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Knowing how to clean kids can be confusing. Here's a guide.
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Baby comes out.  Genitals are inspected.  Here's your kid.  Now what?  How do you manage hygiene while urine and feces are all lodged in there with a diaper?  What do you teach your kid about body care for their privates?  Do you go up inside with a cotton swab?  Does the foreskin need to be pulled back?  Can kids get yeast infections?  Is it sexual abuse to clean a child's genitals?  This is tough stuff.  You likely live in a society where genitals are associated with sex and sex and kids aren't supposed to be discussed at the same time.  We have to learn though and take care of children, their whole bodies, and their sexual health.


First, genital hygiene for anyone who isn't able to care for themselves is designated to very specific parties, typically guardians, caregivers, and medical providers.  So just because kiddo has a stinky penis doesn't mean that you are the party responsible for that penis' hygiene.  If you are, here's a guide.  If you aren't, stay curious, keep watching, then share this video and give a gentle nudge to the person who's appropriate.

Baby genitals.  There are three main types, penis & scrotum, vulva, intersex.  For intersex babies, I suggest asking a medical provider for guidance.  Learn what's ideal for the kiddo's unique anatomy and talk with members of the intersex community who can share their personal experiences.

If baby has a penis & scrotum, wipe them clean during diaper changes, then wash the genitals like the rest of the body during bath time.  Warm washcloth, mild soap.  Do not pull back the foreskin.  The foreskin or (?~1:21) can slide back in some infants, but it's usually fused to the head of the penis until age three, four, or five.  Leave it alone, let it do its thing.  The foreskin has many important functions and retracting it before it's ready can lead to serious infections.  For real.  Leave it alone.  It should move fluidly back and forth as the kiddo ages and masturbates. 

Now, if the newborn foreskin is cut off from the head of the penis, called a circumcision, penis hygiene is slightly more complicated.  After the operation, ointment and bandages should be put on the wound.  A care team will likely give you follow-up instructions, extra petroleum jelly and gauze so that you can replace the treatment regularly, especially after mess diapers.  You may notice that the tip of the penis looks bloody or crusty and has a white or yellow discharge.  This is part of the healing process and you'll probably be advised to leave the crusties, etc. in place, just simply add more ointment.  In around 10 days, the tip of the penis will be less raw and you'll be able to clean it with soap and water like the rest of the body.

Vulva.  I say vulva because I'm referring to the folds on the outside of the baby's body.  The vagina is internal.  It does not need to be cleaned.  For diaper changes, use a baby wipe or cloth and light pressure to clean from the front of baby's body, backward toward the anus.  It's just like cleaning poop out of the inner thigh folds.  You're trying to get that stuff out.  You don't want to drag it into the vulva.  You want to wipe it out and away from the vulva.  Note: babies with vulvas may bleed vaginally in the first week or so, sometimes accompanied by cloudy fluid.  This is due to withdrawal from the hormones in the womb and it's completely normal.  In fact, it's an indicator that the vaginal canal is open.  Sometimes the labia, the lips of the vulva, will fuse together.  If this is only partial, you can keep an eye on it and it should dissipate with age and the increase in estrogen.  If the adhesion blocks urine from getting out, this is a hygiene concern and needs medical attention.

Toddler genitals.  If your kiddo is able to communicate or even just understand you, it's useful to explain the practice and value of genital hygiene.  Just like you would narrate washing their hair, bellybutton, and in between their toes, narrate "time to wash your penis", "rinse out the folds of your vulva", "can I help you wash your anus so it's nice and clean?"  Opening communication with your kiddo about hygiene can mean that they push back and say "No.  You can't wipe my butthole."  Try to listen to their objection and reason things out.  I love how my dad friend puts it.  If my daughter says no, she doesn't want me to clean her up, I say, okay, and explain that her bottom might get itchy.  She changes her mind.  Not only is consent important, we want kids to want hygiene, to understand why they clean themselves so that they grow up more likely to choose those behaviors for themselves rather than neglect them.  Verbalize how you're wiping their bodies clean, so that they understand and that they do it the same way.  

