‘Yes, that’s your penis…’
‘No, we don’t put our toothbrush on our penis. That’s yucky for our toothbrush.’
‘Most of the time, we touch our genitals in private.’
‘A, your penis has poop on it. Can you please not touch it right now?’
‘That’s where your urine comes out.’
‘Daddy has a penis, too.’
All of these lines are things I have actually said to A over the last few months during diaper changes. It seems we’ve entered the developmental phase (an extremely common activity at this stage—so universal that I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this did it at this age) where A’s genitals are really interesting to him.
I started talking to A explicitly about his genitals recently. It’s not a revolutionary act, but it is important to me to use anatomically correct words with A. Mostly, because I want him not to feel any shame around his genitals (though there are other arguments, like this one). It’s just a part of his body that, at this point in his life, is associated with peeing and pooping. I want him to feel comfortable in his body and knowledgeable about it. And eventually during adolescence and adulthood, I want him to have a healthy way of thinking about sex (that feels so weird to say about my 15 month old…), and I think that starts early. (It goes without saying that this whole approach to genitals is a culturally-situated one–not everyone will feel comfortable with it or even the end goal.)
Regardless, I think it is important for A, but I think it would be even more important for girls. American culture will encourage A to be confident with his body, but it may not be so kind to his young friends with female bodies. I remember laughing with my husband about A touching his genitals, and I paused and wondered out loud: ‘if he were a girl, would we think it was this funny?’ Would I say, ‘Yes, those are your labia/clitoris/vagina.’? I hope we would. If we have a daughter in the future, I will consciously try to use anatomically correct language when she touches her genitals during diaper changes. Having knowledge of your body and confidence in that knowledge can be empowering for woman of all ages.
I haven’t quite un-learned binary ways of talking about gender, which extends to conversations about genitals. I don’t want to tell A that ‘boys have penises and girls have vaginas’ because that’s not necessarily true. If anyone has any children’s books recommendations about transgenderism/genitals/etc, I would love to hear them!