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In Defense of HooHas and Ding Dongs

You can't swing your eyeballs around the Internet these days without reading an article about vaginas and penises. And no, I don't mean "Dear Penthouse" kinds of articles (although those are out there too, no doubt). I'm talking about parenting essays explaining how important it is to discuss genitals with your children using proper medical terminology.

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Believe me, I'm all for this movement. As a society, we need to do everything we can to eliminate the stigma and embarrassment associated with our sexual body parts; they're private, not secret. If that means that I have to use the word "testicles" in front of my kids, then so be it.

But these days, telling your daughter she has a vulva has become the new frontier in the mommy wars — many articles, Facebook posts and Internet comments have a decidedly condescending tone, implying that only moms whose children can draw a textbook-accurate diagram of their reproductive systems while blindfolded are doing parenting right, while anyone who still uses an immature term like "wee wee" is essentially everything that's wrong with humanity.

Don't believe me? Check out some of the comments on a recent Jezebel article on the topic:

"I really, really LOATHE made-up, cutesy words for children like pee-pee, weenie, poo-poo, potty, etc. and I want to see them all die a fiery death."

"If you are not mature enough to say the actual words for anatomical parts, you are not mature enough to be having any kind of sex."

(It doesn't) make the ensuing conversation any less valid because she used a euphemism.

Even parents who are doing it "right" aren't doing it "right" enough.

"I actually hate when parents use 'vagina' to describe the whole region. It's better than calling it your 'dinga-linga-wow-wow' or whatever made up silliness but if you're going to try to use the right words than [sic] use the right words!"

Now, are most nicknames for sex parts really stupid? YES! But "scrotum" isn't exactly poetry, either. I understand the sentiment behind using the proper terms — if my kids are experiencing discomfort or (I shudder to even type the word) abuse, I want them to feel comfortable telling me and describing precisely what's going on. I also want them to see me as a reliable source of accurate information, even on subjects they might think are taboo. So, we've definitely covered anatomy 101 at my house, boys and girls alike.

Nevertheless, when my toddler comes running out of the bathroom to loudly announce she wiped her "front buns" (the term she has deemed superior in both usability and hilarity to the boring old Latin "vulva"), it doesn't mean I don't know what she's taking about, nor does it make the ensuing conversation any less valid because she used a euphemism. It doesn't mean she's embarrassed about her body. She is not ashamed (clearly).

My older kids often do use "proper" terms — but only because I've been known to yell, "DOES ANYONE WANT TO DISCUSS THEIR VAGINA OR PENIS TODAY?" when they come home from school. This is also incorrect, according to the Internet McJudgersons; true, I don't yell "TINKLE" or "WIENER," but I'm still not treating the subject with enough off-handed stoicism and maturity, which will surely prevent my children from ever taking the topic seriously.

We need to refocus our attention on the fact that, whatever words parents use, the most important thing is the discussion itself.

Plus, when my kids do have a question, we sometimes also use words like (gasp!) "junk" or "privates" during our conversation. But curiosities are satisfied, information is shared, we hug it out and I feel pretty solid about the chances that they'll come to me again the next time they have a question or issue. Isn't that the point?

What it comes down to is this: The "right" way to parent is different in every home. Yes, absolutely, teach your children to be proud and take ownership of their bodies. Inform them in an age-appropriate way about their anatomy and how it works. Instruct them about consent, about what is and isn't socially acceptable. But whether you use silly words or a Power Point presentation is immaterial, as long as you're doing it.

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We need to refocus our attention on the fact that, whatever words parents use, the most important thing is the discussion itself — that your relaxed, receptive demeanor promotes open communication, and that your kids are comfortable talking to you, not whether or not you're using specific Latin medical terms. If you're comfortable doing so, great! But I'd contend that a conversation without the word "testicles" is better than none at all, and as with any personal parenting decision, you shouldn't let some judgmental gluteus hole on the Internet convince you otherwise.

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