Thursday, February 24, 2011

Eyes, Ears, Nose, Mouth, Shoulders, Skip to the Knees . . .

The first time I was supposed to be taught about sex, we were 10 and the teacher was a nun. I think she was actually going to give an in depth technical explanation of reproduction (there was a chalk drawing of a flaccid penis on the board, not that I realized it at the time), but the girl sitting next to me had a tonic clonic (grand mal) seizure before the nun could begin, and that was the end of sex ed. (Apparently, you either got sex ed on that day or you didn't get it at all.)

Until I was 14, and the football coach walked into homeroom and said something that has stuck with me ever since. "When you're little your parents tell you these are your ears" points to ears "and these are your eyes" points to eyes "and this is your nose and this is your mouth" points "these are your shoulders" touches shoulders "and then they skip down to your knees as if there were nothing in between."

And he was right, in my case anyway. Which made it way more difficult than it should have been to tell my mom when I had a UTI- the main symptoms of which are frequent urination and a burning sensation in the urethra when urinating. If you can't discuss your urethra, it's kind of hard to discuss a UTI.

I'm not bashing my mom here. She graduated high school in 1961 was a faithful Catholic- up until my father leaving with a woman younger than me and the priest child abuse scandals hit simultaneously and she was left bereft and righteously pissed about it.

The thing is, until the football coach told me so, I had no idea my vagina and my urethra were not in the same place*. Think about that for a second. At 14, I could have a reasonably intelligent discussion about my amygdala and duodenum (I was a strange child), but I thought I peed out of my vagina.

I was absolutely determined that no child I had responsibility for would grow up so ignorant of their own body. Which is how I became the preferred sex ed teacher for a good portion of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It's not just my family and my husband's family that send their kids to me. I've had friends and coworkers** ask me to give their kids "the talk".

Anything to avoid saying "penis" or "vagina" to your own child, I suppose.

Why? I know and I don't know. "Penis" and "vagina" are medical terms, just like "duodenum" and "amgydala". I don't think anyone would have a problem discussing lungs with their child, but get to what's covered by their underwear, and all of a sudden they're whipping out phrases like "down there" (Australia, perhaps?) and "privates" (in the Army?).

There has been quite a trend lately to start telling even tiny tots all about the human body and its capacity for reproduction, in scientific and clinical terms. Some parents do this because they shun "lying" and insist on telling the two-year-old just exactly how his baby sister got into mommy's tummy--oh, wait, into her uterus--while others believe that child development requires frank talk about sex as soon as a young child asks any questions. I was not a part of that generation and don't really think it's a good idea; while you can, certainly, give a child all the anatomical names for body parts and explain to him or her using simple charts or diagrams just what reproductive activity involves, you can'tgive him or her an adult understanding of these matters. Which means, at the very least, you can't stop him or her from shouting out in church, at a crowded restaurant, or on a plane "My [anatomically correct body part] is really itchy!" or from telling a pregnant neighbor, helpfully and in detail, just how that baby got into her uterus.

I fail to see the problem here. I don't think this person would be upset if their child said "my elbow is really itchy!" And wouldn't you want to know if your child's labia are "really itchy"? That could well be an infection or allergic reaction. It's the sort of thing you'd think a parent would want to know.

I also want to know why small children can't handle knowing how fetuses end up in uteruses. Would this person quail at telling their small child how their lungs work? I think not. Ignorance is only a virtue with itchy labia and fetuses, I guess.

As for the child telling a pregnant woman how she got pregnant (a) so what? I'm sure the pregnant woman knows how that happened, and (b) you can stop that conversation by saying, "Honey, she's pregnant. She knows how that happened, and we don't discuss other people's sex lives. It's rude." End of conversation.

I fail to see how ignorance, which leads to pregnant teens with syphilis is better than a lapse in etiquette.

*For any guys out there wondering how crazy I am, female genitalia is a black box unless you get out a mirror and are particularly flexible. It's not right out in front like a penis is. Women have to work to see their own genitals.

**I've done it for friends, but not for coworkers. I don't want a coworker freaking out on me at work after discovering I've told their teenage daughter there's nothing wrong with kink if that's what you're into.


  1. "There has been quite a trend lately to start telling even tiny tots all about the human body and its capacity for reproduction, in scientific and clinical terms."

    I love the huuuuuge false dichotomy here. I'm raising my boys very much as I was raised: proper medical terms for body parts, and a basic understanding of what those body parts do. My wife and I are not recreating the Sex Ed scene from The Meaning Of Life ("We'll just take the foreplay as read, if that's all right, dear.") in front of them. There is an age-appropriate middle ground!

    Shocking, I know.

  2. There is an age-appropriate middle ground!

    Nope. You've got two choices: all or nothing. Black or white. Day or night. With Jesus or of the Devil.

    I'm glad we had this talk.

  3. "Some parents do this because they shun 'lying' and insist on telling the two-year-old just exactly how his baby sister got into mommy's tummy-"

    Gah. I hate that "tummy" bit. When I was a kid I used to think women got pregnant by eating something, possibly tiny babies.

