It's Your Vulva
I was 19 years old before I learned that urine does NOT leave the body via the vagina. I successfully repressed that humiliating memory until a few months ago when we began to think about attempting potty training with our daughter, the Little Mistress. I took out our "Once Upon a Potty For Girls" kit (complete with a "girl" baby and a toy toilet). We curled up on the couch, and I began to read the book aloud to her. Moments later, I realized why there is a school of parenting that advocates previewing books and materials before handing them to your child—when I read aloud the following sentence: "[I have] a pee pee for making wee wee."
I "borrowed" the baby doll from my daughter and took off the diaper to see that the vulva in all its glory—Labia Majora, Labia Minora, Clitoris, Urethra, and Vagina—had been reduced to an embroidered asterisk (just like this: *) between the doll's cloth legs. It was at that moment that I realized potty training is, for many women, the beginning of the misinformation—and missing information—about our bodies.
A disclaimer: I am a ciswoman, and my daughter is biologically female. This article is therefore going to talk about potty training and the experience of trying to make sense of female genitalia from that perspective. I'd love to have other authors contribute articles from their perspectives, but I can only address this from mine.
Toddlers are concrete. They want labels, they are freaks about routines, and they have a limited ability to process information. (Example: the LM does not understand that her fingers are both part of her hands and are also a body part called "fingers.") Information needs to presented to them in a simple, straightforward manner. Female genitalia doesn't really fall into the category of "things that are easily explained with simple vocabulary." As a sex-positive mom, this creates a conundrum.
Unlike a penis, which is easy to see, and easily explained (I'm projecting, the grass is always greener, I suppose), female genitalia is neither. I have been blithely told by many a mom of an equivalently aged boy that potty training is all about tossing some cheerios in the potty and telling their boys to "sink ‘em" with their pee (also attempting to teach the extremely important skill of aim). As the mom of a daughter, while I don't agree with it, I can see how generations of sexual repression, religious guilt, ethnic and cultural taboos, or simple lack of information press down on a mom in the moment when she points to her daughter's genitalia or her own and an infantile, non-threatening word like "coochie," "taco," "privates" or "pee-pee" comes out of her mouth.
My daughter is weeks from turning two years old. That means that she needs broad terms to use for the moment. Although I feel it's perhaps too broad, I decided to use vulva generally, although when she's masturbating I make a point of saying that she's touching her clitoris, and when I clean her I name her labia. I think the urethra, much as it is the correct term, is going to have to wait until she's old enough for me to pull out my big stuffed vulva, name the various parts, and hand her a mirror (which I'm confident will be in the next 8 years).
Having decided there was something to this whole notion of previewing, I began to look through the other potty books. There was a lot of emphasis on "feeling like you need to ‘go'" and "sitting on the potty" and "I DID IT!" and in some the reward of no more diapers. There isn't a lot of naming going on except of the pee and the poop, regardless of whether the book is supposed to be bio-sex neutral or bio-sex specific. Realistically, I imagine it's because using a specific name for a body part will appeal to one audience while possibly (probably?) alienating a larger reading public. Hence, the emphasis is on the process of feeling the urge to use the toilet, using the toilet (but not where the urine or feces is coming from), and being rewarded.
What about parenting guides? What sage advice did they have for parents regarding naming body parts? I saw discussions and disagreements over when to train, methods of training, whether to incentivize training or not (giving them an M&M, a sticker, whatever), how to handle accidents, etc. It was the same focus on what's coming out of the body and where it lands, rather than where it's coming from.