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Vulvas and Penises - Deciding what to call down there

by lizzi (follow)
Helping plant the seeds of positive birth. www.sproutbirthing.com.au
So you might be able to guess what this blog post is about – it’s about genitals and what we call them. I will warn you now – If you are uncomfortable with the correct anatomical names for genitals, this is not the post for you. If you are uncomfortable with slang names for genitals this is not the post for you either. If you are uncomfortable with genitals in general then a pregnancy, birth and parenting blog probably isn’t the best place to be hanging out - my writing features vaginas a lot.

All my life I was really uncomfortable talking about “down there”. I was not comfortable with either the slang or scientific names for those parts and just avoided talking about them. Even through my first pregnancy I managed to avoid mentioning my vagina. I had a little girl and still managed to avoid mention of vaginas. Then my baby girl became a toddler. A toddler who liked to shower with mummy. A toddler who would point to mummy’s “down there” and say “mummy’s bottom”. And that was just weird because, it’s not my bottom.

So just why did we decide to go with anatomical terms for genitals? Well for one, I’m studying to be a doula. There was a whole chapter in my training manual on ensuring that I use correct terms when talking with clients and I figured that life would just be easier if I used correct terms all the time. Since I wasn’t comfortable with slang or correct terms I may as well just get used to using correct terms and continue to be uncomfortable with slang terms. I have heard people say that they don’t like the word “vagina” because of its origins. The word vagina comes from the Latin word for “sheath” or “scabbard”: ie: somewhere to put your dagger or sword. But I’m okay with that simply because so many of our modern words have dodgy backgrounds and I’m not really keen to start my own language. I’m also not comfortable with the slang words because of their double meanings. A “cunt” is considered to be the worst swear word and insult possible. A “pussy” is weak and unmanly (or a cat – which could be considered insulting on its own!). “Fanny” was the little girl out of The Magic Faraway Tree. “Beaver” is just weird – my vagina is not a semi aquatic, dam building rodent. And I’m not really sure what a “va-jay jay” is even supposed to be – I’m sure whoever came up with that didn’t realise they would sound like a total “twat”.

The female genitals - there's a lot happening "down there". Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

What to call it seems to be a tricky decision based on a huge range of personal beliefs and cultural norms. Think about it – we have a vagina, labia (both minora and majora), vulva, pubic bone, clitoris and urethra all located in that region (that’s before we even venture towards the back...). And then there are all the possible slang terms. And that seems confusing enough for most adults let alone a toddler. So we went with vulva. It was simple and easy to pronounce and encompasses the whole area. Miss toddler took to the distinction between bottom and vulva very quickly and easily and all seemed to be going well. My partner advised that he’d “never heard it called that before”, but he too seemed to get it. So we ensure that we say “wipe your vulva AND your bottom” at potty time and distinguish between the two as necessary.

That could be the end of the story...If our second bub hadn’t been a boy. We had to make this decision all over again with a different set of genitals. And I had the same issue: I’m just not comfortable with using the slang terms. A “cock” is a male chicken, or a cockhead is the guy doing burnouts in front of my parents place in the rain; a “dick” is my old boss; a “doodle” is something you do on paper when you’re on the phone to someone you don’t want to talk to and “willy” always makes me think of the “free the willy” scene in an old Jag episode.* So we stuck with penis. It’s nice and simple.

I couldn't find an appropriate picture of the male genitals - so here's a male cycad. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Of course you can still find yourself in odd situations when using correct terms: One day I was taking miss toddler to the toilet and she tells me “I have my own vulva. And mummy has her own vulva”. Yep that’s accurate. “And daddy has his own vulva and the baby dude has his own vulva”. I respond: “Daddy and the baby dude have their own penises. Just me and you have vulvas because we’re awesome”. And then I heard my dad laughing his ass off in the next room...

What are the norms in your family? Technical terms or slang?

In an old episode of JAG, Bud and his wife (whose name escapes me at the moment) ordered a movie while staying in a hotel. Bud thought he’d ordered the children’s movie “Free Willy”, turns out he accidentally ordered the porno movie “Free the Willy”. Awkward.

** Just for the record we also refer to all other body parts by their real names too…elbows, arms, ears, legs…
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I refer to every area down there as vagina - but only because I find something "off putting" with the word vulva.
I also use the word penis quite easily but hate the word scrotum.
You're definitely not alone! I've had a number of people say the same thing. I also find something "off putting" about the word scrotum and I don't think I've ever used it. having a son now I guess I'll probably have to get used to it eventually!!
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