Guest Post by Libby Anne
Growing up, I never had any sex education at all. I was homeschooled, and raised in a very conservative environment, and the subject was never broached. It wasn’t until I got to college that I felt I could actually look for answers to my long-standing questions. And it wasn’t until I was in college that I felt comfortable enough in my body to even learn about my own body parts.
My daughter Sally is only in preschool, but I already know I want to do things differently with her. I don’t want her to grow up to be as ignorant about her body or issues of sexuality as I was, and I want to lay a good foundation for information and understanding now. I don’t think sex education needs to wait for some artificial “talk.” Rather, I think it should simply be a part of life. And for Sally, that’s what I’ve been working to make it.
What follows is a list of how I’ve been approaching Sally’s sex education so far:
1. I answer questions honestly and openly Sally took me aback the other day by finding my vibrator. I had thought it was thoroughly put away, but apparently not. She held it up, a curious but wholly innocent look on her face. Mommy, what is this? So many other women would have simply freaked out, taken the vibrator away, and told her she wasn’t supposed to see that, or else told her nothing at all. I didn’t, though. Without registering that anything at all was amiss, I said the following: That’s mommy’s vibrator. When you are all grown up you can have one too. Here, let me have my vibrator and I’ll put it away. As Sally handed me the vibrator, I knew that I was setting up lines of trust – and barring the door against shame. If I’d responded differently Sally might have thought my vibrator was something shameful, or she might have become curious about this forbidden object and, knowing she couldn’t ask me, looked elsewhere for answers. Now I’ll readily admit that Sally didn’t ask what my vibrator was for. But I think I could answer honestly and appropriately even if she did. For example, several weeks ago we were watching a movie and there was a sex scene. I don’t try to shield Sally from those the way I try to shield her from violent scenes. Sally turned from the movie to me in confusion. Mommy, what are they doing? I thought a moment and then replied: They’re having sex. Sex is something grownups do. When you’re a grownup, you can have sex too, if you want to. And that was it, I’d given her enough to satisfy her. I didn’t traumatize her, or attach guilt or shame to sex, or shroud it in secrecy. My goal is to always be open and honest, and my hope is that if I do so Sally will grow into a teenager ready to come to me with her questions or troubles.
2. I equip her with knowledge Mommy’s baby come out through her privates, her cervix get bigger, bigger, bigger, BIGGER, baby come out! Sally has shocked several of my friend with this narrative, which she accompanies with hand motions miming my cervix widening. Doctor help mommy’s baby come out! Have to go to hospital. The truth is, as I’ve gone through my pregnancy with my second child, I’ve involved her every step of the way. I’ve talked about my uterus and about the fetus and the placenta, and also about how the baby will come out through my vagina. She knows about contractions and about my cervix. And teaching her all of this has been completely natural, not something formal or stilted. Information about puberty has come naturally too. You see, Sally kept asking me why she couldn’t have “a baby in her belly” too, and I finally told her that it was because she has a little girl body, not a woman body. I pointed out the differences between our bodies and told her that’s because she has a little girl body and I have a woman body, and I told her that when she goes through puberty she would get a woman body. She was thrilled. I go through puberty? I get woman body?!? I have nurse too? She calls breasts “nurse,” not surprisingly given that I nursed her until she was nearly three. Anyway, she recently spent time with a cousin who is twelve and is starting to get breasts, and she completely horrified her poor cousin by pointing to her chest and saying: Sarah, you getting nurse? You getting a woman body? You going through puberty? I’d like to point out that I hadn’t prepped her to say that. We hadn’t talked about how her cousin was going through puberty at all. That was all her own observation, and she’s only in preschool. Kids are smarter than most people give them credit for. What I love about the knowledge Sally is gaining is that it has come in extremely natural ways. I don’t want to have to sit her down and give her “the talk” in some formal and fake setting. These things are a part of life, and “the talk” should be as well.
