Michelle Medvin taught her son the proper words to describe his anatomy, including his penis.
So the production manager was distraught when her 3-year-old came home from his Brookfield day care with a new name for his penis: goodies.
“They told us they use pet terms because some parents aren’t comfortable with their kids using the real words,” Medvin said.
Parents in Idaho complained to the Idaho State Department of Education after a science teacher used the word “vagina” when he was teaching human reproduction, while Michigan state Rep. Lisa Brown caused an uproar and wasn’t allowed back onto the House floor after uttering the word “vagina.”
Across the nation, there appears to be a big problem with the word vagina, and one group of motivated women wants to put a stop to it.
The women, who are a mix of doctors, entrepreneurs and other activists, launched a health awareness campaign called Legalize V to take back the word “vagina.”
Legalize V’s Facebook advertisements were repeatedly pulled from Facebook, with Facebook sending notices explaining, “We don’t allow ads that use profanity.”
The group also made a parody video, bleeping out the word “vagina,” to explain its mission.
That, too, was banned.
The group refused to budge and popped its message back up on Facebook, where it remains currently.
“Even in the bleeped-out state, Facebook banned it,” said Karen Long, California-based founder and CEO of Nuelle. Long’s company sells a sexual wellness and intimate product for women who have trouble getting aroused. Her product, too, was banned from advertising on Facebook. The Chicago Tribune reached out to Facebook and was told that the ban was a mistake.
The use of the word vagina isn’t a new issue.
When she was growing up in the Chicago suburbs, Rachel Zahorsky Thompson’s parents never mentioned the words “penis” or “vagina.”
“It was inferred that you kept those parts covered, and it was private, but there was never a discussion about their function or why we kept them covered,” Zahorsky said. “I think that, at some point, my mom whispered to me, this is your pee pee, and that’s your butt — but it was just in reference to me going to the bathroom.”
And that was it. All sex and body-function conversations were completely taboo too.
Now 37 and with her own baby, Thompson decided that it was time to change. She plans to teach her son the proper name for his penis, and she’ll be open with him about anything he wants to know.
“I don’t want it to be a cutesy name because I don’t want it to be a joke,” Thompson said.
While Thompson’s parents are older, even younger parents continue to use substitutes for penis and vagina today.
About half of the time, parents use pet words for the anatomy when they take their children to his office, said Dr. Scott Goldstein, a pediatrician with Northwestern Children’s Practice and instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
But Goldstein said he’d prefer that parents use the proper terminology.
“It is important to teach children the name of their body parts, so that they are comfortable understanding and communicating about their bodies,” Goldstein said. “Just like it would be odd to teach a child to call their eye a ‘see see’ or their hand a ‘touchy touchy,’ it can be infantilizing and discomforting to encourage them to use euphemisms or unique words to discuss their genitals.”
Beyond that, sexual abuse educators stress that it’s important that children know the correct names for their genitals, so that they’re better equipped to discuss sexual abuse.
That’s the reason Tiffany Ruddle, a stay-at-home-mother, is teaching her children the proper terminology, despite having herself learned to call penises “piglets” and vaginas “peepees.”
“I am still horrified that I grew up calling a penis a piglet,” Ruddle said. “Thanks, Mom.”
Danielle Braff is a freelancer.