When our eldest daughter was not yet four years old, we had a shared babysitting arrangement with the couple across the street from us. Their young son would stay overnight with us when they were away, and they would reciprocate when we needed help.
At our place, we often put the two kids in the tub together at bedtime and watched them splash around for awhile before bathing them. They were good pals, used to playing together, and the bathroom was always filled with squeals of delight and happy splashing.
We were surprised one evening, though, when the little boy had a new question for our daughter. “Where’s your winker?” he asked. We understood immediately what he was enquiring about (in all innocence), but she didn’t.
We had to stifle our laughter when she began scrunching up her face in an attempt to wink at him. He kept asking, and she kept winking, first one eye, then the other.
I don’t recall now if he ever got an answer to his question, but what my wife and I realized was that his parents had chosen not to use anatomically-correct terms for his sexual body-parts, at least not at that age. We had no problem with that—he was their son, after all—but we had deliberately opted to do it differently.
Unlike some of our friends, we began almost immediately with both our daughters to use correct terminology for all their body-parts. Nose wasn’t sniffer, for example, nor hands feelers. Their stomachs weren’t tubbies, nor their toes piggies—except in the nursery-rhyme they came to love.
In the same way, their anus wasn’t a poo-poo bum, and their urethral opening wasn’t a pee-hole. A bowel movement was just that, or a BM, but never a shit. And they always used a toilet, never a toidy—even when they had their own mini-version.
By the time both our daughters were in mid-elementary school, they knew the correct names, and were aware of the differences between female and male anatomies. They knew, for instance that Daddy had a penis, but they and Mummy had vaginas instead; that all of us had breasts and nipples, but theirs, unlike mine, would grow larger as they got older; that pubic hair was normal for everyone beyond a certain age.
As time went on, as it became appropriate for them to know, they learned other terms, too—testicles, scrotum, clitoris, vulva—and were unembarrassed about them. That was a critical point for us, that they would not giggle nervously, or be mortified to ask us, when they began to have questions about their burgeoning sexuality.
Even after a certain, respectful distance had developed between me and them as they matured into young women, they remained unafraid to engage both of us in their conversations on sexual matters.
Along the way, we tried to ensure they understood that certain body parts were private—whatever is covered by your bathing-suit, we told them.
We didn’t ignore the fact that people often use different terminology, however. In order that our girls not appear unduly geeky to their friends, we made sure they knew about various slang-terms they might hear for female parts, even as we encouraged them not to use them. Such terms included: vajayjay, muff, pussy, beaver, hooters, knockers, or jugs. We wanted them to be, not shocked or judgmental when they heard these words, but aware and prepared.
The sex curriculum in schools today, at least in progressive districts, uses correct terminology. In the jurisdiction we live in, the objective is to promote physical and emotional health and safety, wholesome relationships, and mutual respect among the learners. The curriculum deals with such issues as: stages of childhood development, naming body parts accurately, puberty, personal hygiene, the reproductive system, sexual orientation, choosing wisely about sexual activity, STD’s, pregnancy prevention, relationships and intimacy, consent and personal limits, and mental health.
Many parents today believe that schools are not the places where such instruction should be given. The child’s parents should be the ones to do that, they say, and in the child’s home. Some of our politicians, vying for election, are pandering to such folks by threatening to rescind the curriculum.
The problem with that, as I see it, is that too many parents would not provide their children with an adequate sex education—perhaps because it contradicts their beliefs, perhaps because they find it embarrassing, or perhaps because they, themselves, don’t know how. But their children will learn of these things, regardless, and their instructors will be schoolmates, video-games, internet porn purveyors, or other unscrupulous parties.
How is that better for children?
And that is the question that should always be at the forefront. Too often, we make decisions on behalf of children for reasons that are not in their best interest, but instead, to justify our own opinions and beliefs.
From the vantage point of a grandfather now, I can agree that home might be the best place for children to learn what they need to know about their sexual beings, just as I believed—and put into practice—when I was a young father. But what of those homes where it will not happen, and what of the children who live in those homes? Do they not deserve the opportunity to acquire the same knowledge, the same self-respect, the same appreciation of others’ circumstances granted to those in homes where the information is provided?
Do they not deserve the same opportunity to protect themselves and their bodies from those who would prey upon them?
My daughter still laughs when we recall the winker story, even though she doesn’t really remember the bathtub encounter. But never once in their lives has either of our girls had to plead ignorance or embarrassment when conversations of a sexual nature have arisen among their friends. They’ve always known the truth.
And now, thanks to their parenting, so do our grandchildren.