We’re beginning, half-heartedly, to potty train our 2 year-old, Maggie. The other day, as she sat on the training toilet, Maggie stuck her hands into the empty toilet bowl just to check on how things were going.
“No, no, Maggie,” I said kindly as she did so. “Let’s not get our hands dirty down there.”
Very earnestly, Maggie replied, “No touching my penis?”
I texted this story to Cliff later, and he said the proper reply should have been, “No touching any penis. Ever.” But instead, I went with a basic explanation of male and female anatomy. That was going along swimmingly, until it became necessary for me to have a word to describe what she had instead of a penis.
Now I know all the proper body part names, but still, none of them seemed right. It’s not her vagina that takes care of business on the toilet. Or her clitoris. Or labia. (See … told you I knew all the names.) And urethra just was an inadequate substitute when compared to the equivalent male body part, the much more physically present penis. We just don’t have a word that describes the total female package.
Later I asked a few friends what they have taught their daughters. We all admitted to stumbling for the right words. One said she just refers to the whole general area as her daughter’s “bottom.” My friend said, “When we need to distinguish further, I ask, ‘Is it your front bottom or back bottom?'”
I’d laugh, except at 36 I still think of the whole area as “down there.”
And here’s why this has a place on a marriage blog:
[Warning: uncomfortable transition from parenting to sex coming ...] If we don’t know how to talk about this general area, does it somehow limit us in the bedroom? Does it make us less comfortable giving instructions to our spouse? Or, at the very least, do we miss years of pleasure by getting comfortable with asking for what we want later in life? Are we less familiar with the area’s general operations? And are we missing out on pleasure (and maybe even intimacy) as a result?
By contrast, shortly after I wrote the first draft of this post I was stuck in traffic at a red light. The car next to me had an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror that said, I kid you not, “I Love My Penis.”
Now most men I know are too thoughtful and respectful to have such a crass, shall we say ballsy?, statement hanging from their rear view mirror. But the point is still made: men don’t seem to share the same verbal sensitivity surrounding genitalia. Excepting the Vagina Monologues – which admittedly is a big exception – I’ve rarely heard terms for female genitalia mentioned in the media or pop culture except for the derogatory c*nt word.
So – ladies – what do we do with this? How do we get comfortable with ourselves earlier, and teach our daughters the same? I don’t have a lot of answers in this department. Just these questions, from a woman who has just told her 2 year-old not to touch her down there while sitting on the potty.
Recently Cliff and I discussed an article that headlined “Three Mistakes Women Make During Sex.” The advice was really obvious, I told him. The mistakes were 1) Worrying about how you look, 2) Not taking the initiative often, and 3) Failure to give him guidance on what you want.
I guess I just wonder if the hesitancy, for some women, to offer a little guidance is because you can’t give driving directions to a place whose name you don’t know.
More on sex, without all those uncomfortable body part names:
Photo credit: From Beverly & Pack via Flickr.