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To prevent child abuse and inappropriate touching, it's important for children to understand that certain parts are off limits to others. But it is also important to teach children anatomically correct terminology.

Elementary schools all over the United States work for child safety through essential sex education at early ages. A typical session in a first grade class might unfold something like this: 

A sexual abuse prevention abuse specialist visits every class once a year. The children gather around the specialist on the floor while she explains the basic concepts of sexual safety, body rights, privacy, consent, and empathy. Then the visiting educator shows the class two dolls, one beige, one brown, each in its own diaper. 

"What body parts are the same," the visiting educator asks 25 wiggling six-year-olds.

"Nose! Eyes! Ears! Belly buttons! Toes!" the children shout out. "They both have penises!" another child answers.

"Do you really think so?" the teacher asks. "Does everyone have a penis?"

"Nooooooo," the class answers, feigning incredulity. "Girls have vaginas!"

Children Are Taught Anatomically Correct Terms From the First Grade, or Even Earlier

Visiting sex abuse prevention teachers teach the terms "penis" and "vagina" to hundreds of first graders each year. Most experts in the prevention of child exploitation believe that it is important to teach children standard vocabulary for body parts. Experts at the National Sexual Violence Prevention Center (NSVPC) believe that using these terms rather than more common variations like "wee-wee" and "tweenie" promote self-confidence, clear communication between children and parents, and positive body image. Should the unthinkable happen and criminal investigators need to talk with the child, the interview will go more quickly, and there will be less risk of miscommunication. The NSVPC also believes that children who can use adult terminology for their private parts are less likely to be abused by predators.

Not All Parents Like Sex Education in Elementary School

Many parents, not unexpectedly, are not in favor of sex education in elementary school. In 2013 Dietrich, Idaho teacher Tim McDaniel used the word "vagina" in a high school biology class. Despite the fact that the students in his class had had vaginas for 14 or 15 years, four parents filed a complaint and his school placed him under investigation. The case went to the state ethics commission. McDaniel's backers created a Facebook page, “Save The Science Teacher,” which received about 700 likes, even though the school was in a tiny town of only 300 people. McDaniel was exonerated by the ethics review (he had also shown his class the Al Gore film "An Inconvenient Truth"), but he was forced to stop attending church and basketball games.

McDaniel's case is hardly unique. A sexual-abuse prevention instructor in New England reports that a family pulled their first grader out of school after he learned the term "penis." The mother of the child screamed at the teacher "You have stolen my child's innocence!" And even among adults, using anatomically correct language can result in penalties. Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown was banned from the statehouse floor for using the term "vagina." She later explained to the press ""If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it."

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