Apparently, when I was a little girl, I decided to run out of the house and down the street naked. The older boy who lived across the street found me and delivered me home. My husband has similar stories, although in his stories, the police are involved. It seems that the cops were less busy in his hometown than mine. At any rate, it turns out that kids like to be naked. A LOT.
Since Asher has been potty trained, there has been a lot more naked time than before. Part of this is because we don't worry about accidents all the time, but most of this is because we are a bit lazy--we don't have to help him with his pants every time he gets the urge if the pants are already off. This leads to a lot of--ahem--self-exploration. It turns out that toddlers like to touch themselves, and since they don't have the social training we do when we are older, they do it a lot, right out in the open for all to see. As much as I understand the biologic reasons for all for all of this, it makes me undeniably uncomfortable.
Fast-foward to yesterday when I got home from work and sat down on the stairs to talk to Asher about his day. Immediately, he flipped up my skirt to look for my (non-existent) penis. This was a moment only slightly less embarrassing than the time my bikini top flew off on a waterslide when I was in high school (not sure who saw that, and, frankly, don't want to know, so if you were there, please keep the truth to yourself). What is a mommy to do?
Clearly, I am no expert on child-rearing, but my work has taught me one huge thing: teach your children the names for their parts. I saw a teenager the other day who had some concerns, and her pediatrician had told her that it was "just her fluff." I was totally perplexed as to what the issue might be (not to mention somewhat horrified that she couldn't explain it better). Kids need to know what things are called so they can communicate effectively and they need to know that their parents support this verbiage. As awful as it sounds, if your child is abused in some way, s/he needs to be able to express what happened and feel comfortable talking to you about those parts.
It becomes more complicated and uncomfortable when your child wants to talk about YOUR anatomy. I don't have an educated answer to that. But I do know that if you take a deep breath and explain things simply and logically, you'll probably get the point across without making it too big a deal. My explanation: "Asher and Daddy have penises. Mommy doesn't." This seemed to do the job. A friend just asked if Asher also knows about vaginas, and no, he does not, but my guess is that he will soon enough, given the kind of phone conversations I have from home when I'm on-call. I'm sure we'll take the same no-big-deal approach to that one.
The bottom line is that we all need to be comfortable talking about our bodies. It is uncomfortable for parents to talk about all of this stuff with their kids, but it is vitally important. It has nothing to do with sexuality--that comes later--but everything to do with being familiar with your own body and being able to care for it. Verbal communication is probably the most defining human characteristic, which means that we need to be able to talk about who we are physically.
Tonight Asher looked at me, both of us fully clad, and said, "Mommy, no penis." Yes, my little buddy, you speak the truth.