  4. I thought that babies came out via a door that opened in the woman's stomach, which freaked me the fuck out a whole lot more than knowing about vaginal delivery would have. When my mom was pregnant with my little sister, I kept waiting for her stomach to open up - at any moment!- for a solid 5 months.

  5. Yeah, so my boys went through the school sex-ed classes in 6th grade. We'd already explained all that to them by then, but we went to the mandatory parents' meeting beforehand. I was amazed by the number of parents who not only chose to keep their kids out of the class, but were actively trying to limit what subjects could be covered with everybody else's kids, too.

    One of my boys needed surgery at about 3, for an undescended testicle. We discussed the surgery with him beforehand, so he felt like he had a part in everything. We even let him "sign" the consent form. The woman with the forms said his signature wasn't necessary, but I said, "Yes it is. It's his scrotum being operated on." She said, "I'm sure he doesn't even know what that means." Since he was already woozy from the pre-medication, (AND was only 3, AND was already naked under a hospital gown) he immediately showed her where his was.

  6. This so very much. Also, Google image search led me here, where I strapped on my Lollerskates and did the happy dance of feminist humor! Your writing is fantastic, and you're on my blogroll now.

    On topic, I once got into an argument with a guy who was convinced that women have cloacae.
    Yes. I suppose that's where the slang "Birds" comes from? It was special.

  7. Mutzali: As the kids say, your son pwned! that nurse! LOL

    ppbloggers: I had to look up cloacae, and all I can say is O.o

  8. Geds - Drat! I knew I was doing something wrong. Thanks for clearing that up.

  9. @Personal Failure

    Oh yeah. It was magic I tell you. This was what he had been told in order to avoid premarital sex. Ladyparts are gross! It all comes from one hole! Ew! Think of that and be abstinent!


    FYI, world, I am actually a mammal.

  10. "Nope. You've got two choices: all or nothing. Black or white. Day or night. With Jesus or of the Devil."

    Straight and married sex or raping baby animals. No after-the-fact contraception ever or rounding up all the less-than-three-year-olds. Vote for GOD'S PARTY or vote for terrorist islamo-fascist socialist Kenyans.

    I wish I was exaggerating those arguments...

  11. Well, and let us never forget that without marriage women are apparently DOOMED, DOOMED I TELL YOU (!!!) to never fully mature biologically. It's a little known fact that until her wedding day a woman does not posses normal mammalian parts, but has a lizard like pelvic arrangement. Only by committing to virginal CHRISTIAN marriage can this curse be lifted.

  12. Eeheeee, I knew the comments on this entry wouldn't let me down. :D

    My mom got me an illustrated book called The Stork Didn't Bring me when I was five. She told me, "This is just for you to read. Don't tell Kimberly [BFF] about it, because Kimberly's parents will let her read a book like this when they decide she's ready." Of course I read it to Kimberly immediately. We were mostly just confused about why anyone would want to do that with a boy.

  13. "It's a little known fact that until her wedding day a woman does not posses normal mammalian parts, but has a lizard like pelvic arrangement."

    Lesbian sex just got a whole lot more complicated.

  14. @ Quasar--

    Now you know why the fundies can't even bring themselves to speak of lesbians. They confine themselves to speaking out against the buttsex and man love, because what Liz, er Lesbians do is too shocking to contemplate.

    / end sarcasm, siiiiiiiiiigh.

  15. hey, leave my Lizbian Army out of this!!!


    so, when i was 3, my mom got pregnant. she bought the AWESOME book, titled "How Babies are Made". with illistrations. [and until you've seen a drawing of a side view of PIV, you haven't LEARNED how sex is done!]

    book was amazing - it talked about BC, all the forms at that point available. it talked about ectopic and tubal pregnancies.
    it talked about the different "stages" of like, what the baby looked like when [if *I* knew this shit at 3, how do the REPUBLICANS *STILL* not know it at THEIR ages?!?!!]

    and my mom? is a damned PRUDE.
    [and thank GODS my dad taught me how to *USE* condoms at 12, with a banana. all my mom had said was "it's what BOYS use to try and prevent pregnancy, you don't need to worry about it." you know how many, many, MANY guys are INCAPABLE of putting on a fucking condom?]

    i've done the same with my niece - because my yougest sister? the one who never had to face my mom being pregnant? *SHE* got ZERO info - and started having sex at age 12.

    just sayin'

  16. I would be happy if parents would also teach girls that they have a vulva in addition to a vagina. The way most people label female genitalia you'd think we all look like Barbie with a couple of holes drilled in. I once pointed out to a Facebook friend who had linked to an article titled something like "Want to get a job? Wash your vagina" that it really should have said "vulva" and she told me I was being "technical". I don't see how the term "vulva" is any more technical than "vagina". I wasn't going to argue, but I did wonder what she thought of the term "Mons Veneris".


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