by Alex Durrell
My daughter turned five last September and she’s still a sweet, innocent little sprite of a girl. She still watches Treehouse TV, doesn’t know who Hannah Montana is, or what kind of life Zack and Cody lead. She sings nursery rhymes and Raffi tunes and otherwise her musical interests extend only to classical and jazz (her choice, I assure you). She is the very epitome of a little girl, but she’s not naïve.
My daughter knows she has a vulva and vagina and she uses the words regularly. She knows her baby brother has a penis and scrotum. She knows that she and her brother were somehow created by her Daddy and I, grew in my womb and exited through my vagina. She doesn’t know exactly how the process happened, but when she asks questions, we answer her honestly.
We don’t pretty it up for the kids, but we don’t go into graphic details, either. We believe in age-appropriate education in all subjects, sex included. Since birth we’ve been perfectly frank with our kids about our bodies. To them, genitals are no more awkward to discuss than their noses.
Sure, it can be slightly embarrassing to hear my little kid blurt out, “Mommy! My vagina is TINGLY!” at the supermarket. (To which I respond, “We don’t talk about our genitals in public!”, and blush wildly.) Yes, it would be cute if we could call their genitals sweet little nicknames like “flower” and “dingle dongle”, wouldn’t it?
But here’s my point of view:
Educating our kids about sexuality starts early. When I didn’t balk at a friend’s Facebook status asking how her friends felt about sex ed in grade one, it made me take a look at the choices my husband and I have made about what we teach the kids.
Growing up, I’m not really sure I ever heard my parents use the proper terms for body parts. I didn’t even realise women don’t urinate from the vaginal opening till I was in at least grade six and I got my period – which I had NO education regarding (imagine my horror?). That was no way to be introduced to my own body.
I want my children to learn information about their bodies at home, not in the playground. Though, as adults we sometimes squirm at the idea of our kids being “sexual”, the reality is that sex ed doesn’t equal sexual intercourse. My kids need to know they can ask me or tell me about anything. They need to know the correct names and functions of their genitals the same way they need to learn about the respiratory or nervous systems. They need to know that genitals are private, and that it’s ok to touch them (in private, dear toddler, please). A vagina isn’t a bum-bum, folks. It just isn’t.
You may not like the idea that your “innocent” seven-year-old is learning about sperm and menstruation, but these topics are only uncomfortable if you make them so. Giving kids confidence in their bodies and feelings early will help their transition to adolescence during those crazy hormonal times that are (sadly) right around the corner. Sex education isn’t about teaching kids how to have sex, it’s educating them on the processes, names and functions so they’re able to identify their feelings (emotional and physical) properly.
Just this week, my daughter came home from kindergarten with some new education thanks to a bratty classmate: she told me about “making out”. Yup, it gives me hives to think my daughter will ever be making out with anyone, but I was happy she was confident enough to come ask me some questions about why kids might be doing that. Her classmate had witnessed some older kids hiding on the school bus he rides every day and he had kindly told his little classmates about it.
While I’m not thrilled, it’s also no big deal. My daughter came home giggling and I explained that when she’s older, she won’t be as “grossed out” by the idea of locking lips with someone. Her response? “If I decide to kiss a boy or a girl, I’ll let you know.” And that’s right: boy or girl. Because even at her age, we’ve addressed the fact that people can be attracted to those of the same- or opposite-sex. It starts early, and we want her to feel comfortable no matter what.
In our house, we’ve started our kids’ sexual education right from birth, and even if that makes you squeamish, I’m not apologizing. I can’t guarantee that my kids will always want to discuss this stuff with us, and I can’t predict what their choices regarding sexual behaviour will be. All we can do is give them an education, impress upon them what our morals are, and hope they make educated decisions when their times come.
How do you teach your kids about the birds and the bees?
Alex digs her humour like she likes her wine…dry. With a bite. She knows the lyrics to pretty much every song ever written, has a weakness for plaid and for all her complaining, she always finds the silver lining. Her two kids and one husband (for now…she’s evaluating the benefits of Brother Husbands) are the things that make her happiest and most frustrated in life, and there’s not a thing she’d change about that. Despite the name, she blogs here and here but is usually found in her pajamas on Twitter.