Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Private Parts

This blog has been re-titled, due to the crazy number of hits I've been getting, having previously used "vagina" in the title.

Quite possibly a new regular feature of Life with Sophia, this post is inspired by the SVMoms book club choice for this month, The Body Scoop for Girls: A Straight Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You by Jennifer Ashton, M.D., OB-GYN. The book is promoted by its publisher as “girlfriend-friendly health book for teen and tween girls.” I would add that it’s a girlfriend-friendly health book for privileged teen and tween girls who not only recognize “Tory Burch boots” but care that the author wears them as she serves “lattes” (caffeine-free, I hope!) to her adolescent patients in her spa-like Englewood office. Despite its uncomfortable efforts to sound “cool,” the book did inspire me to think about how I, as a parent of a toddler, am already trying to foster a healthy attitude towards body image and sex through straight talk.

Please note: The identity of my friend has been disguised/fictionalized to ensure her anonymity.

Sophia and I in the living room of a friend who has a five-year-old boy. Sophie is happily playing with a remote-control train along-side Josh, when my friend wrinkles her nose and announces, “Someone doesn’t smell so fresh.”

I have been blessed with the inability to smell poop. I simply lack the receptors. This weakness of mine has several consequences—1) Sophia, who is not disturbed by the presence of a poop in her diaper, nay, DESPISES diaper changes, does not admit to her elimination and remains in it probably longer than God and Pampers intended; 2) every other parent around me who CAN smell it secretly thinks I’m being negligent; 3) other children eventually begin to disburse, often shouting, “EWWWW, SOMEONE POOPED!” Thus, my friend, who knows about my poop-smelling disability, has aimed this observation at me, which I translate into, “Melissa, it’s time to change your daughter’s diaper.”

Yes, this is embarrassing.

So, much to Sophia’s chagrin, I lay her out on a changing pad, wrestle her pants off and begin my meticulous 4-wipe cleansing ritual. My friend, who is simply unable to let any sort of a teachable moment pass, tells her son, “Come look at Sophie’s vagina. This is her VA-GI-NA.”

“Actually,” I correct her, “It’s Sophie’s vulva. Vulva on the outside; vagina on the inside.” I DID know about the vagina/vulva distinction before reading The Body Scoop for Girls, but as the book was fresh in my mind and we were using Sophia’s nether region for an impromptu lesson in anatomy, I figured it was important to use the correct terminology. Josh can be the first boy on the block with this little tidbit of information.

After rolling her eyes, my friend repeated, “Vulva…Your Grandpa Bob drives a vulva. Can you say vulva?”

“Vulva,” her son repeated obediently, and then went off to play with his cars. Sigh. I just love those teachable moments.

I wholeheartedly believe in a matter-of-fact, shame-free approach to sex education. Granted, it’s pretty basic at this stage of the game, but I think the comfort with which I talk about my body and Sophia’s body is delivering an important message: There is no question you can’t ask me. I will not be embarrassed. You will get answers: Those are my breasts. That’s my vulva. Yes, I have hair down there, and you will too one day. I credit my parents with this, who were pretty matter-of-fact and shame-free about my sex education. Nothing was off limits. And so I came to them when I had a concern or a problem.

It helps that Kevin, my husband, is right there with me on this, even honoring my request to please change the terminology in Once Upon a Potty to the proper words for the protagonist’s body parts. (But that’s all I’ll say about Kevin with regard to this subject, as I do not want to embarrass HIM.)

I realize that this could backfire…and Sophia might wind up being the prude, blushing and acting appalled whenever I say clitoris or orgasm or something she deems equally embarrassing. But I’m willing to take my chances on this one. Because I want her to come to me for candid conversations about sex, not the gynecological correspondent for CBS news. Oh, I’m all for her reading comprehensive guides about sexual health and having access to as much information as possible…but I don’t want her to have to be told by said guide that it’s okay to talk to your parents about sex. I want her to know it.


Linsey K / Krolik Legal said...

Teachable moments everywhere. I love your shame-free approach. It is how I was raised and how I'll be raising my kids.

Thanks for participating in the SV Moms Group Book Club!

Melissa said...

Thank you Linsey. I figure she's going to encounter enough weirdness out there about sex as she grows older. I might as well not add to it!

It was a pleasure to meet you at the meetup this past weekend. I look forward to participating in more book club events!

Hip2Housewife said...

Your post isn't really so much different from mine on the subject. My kids know all the terms. It's more the "act" that I'm concerned about. I don't want to freak 'em out. It's a balance btwn honesty and what's appropriate or manageable.
Kinda like the rest of parenting!

Nicole Pelton said...

My parents were very open with me, and I answer all my kids questions totally honestly so far. But I still can't bring myself to talk about vulvas :) My kids have been known to shout "that's mommy's vagina!" though. Grandpa drives a vulva -hah! :)

Sheri said...

It's a good practice to be matter-of-fact about it. The first time I said to Merrick, "There's your erection," Joe looked at me funny, but I think he's come around.

Bonggamom said...

My post is sort of the opposite of yours -- how we use nicknames for private parts and how I feel silly for using the proper terms!

Cheryl said...

We also use anatomically correct names for parts, so when my kindergartener started talking about his wiener and his nuts (sounds like a menu at a baseball game!) I decided it was time to homeschool. Kidding! I know how boys are, and I figure, as long as he knows the real names of parts, he'll be okay.

I totally agree on the matter-of-factness as an excellent plan.