3. I teach her about her body without shame Sally knows all of her body parts, from her hands to her belly, her back, and even her nostrils. I’ve made a game of it during bath time, drilling her over the body parts she knows and teaching her new ones. I’ve even taught her her private parts - her vagina, labia, and clitoris - alongside everything else, making no differentiation. I didn’t see any reason to teach her about all of her other body parts but skip those parts as though they’re some sort of secret, something we don’t talk about, something to be ashamed of. Sally knows a bit about male anatomy too. When she sees her daddy naked (i.e. right after a shower), she comments on his penis. She doesn’t have one, after all. So we talk about how daddy has a penis but Sally and mommy have vaginas and clitorises, etc. And again, all this is with done without anything to induce shame or guilt or feelings of secrecy. The other day Sally discovered her private parts for herself. She was sitting in the middle of the living room naked, waiting for her pajamas to come out of the dryer. She was examining her body, curious, and had found her vagina. Mommy, I have a hole in my privates! The tone of her voice as she proclaimed this discovery was both excited - I found something new about my body! - and worried - is this normal? Yes, honey, that’s called your vagina. Oh. I have a ‘gina. What’s this? That’s your clitoris. Oh. I have a ‘gina and a clitoris! And with that, Sally fell over on the floor laughing, pleased with her new knowledge. And I couldn’t have been happier. The truth is, I didn’t know I had a clitoris until I was nineteen. That’s when, in college, I finally decided to learn about the body parts I had been taught to cover up and ignore for so long. It is my goal for Sally to know her body, understand it, and own it - and all without shame.
4. I make sure she knows her body is hers When I teach Sally her body parts in the bath, I tell her that her body is hers, nobody else’s. I tell her that she is in charge of who touches her, and how, and no one can force her to let them touch her if she doesn’t want them to. Her body is hers. And I think she gets that. She even repeats it back to me: My body is mine? Not anybody else’s? Yes, I tell her, yes, that’s right. And then I sometimes run down a list, making a game of it: Is your body mommy’s? No! Is your body grandpa’s? No! Is your body Joey’s?(a friend from preschool) No! Is your body yours? YES! She knows her body is hers, and I back her up on this. If it’s time for her daddy or I to go to work and Sally doesn’t want to give us a hug or a kiss, well, then we don’t get a kiss. And let me tell you, it sucksto send your child off to daycare without a kiss or a hug. The thing is, I don’t want Sally to think that kisses or hugs – or any other sort of physical contact – are things she should be able to be forced to give. I want her to learn that she chooses when to say “no” and when to say “yes.” I want her to know that no one should be able to force or guilt her into physical contact she is not comfortable with. Hopefully, someday, if a boyfriend pushes her for something she’s not comfortable with, she’ll know how to say “no.” And in the meantime, hopefully she’ll know that she can say “no” to a sexual predator should she ever have a run-in with one. And even more than that, hopefully she’ll be comfortable in her own body and the knowledge that it is hers.
Conclusion I am a firm believer in children’s rights, and a firm believer that children are far more competent and capable than we give them credit for. Rather than belittling Sally or treating her as “only a child,” I choose to see the capacity she has already and her potential to develop further competence if I only give her the opportunity. Sure, there is something to be said for being age-appropriate - I’m not teaching her sex positions or anything like that! - but there’s also something to be said for forging a relationship based on trust, communication, and reliable information. I hope that I am setting Sally up for a future of open communication, a future without shame and guilt, and a future where she knows that she and only she controls her body. I know Sally’s only in preschool. I know she has a long way to go, but it is my hope that I am laying the foundation now for a self education and a self awareness. I want to give my daughter what I never had.
About the Author
Libby Anne grew up a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist a feminist and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, the importance of feminism, and her adventures in positive parenting. Libby Anne is a graduate student in the humanities and shares her life with her husband, Sean, and her two young children, Sally and Bobby. Check out more of Libby Anne's writing on her blog, Love,Joy, Feminism
Friday, July 20, 2012
Guest Post by Libby Anne