No shaming in naming. It is a Vulva, dear daughter...
Updated: Jun 29
Written by Dominnique Karetsos
My daughter Ariella, now 7, always called her ‘private part’, Toula. Admittedly a hybrid between Zulu and Greek given my roots and ashamedly this is what I taught her when she was 2 so that when she yelled at the top of her lungs in public that Toula was itchy, no one would have the faintest idea...
Fast forward along the years I consciously start to introduce Ariella to her body parts. Singing all the songs “hands, knees and toes’ la la lal , ring a bell? After all, this is what they are, parts of our whole body. Like her elbow or most complex body part, the brain. But never a song about her ‘private part’. This challenged my ideals not just as women in SexTech but as a mother. I began to ask the question, why am I and so many others hesitant to name our vulva’s from day one? Ariella had no attachment or predisposed opinions towards her vulva. She still has no point of reference, except the one either I as her parent offer or the one she is exposed to in school sex education. Surely teaching her about her vulva would be like teaching her where her thoracic muscles were. So why the hesitation?
Changing the dialogue
I slowly began to change the dialogue and introduce her to what by now schools had labelled “private parts”. This description and its charged sentiment alone has me on a constant rampage. I digress.
When Ariella curiously enquired about her “private parts “ I thought to take ownership of the narrative and begin the journey empowering my daughter. So I gave her a mirror - I can hear you gasp from here and see you shaking your heads. It is difficult not to project your own feelings and thoughts, in this case, my own insecurities and a generational abyss of taboos upon Ariella. I decided to begin her discovery with a wider understanding. I started by explaining that we had a brain, you can’t see it but if you close your eyes and imagine your perfect unicorn or doing your multiples then this is your brain working. I then asked Ariella to close her eyes and put her hand out. I traced my finger in her palm and asked what I was doing. She responded with “tickling my hand”. “But how do you know Ariella, your eyes are closed?”. “I can feel it, mum”. And so the gentle introduction of touch, thoughts and connecting are softly imprinted, letting her know her body works in the most marvellous and wonderful ways. Even the parts we can’t see.
I knew then, our biology lesson was not just biology.
There we sat both naked with a mirror and google, discovering and discussing the souls of her feet and how grateful we are for them carrying her body and balancing on the gymnastics bar. We discovered the muscles of her inner thighs that make her strong and why they hurt when she rides a horse, what a groin is, and finally what a vulva is and some of the bits she could see. The whole she peed through called the urethra and yes at 7, she knows she has another hole called the Vagina. She doesn’t need to know all that her body parts do, YET. But for now, she knows that on the inside of her is a uterus aka womb and other names. That I grew her there and that she came out of my Vaginagina but almost nearly my stomach like some other babies do too. Ariella knows most of us females have a vulva and that like our fingerprints not one of them is the same.
The exquisite gentle revelation to Ariella was how she looked at me when I mentioned: “we have all the same beautiful parts, just uniquely arranged for us”. Each one of us is our own beautiful. I knew then, our biology lesson was not just biology. My daughter just engaged with her body, beautifully and positively. (I whisper to myself, “how do I repeat this so she never forgets”). I am convinced when we take the time to explain and engage with our kids their curiosity is satisfied and they are fast to go back to slime and squishy addictions. Which is exactly what happened while I was left basking in a spiritual motherly moment.
I wish I could say this will be the end of our talks, but I know my daughter and her inquisitive mind. Instead, I am constantly thinking about how best to empower her to consciously connect with her body as she grows. How do I best explain to her that she has the power to decide when and who hugs her, touches her, sees her naked in the change room? Not just her PRIVATE PARTS, but her entire body and personal space.
So how do we have "the talk"?
How do we want to talk to our daughters about consent, sexuality, touch and pleasure being a healthy habit? Such big daunting talks that are age-appropriate and it is my job as her mother to identify and trust when she tells me she is ready to learn more. To carve a safe space for Ariella to explore and discover sexuality, judgement-free and openly engaging.
See mums, this article has no end, I am constantly on the hunt for wonderful ways to break taboos and give my daughter the skills to own her own sexual narrative as she grows into a woman. Instead, I propose to share with you our trials and tribulations of discovery. I will offer books that support us, sharing my guaranteed qualms with sex education curriculum, pointing in the direction of some illustrations, and even interviewing those parents who have tried and tested different methods.
There is no carbon copy to teach our children. After all “there are as many sexualities as there are humans”, Emily Nagoski. So to start, my suggestion is to grab a mirror and start identifying your own bits and pieces and take a moment to appreciate just how magnificently beautiful you are, mum.