Hey, we’ve all been there, googling Girl Body Parts Name. What on earth do you call your child’s privates? We don’t want to be cute – but we don’t want to have to say vulva, or vagina!
Or do we?
“That woman has a vulva. And that one. She’s got one, probably, and her too. There are vulvas EVERYWHERE.” We were at the pool, in the changing room, and Ramona was quite accurately pointing out that there were vulvas all over the place. Did I want the slippery, pube littered tiled floor to open up and swallow me? Just a little? Oh Yep. I had taught my daughter the word vulva on purpose… but I wasn’t ready for that.
I’ve come a long way since then, I like to think that these days I would barely bat an eye lid at the word vulva announced loudly across a public place. In fact, now when my children talk about vulvas I am pleased as punch. (Read more about my sex positive parenting here.)
I read in the news at the weekend about a new entry into the Swedish dictionary “snippa” – a version of “willy” but for girls, because none of the nicknames or the anatomical words seemed to be good enough.
I don’t know Swedish, and despite being a massive, MASSIVE fan of the Dime Bar cake they sell at IKEA, I can’t comment on how worthy the Swedish version of vulva is.But I do hope we don’t create a new British word for female genitals as VULVA is a beaut. There are many reasons ‘vulva’ should be a part of our vocab, but the very last reason is vital, something every parent needs to know.
I reckon it just needs a campaign team. I’m here and I am stepping up as the Alistair Campbell of Team Vulva.
Vulva is powerful
Would it have been better if Ramona had pointed out all the “minis” or “nonnys” or “fuffs”? I wonder if it would have felt cuter, and I think that’s partly why I feel those are not good words for female genitals. They reduce these powerful parts of a woman to a strange little collection of fairy syllables.
Where as “vulva” – it sounds powerful. Like it could be the entrance way to a portal of intense pleasure and the exit for a ten pound human. Or something.
A mother once told me her child refers to hers as a “Volvo” – which perhaps sums up partly why it feels like a good word- like the car, it is solid, reliable, hard to break. Even by a baby the size of a watermelon. (Okay, it can sometimes feel broken, but nothing that a few stitches, a bag of prunes and a gallon load of birth hormones can’t fix.)
Vulvas themselves are rarely dirty
Sometimes we might be tempted to discourage vulva- exploration because we have a feeling it is genuinely a bit grubby. Well, guess what. The mighty vagina is self-cleansing, and the vulva needs only the most very basic of water washes to keep the whole thing spick and span. (For a funny diagram about not getting the V’s mixed up see here.) It has the perfect balance of microbes to keep it healthy and clean and in a good environment it will thrive without any effort at all.
One small child I know for a while there would thrust a finger under any nostril and shout YUMMY! It was, of course, laden with vulva microbes. Fortunately the parents knew enough about this stuff to simply explain, without any shame or horror, that “Yummy Finger” was just for her nose. Little children often know more truth than adults, for a healthy genitalia is designed to smell good- jam packed with appealing pheremones and things.
There really doesn’t have to be any EW GROSS factor about vulvas.
Vulva-talk is natural and an important part of development
Talk of vulvas is rife in our family at the moment- exactly as it should be, according to natural, healthy child development. Intrigue, exploration, play and learning about genitals happens between the ages of three and, well, I guess, forever, really, and these can be precious moments for a child picking up a sense of being okay, of shamelessness, about their private parts and their sexuality.
There was one part of the article about Spinnas that I enjoyed. The creator of it suggested that when parents see their child touching their vulva to “smile encouragingly”- how inspiringly different to world where children are shamed when they show a healthy curiosity about a part of their body.
The origins of the word are perfect
Do you know “vulva” most likely comes from the Old Latin “volvere” meaning to roll it or, more literally “wrapper”- our vulva is the wrapping on one jolly bonanza of a gift. Women’s bodies are the vessel of humanity! The genesis of generations! Our wombs BIRTH THE FUTURE! And our vulvas are the golden ribbon around the present and the icing on the cake.
Knowing the words “vulva”and “penis” are critical for child sexual abuse prevention
And here is the most important, the really serious case for why “fanny” and “vajay” don’t cut it. People who work in child sexual abuse prevention understand that knowing the anatomical terms for genitals can actually protect children from abuse. It is three pronged- children knowing anatomical terms for private parts usually indicates that there is healthy communication about genitals meaning children are more likely to discuss any scared feelings/ scary situations they experience with their parents or carers. Using these words also deters predators as it shows an understanding, and finally it helps specialists in the aftermath of child sexual abuse as children can accurately describe what happened.
In The Atlantic Laura Palumbo, a prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), explains how teaching the words vagina, penis and vulva 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.