alt=”Health May15″ width=”400″ height=”267″ />That conversation. The one you perhaps dread having with your child. You know, nudge, wink … about *whispers* the birds and the bees.
I’m not sure I ever had it. I certainly don’t remember having that conversation with my mother and certainly not with my father. I remember finding out about periods through a grainy 1960’s film, in a room with 20 other “tweens” (a word which was 20 odd years yet in the making). I only remember a girl running along a beach.
Not long after, I recall babysitting and seeing a box of Tampax on the shelf of the family’s bathroom and thinking, “Wow! They have this stuff on display in this house!” and then reading the box and wondering, “why do you need so many if your period is once a month?” Clearly the intricate details of menstruation and exactly how many tampons one needed for it wasn’t made explicit enough by the girl running on the beach. You can understand then what getting my period was like … so I am not surprised I can’t remember the birds and the bees talk. Maybe the running girl mentioned it? Who knows?
In my house, periods were all very hush-hush, and not to be spoken about. I have no idea what we called our private parts (three girls in the house and me being the youngest, you’d think I’d have seen a tampon before turning 14); mostly because we had no need for those words — we never spoke about it. As for sex …
I am doing things differently in my house and in raising my daughter. I don’t want her experience to be as in the dark as mine, and at times terrifying and shaming. You see, that’s what happens when something isn’t spoken about. It becomes wrong. Or shameful. Or dirty. Or difficult. Or unnatural. These are the things running through a young girl’s mind when she is confronted with her own womanhood and sexuality from a place of mis- or non-information.
I am nowhere near the birds and the bees conversation with my Little Miss who is 6 years old, although some research will have me believe it is not that far around the corner. With increasing sexualization of children and the decreasing onset age of menstruation, I may be closer to it than I think. However, I hope I am not setting myself up for that conversation. Because if I’ve done my parenting relationship the way I hope I have, it won’t be one heavily avoided, shame, and embarrassment-laden conversation. What I hope it is the continuation of many conversations. It will be part of a long line of questions answered and information shared.
I believe children have an unlimited capacity for learning and are more capable of understanding and coping with “reality” than we often give them credit for. I never hold back on giving my daughter information and answers in response to her questions. When it comes to her body and the natural way of things, I say it as it is. Sure, we use family words or euphemisms for our genitals, but equally, she knows the “real” words. When she asks about babies and where they come from, she knows it certainly isn’t from the stork or the cabbage patch! I give her information to match her age, but never couched in secrecy, shame, myth, or story. If she doesn’t understand, she asks again. Her questions each time show her growing understanding alongside the information she is learning every day.
It seems the key is to start early and focus on relevant and age-appropriate information: “Look at your feet. Aren’t they great for keeping you moving and balanced?” When children ask specific questions like, “Where do babies come from?” answer without embarrassment and with as much matter-of-factness as you would talking about their toes.
The truth is much easier to reconcile as a child, when given in a natural, honest conversation within a safe and loving environment, than any discovery later as a teenager or adult. By that point they’re may find themselves in a risky situation, without the information to navigate it, all due to our inability to be able to say the word “vagina.” Talking about with your child about his or her body is healthy and teaches them it’s OK. Of course it’s OK to talk about your body! And it’s important.
Those who work with young people in regards to prevention of sexual abuse, suggest knowing the correct words for their sexual organs helps in cases where there is forensic or disclosure issues and also interestingly, dissuades perpetrators as they rely on the cover of a culture of secrecy and shame. General practitioners and health workers say it helps them out tremendously instead of trying to decipher what “my hoo-hoo is ouchy” means.
Body education and open lines of communication promote body confidence and a solid grounding in healthy body image, for girls especially. And in the most current shocking and saddening culture of rape and revenge porn, heavily born from the idea that sexuality = promiscuity, having body confidence and a sense of ownership undoubtedly leads to empowerment regarding consent and violation, instead of shame and blame.
But back to conversations with my 6-year-old daughter: having given birth, any semblance of secrecy or shame surrounding what my body does and can do, blood and all, has gone well out the window. I have no fear or shame or embarrassment anymore. So my aim when I answer my daughter’s questions is to create a relationship where, whether she is 6 or 16, she feels she can ask me anything and trusts I will give her an honest answer; where nothing is taboo or secret or bad; where at no point is she or her body wrong or shameful or bad. I want to open up communication with her, not shut it down by suggesting her questions about her body and how babies are born aren’t appropriate or are rude, naughty questions. Bring on the birds and the bees, I say! Or rather the vaginas and penises.
Photo credit: Shari Sirotnak