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Willy and West Virginia

What we teach our children and how we teach our children gives us a window into ourselves—how we were taught, our hang-ups, and our baggage. And before any of you gets indignant, let's just acknowledge that we all have baggage. I grew up Irish Catholic, so let me tell you, I know baggage.

That baggage extends to our genitalia and what we teach our kids to call it. My blogging persona is Mary Tyler Mom, and I took an informal poll about just that question, asking my readers, "What do your little ones (ages 1 to 5) call their 'private parts,' you know, their penis and vagina?" Well, 312 comments later, I got a full spectrum of names that had me laughing, giggling, and scratching my head:

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I give you the not nearly comprehensive list of genitalia names:


Guppy, monkey, jay bird, woodpecker, frog, worm


West Virginia, China, Venus, map of Tasmania


Meat and potatoes, peas and carrots, banana, hot dog, hamburger, biscuit, cookie, peanuts, franks and beans

People's Names

Britney, Lucy, Willy, Susie, Bob, Jay Jay, Peter, Nina, Gina, Mimi, Thor


Nuts and bolts, rocket, sailors, tally whacker, business, golden box, cuckoo clock, fire hose, bucket, flower

You see? These are funny. Don't deny it, I mean, West Virginia? Why not Florida? it would be more anatomically correct. Now Florida is funny. Or how about spaghetti and meat balls?

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What's less funny is a kid talking about franks and beans, but not knowing the words penis and testicles. My husband and I seem to take a "middle of the road" kind of parenting approach. Nothing too extreme, leaving lots of room for folks on either side. We trust our guts and try not to get too worked up about this and that.

Our 3-year-old son refers to his penis as just that, "my penis." His testicles are, wait for it, his "testicles." No surprises. More of a surprise is that we taught our toddler daughter to call her vulva her "cooch." What on earth is that about? I don't know, but in typing those letters, I feel some shame. Why "penis" and not "vulva" or the more common, though less accurate, "vagina?" Can't tell you, as we're both still wondering. I can tell you that should we raise another daughter, she will know the words "vulva" and "vagina."

Our genitals are nothing to be ashamed of, folks. They are not naughty or dirty "bits." They are parts of our body, no different than our ears, toes or belly buttons. The world will not end if your 3-year-old uses the word "penis" around his grandparents.

And on a more serious note, should your child ever be in the unthinkable situation of having an adult compromise them in any way—inappropriate touching or contact—you want them to be able to tell an adult in a manner that is clearly understood. When only cutesy slang terms are used, a young child's ability to communicate danger has been diminished. Can you imagine a young girl trying to explain that a stranger had "smelled her flower?" Who would ever lift an eyebrow at that? Prepare your kids well. Lose the shame, and keep the silly at home.

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