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Why Are We Afraid to Teach Kids to Say Vagina?

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Watching The View this morning, one of the topics being discussed made me turn up the volume more loudly to be certain I was hearing correctly. The controversy whirred around body parts, more specifically reproductive parts, and what we, as parents, should be teaching our children to call them. As the cast talked over each other, the women, and one man, celebrity co-host and chef Tyler Florence, gave their respective opinions of how kids should be referring to their genitalia. The consensus: It just doesn't seem right to hear a little girl referring to her breasts. Boobies is much cuter.

Because we're concerned about the cuteness of these body parts on a seven-year-old?

I had no idea this was even still a topic worthy of televised debate, but after four of the five panel members admitted to giving their children's private parts cutesy nicknames, and after picking up my jaw from the sofa, I am still convinced the round table discussion was scripted. These people can't really believe that the word areola should not be spoken by children. And furthermore surely...SURELY no grown woman refers to her vagina as a cookie...at least I think she referred to it as that but I can't be certain since she was saying it in a baby voice. Right, Sherri Shepherd?

Having had this conversation with my friends when I was a young mother with little children, it was made very clear that the days of being scared to call a penis a penis were far gone. Although I, myself, have never heard my mother use any of the appropriate terms, I was, or at least I thought I was, parenting in a generation where children were not supposed to be scared of their anatomy, and as such, from the very first child, it never occurred to me that issuing pseudonyms to a scrotum was even an option.

The rationale behind this switch in old-fashioned ideologies that had us as children referring to our vaginas as tulips, yoohoos, noonies, and ~insert childhood vagina nickname of choice~ was to protect our own children; to give them power over their bodies and a voice should, God forbid, they ever have to defend themselves. Giving proper names to private body parts revokes the mystique behind genitalia, and makes it easier for children to engage in dialogue with their parents about these private parts.

As a young adolescent, I remember fearing the day I would get my period because I didn't even know the proper name for a sanitary napkin. Frightened not only by the appearance of this blood from my noony that now meant I was "a woman" according to the whispered aside my mother had offered helpfully one day when I caught her hiding her pads in the very back of her closet, I was also tormented by the thought of having to tell her that I too now needed...wait for it...a "sandwich" because my panties were bloody. At least the Tooth Fairy left me a quarter when I lost a tooth. The very least Mother Nature could have done was leave me a box of Tampax under my pillow.

This is not the case with my daughter, as she tells of this one and that one who has started her period, and ever the over-achiever, my kid has a stockpile of a variety of sanitary products tucked away in her schoolbag, dance bag, and dresser drawer awaiting the moment she will get to crack that first box. The growth of pubic hair is announced publicly in our home, and although not celebrated like the loss of a baby tooth, none of the adolescents are ashamed of the respective changes in their bodies, or approaching me with various concerns about said respective changes.

It had never occurred to me, all these years later, after referring to my children's anatomy by the appropriate names that this was even still an issue. We don't find a cute name for an arm, so why the shame in calling breasts, breasts? Although The View panel was trying to yuck it up, to hear an adult in today's society, where arming our children with knowledge and self-awareness in every other aspect of their lives is potentially tantamount to saving their lives, i.e. stranger danger awareness, cyber-bullying awareness, drug awareness -- to hear Joy Behar say that a penis is not a name you give to a little boy's...well, penis, rather a name used when speaking about a grown man's, my head shook in awe and wonder.

If children grow up hearing nonsensical words describing body parts, confusion, shame, and embarrassment are going to be associated with them. By labeling genitalia by any other word than what it really is barricades the way for questions, concerns, and dialogue related to their biological function. And sure, you may think it's acceptable to call a vagina a little flowery name when your little girl is in diapers, but guess what, you aren't all of a sudden going to shirk the nickname in lieu of the proper one when the time comes to talk about the importance of birth control and sex.

Again, I will admit though, as interesting as it was watching the panel on The View confess to referring to a penis as a "peepee" or as celebrity chef Tyler Florence proudly proclaimed of his son's "wienie," the best laugh I've had in a long time is when Whoopi Goldberg interjected and said, "You can't say [I'm making a hot dog]! Then the kid runs around thinking you're going to cook him."

Point made, Whoopi.

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