parts and comparing them to his body parts, and finding similar body parts on the dog and his stuffed animals… the list goes on. I get it. It’s all very interesting and there are so many nuances. And every body is different. I’ve done my best to answer his questions factually, without putting unneeded vagueness or secrecy around “private parts” in an effort to plant the seed that bodies are something to be proud of, not embarrassed of.

An ear is an ear, a toe is a toe, a vagina is a vagina. Simple as that.

As a modern, liberated woman, I am proud of the fact that I haven’t introduced shame-inducing words like wee wee and girly parts. But at the same time, the ladylike side of me kicks in and wonders if my two year old is going to be the only one on the playground talking about testicles. For instance, in the grocery store Owen thinks nothing of asking the checkout guy, “You have a penis?”. My openness about talking about this stuff at home is a serious liability in public.

What do you call penises and vaginas at your house? Is this a phase that will pass once I give him the information he wants to know, or is this the beginning of a lifelong love affair with talking about his penis? How many of you have experienced having your child talk about YOUR vagina in public?

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20 responses to “She Says… Penises and Vaginas

  1. We are in the “penis and vagina” camp in our house as well <—I knew that wouldn't come out sounding right! Although I do catch myself saying "birdie" because that's what they both were called when I was a kid. However, I have no problem emphasizing that his (and everyone else's) penis and vaginas are private parts. I don't consider that this means they are "bad" and shouldn't be named. I emphasize this for the fact that I want him to realize that it's not okay to have it on display like his hands or ears because it's not appropriate. I want him to understand that it's not ok for anyone else to "invade his privacy" and vice versa. And that doesn't mean that he can't talk about it freely because that is fair game. I guess I put a "manners" spin on it. You know, say "excuse me" when you burp and keep your penis in your pants :-D

  2. @Angie, Totally agree! Very important lessons there. Glad to know other 2 year olds are as interested as Owen.

  3. Oh my I’m laughing to almost the point of tears here!! We told our daughter it’s a hoo-hah, and I can’t for the life of me remember what we said about penises. I will never forget telling her to “wash your hoo-hah really good” in the bath one night, and when she went to her Nana’s house she repeated the term “hoo-hah”, which Nana had never heard before, and she just laughed and laughed and laughed at me (in a kind way, not mean LOL!!)

    I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with whatever you want to call them when kiddos are little. I just know we went with the “girly term” in our house. Now that she’s 9, almost 10, we’ve amended it to the vagina, but I still don’t know if we’ve ever talked about penises with her. Almost makes me want to go ask her LOL!!

  4. Doggie penis. That just made my Friday. I’m telling you…this age is full of wonder, and absolutely no filters. (BTW, we are all the tradish “penis” and “vagina” in our house.)

  5. At 2 years old we have taught my daughter to use “penis” and “vagina”. For one reason, because there is nothing wrong with those words! The second reason is safety. I know it’s a little over cautious and not something we ever want to think about, but social workers, police, etc. ask parents to teach their kids the correct words so that if anything ever happens to them there is no confusion over slang terms.

  6. therapeuticbaking

    This is a time when I’m a tiny bit thankful my son isn’t as verbal as Owen!! I tend to call his penis his “willy” but I would like to as you have done and use the proper terminology. I am breastfeeding my second son and my eldest calls my breasts “boo-boos” and I’m totally okay with that. I’d rather not him say “breasts” to whomever comes over for a playdate. There is a big fascination with the “boo-boos” around here! Just wait for that, Kate, when you have another baby. Owen will be talking all about that part of your body to everyone!

  7. This was a funny read, lol. Unfortunately, I got into the habit of calling my son’s penis his “Junk”. I blame my husband for that too. As for vagina’s we haven’t encountered that yet.. lol.

