two smiling fathers read a storybook to a young child sitting between them

Genitals, like other body parts, are healthy, good, and essential to our physical well-being. We name them “private parts” because they are generally off-limits to others. We keep them covered. However, these body parts are not so private that we can’t speak about them respectfully, with their proper names.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of our body parts

One of our society’s deepest-set norms is that we don’t mention the anatomically correct names of our private body parts. Some parents use slang words and silly names when referring to them. In fact, many families don’t use any names at all. They are too embarrassed to even acknowledge those parts exist.

We should use plain and accurate language when referring to private parts. In other words, use the correct medical terms to name body parts. Incorrect names send the message that genitals are shameful, naughty, wrong, bad, and that it’s rude to mention them.

Statistics: 89% of children know the names of their non-genital body parts, vs. 10% of children know the correct name of their genitalia
 Slang names increase risks of child sexual abuse

When we teach kids incorrect names for private body parts, kids get the message that they will get in trouble if they speak about private body parts. They may not confide in adults if someone touches them inappropriately. This practice can shut down vital communication for children, who need adults to help them understand the world.

Sexual abusers rely on secrets and silence to commit their sexual acts. If children believe they cannot even say the names of their private parts, they send a message to abusers that they are safe targets. Abusers think children who are ashamed of their bodies will likely be too embarrassed to ever tell anyone.

How to Teach Children Proper Names for Private Body Parts
What do pediatricians recommend? Let's take a closer look! The American Academy of Pediatrics supports teaching children the correct medical names of private body parts. These names include: Scrotum, Breast, Rectum, Vulva, Penis, Testicles

Research shows that 89% of children know the names for their non-genital body parts. Yet, only 10% know the correct names for genitalia. Clinicians generally agree that using the correct terminology for private parts enhances children’s body image, confidence, and openness.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics supports teaching children the correct medical names. These include penis, scrotum, testicles, vagina, vulva, and breasts. These proper names for private parts can be taught to children before they can speak. Parents can use opportunities around bathing, diapering, and potty time to mention these words. 

When we teach kids the standard medical names, they are more likely to be better protected. They are also more likely to be able to avoid abuse or talk about it, if it happens. Parents, we don’t refer to hands as “grabbers,” mouths are not called “chomp-chomps,” and noses are not “smelly-wellies.”  So, let’s stop referring to private parts with silly, confusing names. Teach children the proper names for private body parts.

When to have the conversation? Teaching your child the proper names of their body parts can start as early as before they can event start to speak! Ideally, educating your child on the proper names of their private body parts should start as soon as they are potty training.
Use a storybook to help teach your children proper names for private parts

On our Bookshelf page, we list some great story books for young children. These books teach about proper names for private parts, body safety and boundaries, and consent. Check out the descriptions and consider choosing one of these books for story-time.

It’s easier to keep children safe from sexual abuse if you start early and talk to them often. You can also check out our Prevention Guides for Parents for tips on how to speak to your children about ways to keep safe and how they can speak to you anytime about any touching that confuses them or makes them feel unsafe.