I once sat on a barstool on stage alongside four other women and performed a piece about pubic hair before simulating the sound of a multiple orgasm. It was, as you may have guessed, a production of The Vagina Monologues. A liberating experience, although perhaps just a bit embarrassing for my husband who was sitting in the audience, next to my Dad.
I tell you this to prove that I am not a prude, far from it. However I still can’t quite get my head around casually slipping the word ‘vulva’ into everyday conversation without a blush or a snigger. With two young daughters, it seems like I’ll have to get used it though as health and education professionals are encouraging parents to use accurate language when talking about genitals.
It’s a question that often crops up in The Motherload®’s Facebook group: “What do you call a girl’s private parts?”
We all grew up with different nicknames that seemed normal enough in our own families but when you start sharing them it’s interesting and often amusing how many variations there are.
From front bottom, fanny, fairy and foof to noonie, hoo-ha and peach. Some call it mary, lulu or betsy. Others say flower, tuppence, twinkle or muff. Two sisters revealed their mum and dad had always called it their “letterbox” which still makes them giggle every time the postman pushes a parcel through the flaps.
The abbreviation “gina” is popular too, to rhyme with miner or diner not pronounced like the popstar Gina G who could have been singing about vaginismus in her 90s hit Ooh Aah Just A Little Bit.
There was some disbelief and even disgust expressed at some of the more “cutesy” names offered up. “I find it weird and creepy,” said one MOLO, “There’s no other body part you’d be scared of naming correctly.” We don’t always use the proper words though, particularly with kids. Did you tell the child who pointed at your bump that you had a foetus in your uterus? No, of course not, you told them you had a baby in your tummy. That’s not anatomically accurate information or vocabulary but we all say it.
There is a school of thought that using the correct terms may help to protect a child from abuse by allowing them to alert anyone touching them inappropriately that they have adequate language to explain what has happened and that may assist in achieving prosecution if offences are committed.
A short film to educate parents has recently been released by Sandyford, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde’s sexual health service. It features a Dad who is shocked at first when his young daughter says the word ‘vulva’.
You may be surprised too to hear that particular V-word and not the other one, ‘vagina’. The difference really is that one describes the whole external area and the other is the internal birth canal. Fair enough if you’re at the more advanced stage of explaining to your child the exit route a baby takes in natural labour, how it got in there in the first place or where you’re putting that tampon but otherwise do you really mean vagina? My two aren’t at school yet and we’re only ever really referring to the parts they can see, whether they need or a wash in the bath or a wipe after a wee so vulva is the catch-all catchphrase.
Even if your daughter is aware of the accurate words, she may still want to hang onto a nickname she is happy with using as well. “We wanted her to feel empowered so we asked her what she wanted to call her bits,” said one MOLO. The answer was “my wedge”.
I fear if I put the same question to my 4 year old, she would not only change her mind on a daily basis but come up with either a silly made-up word or a girl’s first name, probably pinched from whichever friend is most in favour that week.
We seemed to get by for a long while without deciding on a word, it’s not like you get a book to choose from like when you’re naming your baby. My husband and I jokingly said “bajinga” for a bit which we had picked up from an episode of Scrubs when junior doctor Elliott wanted to work in gynaecology but couldn’t bring herself to use the terminology. That didn’t seem ideal to teach our daughters though.
In the end I overheard my eldest in the loo with a little friend who said to her rather sweetly, “now remember to wipe your minny”. So we went for that. I’ve never had to consider before how to spell it; I just know it shouldn’t have a capital M or bear too much resemblance to a small car or a cartoon mouse.
I will have to tell her in due course that it’s really called a vulva. Although knowing her, she will probably tell me first.
About Jill Misson
Mum of two girls who fortunately likes the colour pink. Jill works in radio, producing and presenting programmes which basically means she gets paid to talk. Loves baking and eating cakes but no longer gets to lick the spoon now she has little helpers. You can follow Jill on Twitter and Facebook
Image credit: Jill Misson