It's not a 'lady garden' it's a vulva

No laughing matter ... What words should children use for private parts?
No laughing matter ... What words should children use for private parts? Photo: Getty Images

Charlotte Caruso is not keen on having one of her two young daughters talking about their "vulva" in the supermarket.

That is why the Perth mother has taught them to talk about their "front bum" and "behind bum."

"Pee bird", "hotdog buns", "peek-a-choo"; these are all actual names parents have given to their children to refer to their private parts according to one online forum but there are plenty of others.

The topic of what words parents should get their children to use when referring to their nether regions is a much talked about one online.

Browsing through the many opinions online, what might happen when the child who calls her private parts a "Suzie," when she is one day introduced to an actual person named Suzie?

Associate professor Rosemary Coates, a sexologist from Curtin University insisted that parents should be using the terms "vulva" and "penis".

"You should teach them the accurate terms," she said.

Many parents who commented online that they were in favour of using the biological terms were confused or embarrassed about whether to get their children to use the term vulva or vagina for the female parts.

Associate professor Coates insisted vulva was the more correct term.


"Vulva is correct as it is inclusive of all the female genitalia," she said.

"As a child grows up they don't have any understanding of the power of these words, it is only when people use it for something unpleasant that children start to get embarrassed."

She said while people used body parts in ways to describe negative things, these were not the natural uses of the words.

"In adulthood some terms are used in pejorative ways such as 'dickhead' and the very rude terms people use for female body parts.

"We've been socialised to be secretive about body parts which makes it difficult.

"We will teach a child what a nose is, not call it a 'sniffy', so why not say 'penis'?"

Associate professor Coates said it was important to let children know that not everyone would use the same words for these body parts but the correct terms were "vulva" and "penis".

"The more parents do it, the more it will become normal and we won't feel embarrassed about using the correct terms," she said.

Associate professor Coates said it would gradually become more accepted.

She said while it was not a topic that most wanted to think about, teaching children the correct terms for body parts also helped in cases of sexual abuse, meaning children could be clearer in expressing themselves and there was not so much risk for confusion.

She said parents feeling embarrassed was one factor why they did not teach their children the biologically correct terms for body parts, but it also had to do with religion, historical reasons and conservatism of older generations including grandparents.

When asked about the supermarket scenario, associate professor Coates said that kids generally had pretty good instincts on when to say certain things.

"We don't generally talk about picking noses in public, why talk about scratching your penis?"

Ms Carusso is the founder of the family friendly online radio station PuggleFM and mother of two daughters who are four and six years of age.

She said while she had explained to her daughters that the technical term for what they call "front bottom" is a vagina, she said she preferred that only be used in private.

Ms Carusso said while she did not agree with teaching kids "silly terms" that had no or little connection to what they were, she was more comfortable with using the word "bum" than "vagina" in public.

"While I appreciate that is best practice, it's not always practical," Ms Carusso said.

She admitted that it was partly the embarrassment factor that stopped her from encouraging her children to use the terms associate professor Coates suggested.

Ms Carusso said as long as her children used a term that made some sort of sense, she made them feel comfortable about talking to her about any topic and they were taught protective behaviour measures, she felt comfortable in her parenting.

WAtoday's resident mummy blogger Elissa Griesser said while she had not taught her two boys who are two and five, the word "penis", she was happy with them using the word "willy" until the conversation came up.

"We've not consciously gone out of our way not to teach them the word "penis".

She said she and her husband had not put a lot of consideration into what they would get their boys to call their private parts, but "willy" just seemed natural and it was a word they could use as they got older.

Ms Griesser said it was a topic worthy of more discussion within parent circles.

What have you taught your child to call their genitalia?