Here are some more tips for toddler hygiene.  Avoid scented wipes, soaps, detergents, and creams.  Avoid dryer sheets, avoid deodorizers.  For diaper rush and other genital irritations, do a warm water epsom salt soak twice a day for a few days.  Bubble baths, I know are so fun, those cute little baby mohawks made of suds.  They're not good for delicate genital tissue.  This goes for shampoo, too.  If the kiddo plays in the tub, don't shampoo them until the very end, especially with vulvas.  This way, you can wash them, again, nothing in the vagina, then rinse the genitals with clean water and get 'em out of the tub to pat dry.  You don't want to soak your kids in a soup of dirt and soap or leave their genitals damp and hospitable for germs.  This goes for swimming, spilling drinks on their laps, wetting themselves, etc.  Remove the wet clothing as soon as you can.  Do a clean up, especially of sugary drinks, chlorine, and urine that can dry out the tissue or instigate a yeast infection.  Then dry them off.

I know, it's a lot to do, but this kiddo's genital hygiene matters, and as they age, they can take over a lot of hygiene tasking themselves.  For example, around age five, the kiddo may start showering by themselves, and you can gently guide from outside, "Wash your balls, then your butthole."  If they go to masturbate, you can remind them "Clean your hands before and after".  Explain that exploring their bodies is an adventure, but it's important for them to talk to you before putting anything in their bodies. 

Kids put stuff in their mouths, nostrils, vaginas, anuses, up their urethras.  I put a rolly poly bug in my brother's ear when we were kids.  You don't know if your little one is going to be curious in this way, so you have to cover all of your bases.  Teach them, so that they know.  Don't withhold information because you're afraid they'll use it.  It'll be okay.  Really.  They'll present something to you, like a toothbrush, as a potential object of insertion, and you'll be able to coach them on the pros and cons.  "It's easy to hold and remove, but pretty hard and all those bristles seem painful."  You don't need to supervise their playtime, but certainly make sure that they aren't harming their genitals with bacteria-laden parts or ingredients you intended for stir fried dinner.   "How about using your fingers instead?  I'll trim your nails so that you don't scratch yourself."  Offer lube so kiddo isn't using harsh products to stroke, in private, then schedule their regular doctor's appointments where they can ask someone besides you their genital health questions.

Youths.  The period between childhood and adulthood is often marked by puberty.  At this time, kids will need a lot of reassurance that their bodies are normal and that hygiene is important and that they aren't gross or messed up because there's still smells, fluids, feelings, lumps, wobbly bits, and hair.  Communicate that they have say over their bodies and that masturbation and/or self examination are great ways to know what's what, the same way that they're familiar with their faces.  Prepare them for wet dreams, erections, menstruation, ejaculation by telling them what's happening.

Wet dreams.  Mostly at night, but sometimes in the day, the body becomes aroused and produced more fluid than usual.  It's not gross or bad.  You can wipe up the wetness and I'll teach you how to use the washing machine so that you can clean up any stains on your own.

Erections.  Most bodies have tissue in the genitals that gets hard when they're excited or scared.  It's usually connected to thinking about someone or something that you like.  Having an erection isn't dangerous unless it goes on for hours, so if you get one or dozens, it's no big deal.  It's a very common part of puberty and they'll start to decrease in frequency as you age.

Menstruation.  That's where blood comes out of the vagina for about a week each month.  Everyone has different timing and amounts, so here's a calendar to track yours and some pads to get you started.  Just don't leave any period products on your vulva or in your vagina for more than 12 hours.  

Smells.  People tend to become more oily during puberty and this oil collects dead skin cells, dirt, and pathogens that build up as acne, (?~7:25), and smells.  Washy washy, but not with products marketed to freshen you up and clean you out.  Many of those actually increase the harmful bacteria that can make your genitals sick, so if you're unsure or insecure, talk to me or let's set up a doctor's appointment.  

Here's a playlist of Sexplanations videos that'll help explain what's what.  Not all children are the same.  They don't all have the same bodies or timelines or experiences.  Some will go through sexual abuse that alters their hygiene.  Others will feel dysphoric about their genitals and this may change their approach as well.  Start with the basics and work from there to talk it out and identify better ideas.  Hygiene is imperative.  Kids need it as much as adults and there's ways to help.  You can do it.  I've taught you.  Stay curious.

This episode was brought to you by Sexplanauts, generous people like you who value sex education and do what they can to make it accessible to the planet.  If you would like to help too, there are many ways to support Sexplanations in the description.  Thanks for subscribing and staying curious.


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