Warning: In this post, I use correct anatomical terms for private body parts. If you find that squicky, go read someone else’s blog. Or play Words with Friends. Whatever.
From the way a lot of Christians treat it, one might get the impression that anything to do with sex is embarrassing and dirty.
The aversion starts early and goes right down to failure to use proper terminology when referring to body parts. The number of people (especially girls and women) who have no basic understanding of their anatomy is shocking. I mean, guys are pretty simple. I think most boys reach adulthood knowing the proper words for their external genitalia. Maybe they couldn’t give details on the internal plumbing, but they’ve got a pretty good idea how things work. Girls, on the other hand, tend to be familiar with their internal physiology. That can’t be helped. When you need to take out stock in maxi pads for at least thirty years, you get to know what’s going on in there. Not so much with what’s on the outside, though.
I really don’t understand why parents don’t make the effort to teach their kids the right terminology. We explained from the time the kids could identify what they saw that boys have a penis, girls have a vagina and a vulva. My daughter has no notions that hers are called a “cootchie,” “hooha,” “flower,” or “front butt.” (Yes, that last one is real. You take any two or more moms waiting for their kids to finish a community-based class, and by the end of it, at least one of them will have overshared about their kids’ private parts and/or bathroom habits in some way. I have no idea why this mom felt the need to explain to me what her daughter calls her genitals, but she was rather proud of this bizarre euphemism. When asked, I politely explained that I used to work as a nurse and my daughter is familiar with the correct words.)
Seriously, people, just call a spade a spade. Take the mystery out of it. And if you aren’t sure what everything is called, there’s this handy thing called Google. You can even see a diagram. (Yes, I know it comes from Planned Parenthood, which every good Christian knows is run by Satan’s minions. You know what? Deal with it. It’s a pretty good diagram. Although I gotta say, those colors are a little scary.)
I honestly feel that a good part of helping kids navigate these things is being proactive as a parent. I would really rather that they hear about their bodies and about sex from us than from anyone else. Church can’t (and shouldn’t!) provide the anatomy and physiology, and school shouldn’t be responsible for providing the morals. That makes it our job as parents to talk frankly with our kids. We’ve started early, just understanding their bodies, because it helps all of us feel like this is something we can discuss. Having two parents who know basic biology also helps build our kids’ trust that we will be able to give them answers to more challenging questions. Trust me, if you come off like it’s painful and humiliating to talk about it while your kids are young, they won’t want to talk about it when they’re older and really need you. And when they find out you don’t even know the same basic stuff they can find in their textbooks, they won’t believe you when you offer other information—even if it’s true.
Time and again, research demonstrates that the single biggest factor in kids making wise, healthy choices about their bodies and sex is having parents who are actively involved in the conversation. It’s never too late. Take some time to become familiar with the correct information about physiology, the part that carries no moral or spiritual implications. Figure out your own feelings, and deal with your own past, first. Practice with your spouse, significant other, or a friend. Role-playing sometimes lessens anxiety. When you’re ready, open it up and talk to your kids. You won’t regret it.
Join me tomorrow when I talk about how shame and guilt have led to an unhealthy view of sexuality.