If there’s one thing guaranteed to make me want to put my head down on my desk in despair, it’s grown-ups being afraid to use the word ‘vagina’.
Some of these are fully-grown women, nonetheless, many of whom have pushed actual human babies out via the body part they are too nervous to identify by name.
Nonsensical, isn’t it? But frighteningly ubiquitous. According to gynaecological research charity the Eve Appeal, as many as two fifths of parents prefer euphemisms including ‘bits’, ‘front bottom’, ‘flower’ or ‘fairy’. What’s more, less than a fifth use the word ‘vagina’ and less than 1% use ‘vulva’ in front of their daughters. A third say this would only be appropriate once they turned 11.
What’s really shocking is that I’ve seen this happen first-hand, too many times to mention. I’ve heard mothers confess they were so flustered by their toddler sons asking if “girls have willies too” that they stammered a hurried “yes” and changed the subject.
I’ve read Twitter threads about teachers agreeing only to say ‘penis’ while delivering sex education lessons, but not ‘vagina’; and I remember my own friends at primary school gesturing vaguely downwards and talking about their “foo-foo” or “noonie” or even the particularly antiquated and mind-boggling “lady-garden”.
Then there’s the time I got called in to my daughter’s nursery (daycare in Australia) for a sudden “safeguarding” meeting with management, over her use of “inappropriate language”, aged two.
The language? You guessed it: she referred to her vagina, as a.... vagina.
My husband and I sat there, open-mouthed, as the (admittedly caring and wonderful) nursery staff blushed their way through telling us what she’d said.
“We’ve never heard children this young using this kind of language before,” they admitted. We pointed out then, as I’ll point out now, that it was nothing but basic common sense that dictated our decision to tell our daughter the correct anatomical names for parts of her body.
“Take away language and we disempower our children.”
After all, most parents probably wouldn’t disguise the correct name for an elbow by calling it an “army-endy”, or describe a foot as a “standy-pandy-part’, would they? If they did, we’d all be laughing (or feeling very confused).
And what a grave and serious wrong it is to fail to equip our children with the ability to accurately describe parts of their own body – especially when recent statistics from the NSPCC show that as many as one in 20 British children have experienced some form of sexual abuse.
If we don’t teach kids terms such as ‘vagina’ and ‘vulva’, or ‘penis’ and ‘testicles’, how on earth can we expect them to be able to tell us if – heaven forbid – anything was wrong? If they were in pain, say; or somebody touched them somewhere they shouldn’t?
The partner of a colleague, who teaches Year Two in primary school, taught her pupils the names of their body parts to the tune of “Heads, Shoulders, Penis, Toes, Penis, Toes” and the girls sang the same, only with “vagina”. Good on her.
Take away language, and we disempower our children. Our own embarrassment simply isn’t worth it.
It’s a vagina. Get over it.