  8. I’m with you, I call a spade a spade, so I openly use the term penis or vagina. It’s funny though because the exact same thing happened to me the other day when my son (not quite 2 yet) pointed to his “balls” as to inquire as to what they were, and the first word to come out of my mouth was balls! I immediately retracted that statement when I realized that the word balls could easily be confused with the toy balls he plays with on a daily basis. So I too taught him the word testicles :)

  9. HAHAHA!! Just read this out loud to my hubby – too funny! We haven’t gotten the vagina question yet, and I’m surprised since D likes to watch me change his baby sister’s diaper. He definitely knows “penis” though, and as much as I cringe saying vagina, I know that ultimately that’s the right way to go.

  10. Dying laughing. Penis is one of Liam’s new favorite words, too– perhaps I’ve been saying it too often in an attempt to make him forget that Rob called it a “wiener.” (They both think that’s hilarious. I die.) We’ll call everything by it’s correct name, emphasize manners and privacy while attempting not to create any embarrassment or shame. I’ll let you know how that goes. ;)

  11. P.S. LMAO at Sara’s “junk :)

  12. Can’t believe no one’s asked the most important question. Did the checkout guy have a penis or not?

  13. So what do you think of the fact that a vagina is not actually visible from the exterior and has nothing to do with peeing? I’ve hesitated to teach h that word because her vagina isn’t doing much if anything durin this stage of ER life. I agree with the reasons for using correct terminology…except that vagina isn’t really what we’re talking about anyhow. Vulva or urethra might be more correct, but they seem a little too technical. So, for the moment we say “pee pee”. Not super happy wih that either but we an always change.

  14. We are also in the “penis” and “vagina” camp. And, based on my experience with a daughter two years older than your son, they never tire of talking about it.

  15. Oh, EFF. Thank you for warning me that this is right around the corner. I thought I had waaaay more time before we got to these questions. Similarly to you, we’ll stick with naming things accurately. I cannot believe I have to think about this already!

  16. I laughed out loud reading this. My LO doesn’t nearly have the verbal skills yet (only 15.5 months) but she is fascinated with her vagina when we change her diaper. Just as we say the body part names when she touches her nose or ear, we say vagina when she touches it during her diaper changes and baths. We’re in the vagina and penis camp too. No silly names.

  17. We say vagina and penis as well. I believe in teaching them the real name at an early age. My oldest is in 5th grade and has a friend that calls his penis a “turtle”. I feel like this is really strange……..

  18. The two penis part had me cracking up!! My son actually referred to his balls….as well balls on his own at about age two or three after some intense investigation in the bathtub. We regularly refer to their parts properly. My daughter knows she has a vagina, and my son a penis. Like another commenter I struggle with just using vagina, because that’s not “where the potty comes out.” Anyway….I hate to disagree or start something, but we do not put the term “private parts” in to the same camp as hoo-ha or other silly made up things. It’s not silly or made up. It’s true. I have an almost six year old. And he absolutely needs to know that his penis is a private part. He’s old enough to not get dressed and undressed in front of people who are not care givers. He has always very much enjoyed being naked, so this was a fun one to slowly teach. =) He is also old enough to just start to understand that we “protect” our private parts from strangers. So, while he knows it’s his penis, and that’s all he calls it, we also teach him that it is private. I’m all about being free with our bodies, but I’m also all about stranger danger. Sorry, this sounds so negative! I hate typing because there’s no “voice” in it! Just putting another perspective out there! We are all learning as we go!

  19. And, I just went back and read through the comments and I see that someone else said about the same thing! =) Whoops!

  20. My 2 year old female cousin was taught to use “vagina” by her mom for all the same reasons: safety, calling it what it is, etc. Well, I had her for the day to spend the time together and as we were in the car driving home, I noticed her picking her nose so I said to her, “Ew, booger eater. Don’t pick your nose.” She recounted with “Butt eater. Poopie eater”. So, I said, “at least I’m not a booger eater.” Where she answered with “Vagina eater.” I didn’t know what to say to that or where she got it from, I guess she connected butts, poop, and vagina. Still it stopped me in my tracks.

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