The Importance of Language:

When it comes to talking about our bits and pieces there are so many words to choose from – it can be hard to know which are the right to use…

Do we get all technical – using the proper medical term – or do we use the language teenagers speak? To swear or not to swear…?!

Good practice – these days it is widely acknowledged that all young children from reception onwards should know, and be happy to use the correct terms for their personal body parts – i.e. penis and vagina.

Some people – parent’s especially  can be shocked when they learn that this is what is expected – they fear that somehow children will loose their innocence if they learn such grown up words – but in fact this is the very reasons why we teach them… Evidence shows that a child who can name their personal body parts correctly is less likely to suffer sexual abuse – plus if anything does happen they have the language to tell someone about it.

Innocence and ignorance are not the same thing.

Abusers often use secrets and their own special terms to help normalise and hide their abuse… having the correct words helps to prevent this from happening.

And to be fair they are only words – these body parts belong to the child – they have every right to know what they are and what they are for. We teach children every other body part why not these… plus it makes sense, especially as we are spending so much time toilet training as they learn to go to the bathroom on their own – it is an ideal opportunity.

Ok – that said – what about working with teenagers…

Personally I like to flip between both.

One of the reasons that the respect yourself website has a sextionary is because young people asked for it. They spoke about how confusing language was when it comes to sex.

Doctors use these really confusing medical words that are simply not part of common speech – talking about HPV, a cervix, endometrium, frenulums and what-not… but equally, they are just as confused by their friends… “have you got blue waffles?”

The trouble is, when you are in year 9 – you are simply not allowed to ask… there is an imagined expectation that everyone knows all this stuff… by asking you are showing your ignorance and making it clear that you are a novice…

This is why we created the sextionary – to give young people a safe space to explore language, without feeling embarrassed.. plus it gives us the opportunity to have a giggle and to challenge terms that are abusive or oppressive.

RSE lessons should be an opportunity to do the same. There is no benefit for shouting at young people for using slang terms for sex or sexual body parts in class (and yes most of them are swear words and also used as insults) instead there is a real benefit to embracing them and using them to shape your lesson. For example: if a young person shouts out “whether she has a bucket fanny” in response to the question “what do you need to know about someone before you sleep with them?” Yes – in any other lesson you would probably kick them out of the lesson and give them detention for being inappropriate… however, this isn’t a normal lesson…

Instead, thank them for their answer and ask them about it. “What is a bucket fanny? what causes it…?” And then enlighten the class about female sexual responses…

Explain that if a girl is ‘tight’ it is a sign that she isn’t turned on… explain that when a girl get’s turned on her muscles in her vagina relax and open up… when she is finished they close up again… they don’t get bigger and bigger with every sexual encounter! The only thing big enough to damage these really strong and stretchy muscles is a babies head (even after child birth those muscles will repair themselves) and I can guarantee that no guys penis is as big as a babies head!… Indeed, claiming that a woman that has had a number of sexual partners or enjoys sex must have  bucket fanny is simply another way of saying that girls shouldn’t enjoy sex… that sex is still seen as something that is for guys to enjoy not girls…

This simple inappropriate comment can lead to a whole bunch of really positive conversations about myth busting, sexual inequality and sexual responses… and you were going to send them out?!?

That said – there still needs to be boundaries so be clear and to make sure that your session doesn’t descend into a competition of who know the most four letter words – I always mention language use as part of my ground rules that I explain at the start of every session.

My rules are pretty simple – you can use whatever language you like – as long as it is appropriate… what i mean is that if you want to call it a nob instead of a penis, that is fine… but if you call someone a nob – that is not ok.

I would much rather young people use the language they are comfortable with and join in that sit in silence or not ask a questions, because they are scared of getting told off or can’t think if the correct term…

I explain that this isn’t an excuse to show off…

Generally, I always try and question young people’s language to check what they mean and then uses the correct term back to them as well as the term they have used. This way – everyone in the class will know what is being spoken about and there is no confusion.

Q: “How can a girl pee if she has a tampon in her fanny”

A: well a tampon fits in the vagina – the opening for sex and where a baby comes out of. The vagina is simply a tunnel that leads to all the baby making kit inside. A vulva is the correct term for all the stuff you can see outside. A girl pees out of a tiny hole above the vagina called the urethra – you see girl’s bodies are much better designed than boy’s – they have a hole for sex and one for weeing – the trouble is people sometimes use the word fanny to talk about the vagina, and also to talk about a vulva which get’s confusing…


If you are doing a run of work – agreeing what language to use and clearing up what everyone knows is a really good place to start.

Split the class into four groups giving each a flip chart and a couple of pens.

Each piece of flip chart will have a different category on:

  1. 5 YEAR OLD: (words you might use or be used by a 5 year old for sex or sexual body parts)
  2. DOCTOR: (correct medical words a doctor might use)
  3. TEENS BODY PARTS: (slang words for sexual body parts)
  4. TEEN SEX: (slang words for sexual acts)

Give each group a few minutes with each, before moving them round clockwise. The papers will be filled as each group adds to the ideas of the previous. Once each group has seen each paper – now comes the fun part… reading them out! As a member of each group to stand up and read out EVERYTHING on their flip-chart…

The five year olds – usually reads like a cast list from the telly tubes – Tinky-Winky, FAiry, Foof… have a conversation about why we should learn the correct words – protection and ask them why they think people are embarrassed by using them?

Go through all of the words on the medical flip chart and check that everyone knows what is what – or use this as an excuse to talk through anatomy (you can always use this as ammunition for next lesson too)

Now for the teens – when you read these out it will sound like they have Turrets – but is fun… it helps to get everything out of the way, it breaks the ice and is fun. Plus it is an ideal opportunity to make sure that everyone knows what they mean… (and don’t be afraid to ask the class if you don’t know!)

You can separate the words into girls/boys bits and compare them…  which are best, which are offensive? why?

Finally agree which terms the class are most comfortable to use as you move forward….

Read More… The importance of Challenging Language:

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