Teach Children Correct Terms for Genitals  

Research shows that teaching children correct terms for private body parts can help prevent child sexual abuse. Parents can protect children from child sexual abuse by providing knowledge and teaching correct terms, such as “penis,” “scrotum,” “vulva” and “vagina.” Experts in the field of child sexual abuse prevention emphasize the importance of teaching children correct terms for genitals. Local and national experts praise parents for taking these important steps and provide tips to help parents maintain age-appropriate discussions with their children.

Age 0-2

Topics 
Use correct words for genitals - penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, breasts.
Emphasize that private body parts are beautiful and special. 

Examples of things you could say
“I’m cleaning your arm. I’m cleaning your penis/scrotum/vulva.”
“I’m changing your diaper and I’m cleaning your vulva/scrotum/penis.”
“This is your penis/this is your vulva. These are great body parts. They are cool body parts that cool things happen to – urine comes out of them, and babies come out of them.’”
“These body parts are special and should be kept protected and private.”

When and how 
Matter-of-factly 
During bath time
When changing a diaper
Don’t make a big deal of the conversations. 
Convey that penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, breasts are just words, like elbow and nose.

Helpful books and websites

Age 3-5

Topics

Use correct words for genitals - penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, breasts.

Private parts should be covered. 

Talk about consent and boundaries.

It’s okay for children to explore their body. 

Examples of things you could say 

“It’s okay to touch your body and you can do this in private.”

“We keep our vulva/scrotum/penis/breasts covered.”

“It’s not okay for anyone to see or touch your penis/vulva/breasts.
Exceptions are going to the doctor or cleaning after going to the bathroom.”

“You aren’t obligated to give anyone a hug if you don’t want to, even to grandmother or grandfather.”

“Respect others, if they don’t want a touch or a hug.”

When and how

Without embarrassment

Read to your child age-appropriate books about safety, sexuality, diversity and body autonomy.

When you’re preparing to take a shower, you could tell your child that you need privacy because people should keep their penis/scrotum/vulva/vagina/breasts private.

Use scenes in movies, commercials and TV shows to start conversations.

Helpful books and websites

Age 6-8

Topics

Use correct words for genitals - penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, breasts.

Your child may ask how babies are made.

Talk about touches that are okay and not okay. 

Develop a safety plan.

Examples of things you could say 

“If someone wants to give you a touch on your penis/vulva/breast, it’s not okay. It may be okay if you are hurt there, or if you are at the doctor’s office; but other than that, there’s no good reason for anybody to give you a touch there.”

“Let’s create a safety plan if someone gives you a touch on your body that’s not okay – it could be a hit or a smack, or a touch on your penis/vulva/breast. First, get away from that person as soon as you can. Then, tell someone you trust.”

“There are lots of ways to become a parent. One way is when two adults get their bodies together and the sperm from the male combines with the egg from the female to make a child. Adoption is another way.”

When and how

When developing a safety plan, identify adults your child trusts, a teacher or coach, for example. 

Read with your child or ask your child to read age-appropriate books about safety, body autonomy, sexuality and diversity. 

Use scenes in movies, commercials and TV shows to start conversations.

Helpful books and websites

Age 9-12

Topics

Use correct words for genitals - penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, breasts.

Puberty

Diversity 

Normalize growing hair, menstruation, erection, masturbation.

Examples of things you could say 

“Your body is changing and your voice is changing, and all this is totally normal.”

“Menstruation is also called a period. Most women have a period every month, which means they bleed from their vagina a little. This is how the body prepares for a baby one day.” 

“If you are going to touch your penis or vagina, which is totally normal, do it in a private space.”

“Erection and masturbation is totally normal, and it’s something private.”

When and how

Erase the mystery and let your children know what to expect. 

Have conversations about diversity. The Every Body Book is appropriate for that age group. The book is an illustrated LGBTQ+ inclusive kid's guide to sex, gender and relationships. 

Recommend age-appropriate books about these topics to your child. 

Use scenes in movies, commercials and TV shows to start a conversation.

Helpful books and websites

Age 13 and older 

Topics

Teens need to know that masturbation is normal. 

Sex and love

STIs

Pregnancy

Pornography 

Sexting 

Examples of things you could say 

“When having sex, it is important to use a condom for health and safety. Condoms help prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.”

“Love is a deep, emotional connection that develops overtime.”

“Sometimes, it may be really appealing to send or ask someone to send you a picture (nude) but let’s talk about the risks.” 

“It’s important for people to ask their sexual partner, 'Are you going to be okay with this?'”

When and how

You have laid a foundation. By now using correct terms for genitals and conversations about sexuality are normal. 

You may discuss decisions you have handled well or regretted.

Explain the dangers of sexting and pornography addiction. 

Use scenes in movies, commercials and TV shows start a conversation. 

Helpful books and websites

Image and PDF files 

View the information in image and PDF files. Feel free to download and share the information. 

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Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center offers free child sexual abuse prevention training. We use Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children program. Learn more about the program.