A lot of people say vagina when they actually mean vulva. Both are good words and ought to be used where appropriate, I think.
The vagina is inside a female’s body. It’s essentially a tube or passage way that goes from the outside of the body to the cervix, which is the doorway to the uterus. Vaginas serve a bunch of important functions. They are amazing things. Penetrating the vagina can be for pleasure and/or for baby making. Once a bun is fully cooked in the oven, it enters the cold and less damp world via the vagina. Menstrual blood also leaves the body through the vagina.
The vulva includes the vaginal opening and a bunch of other girly-bits. It covers all the external parts of a female’s genitals including the urethral opening (where pee comes out), the clitoris (a primary source of female sexual pleasure and visible button-like area above the urethra), the labia (majora and minora) – otherwise known as lips, the mons pubis (which is the slight hump where pubic hair grows), and the vulval vestibule which is the tissue between the labia, urethra and vagina.
So, you see, the vulva is not the vagina at all. And it’s a good idea for kids to know the difference. When I taught my kids language for genitals the words they learned were penis, scrotum and vulva. They learned words for the things they could see. As they got older, and began to understand mechanics and the body science, more words were taught. Six year olds don’t need to distinguish between majora and minora -labia may suffice- but can be taught to differentiate the vulva from the vagina and urethra. In the same vein, kids can be taught that the scrotum is the pouch that holds the testicles. (For variation and pure descriptive value, I like ballsack too.)
Sometimes parents think these words are too big for such little people. But its not true. It might seem cute to hear a 4 year old say the word vulva. But its more than cute. It’s safe and smart. Research shows that young kids who are taught the proper names for genitals are less likely to be victims of sexual abuse. Maybe this is because if we aren’t teaching made up names for our genitals (private parts, front bum, vava, wiener, dinky, etc.), we are more likely to talk about appropriate versus inappropriate touching. Perpetrators seek out uninformed kids so, for that reason alone, kids ought to be equipped with language for their body parts.
When my kids were young, I taught them that when they choke while drinking it’s because the water went down their trachea rather than their esophagus. Some friends and family were wildly impressed by the use of these big words. Once my youngest couldn’t tell someone where his throat was though. My point is, kids learn whatever we teach them and proper names for genitals aren’t too big. Our kids are smart and able and we ought to give them everything that they need to discuss their bodies in healthy ways.
And besides, vulva is a way smaller word than Tyranosaurus-Rex.