Generally speaking, girls have vaginas. Boys have penises. I did not think this was a groundbreaking thing to teach a 4-year-old (even at 2), but it is according to her teacher, who informed me my kid was telling other kids that babies come out of vaginas. First, I was so proud. Then I realized she was asking me to make her stop.
Like Kellie we have always taught the Minky the proper words for his body parts. There are an abundance of reasons why we made that choice, but to me not only does it make good sense for a child to understand anatomy in concrete terms (rather than euphemisms), but as the above article from Jezebel and the Atlantic article it references points out it can help to keep kids safe.
Teaching children anatomically correct terms, age-appropriately, says Laura Palumbo, a prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), promotes positive body image, self confidence, and parent-child communication; discourages perpetrators; and, in the event of abuse, helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process.
Sure, teaching these words can lead to the occasional moment when it is hard to keep a straight face with your 18 month old who is repeatedly announcing/pointing to his penis in the bathtub. Not that this has ever happened to me or anything (hah!). But if the worst thing I have to endure is holding back a smirk while I nod and say “yes, that is your penis,” I think the trade-off is probably worth it.
Our culture has a weird duality in dealing with our bodies. Sexualized imagery is ubiquitous, yet at the same time we seem to have a collective cultural shame in actually talking about bodies. As a trans person, especially, I am keenly aware of that odd mix of fascination/embarrassment with which western culture approaches talking about bodies. Using anatomically correct language with our kids is a little thing with a potentially big impact, and a step that I would encourage every parent to take. Using penis & vagina (and other similar words) early on promotes trust and safety, and sets the stage for further good conversations around sexuality as they get older.