Today’s assignment for my girls’ studies class seems a little tricky. Here are the questions.
What did you know/not know about sex as a girl?
Who, if anyone, did you talk to about it?
What, if anything, do you wish you knew?
Imagine having your own girl one day—how will you talk to her about sex?
What do you want her to know?
I honestly didn’t know much about sex while growing up. I can’t ever remember my parents talking to me about it. I did know, from my church, that we were supposed to wait until marriage for sex, and that certain activities were considered sinful. While those activities were named, I had no idea what they were in practice. They were just words. I think this is definitely a problem in terms of sex education. What I wish I had known stems from this. I wish I had known what certain terms meant so that I could be empowered to either act or not act.
My earliest memory of being aware of sexual “things” is a slumber party (of course) at my cousin’s house. She spent the evening telling us dirty jokes that were mostly pretty tame, but they opened my eyes to some of the ways that men viewed women’s bodies and how those bodies might do more than I suspected.
In sixth grade, we had maturation day. Ah, what a dreaded and uncomfortable day. I remember the boys and girls sitting on opposite sides of the room, it seemed, and all of us stock still and uncomfortable and unable to look anybody in the eye. I came home realizing that my body would do something cool someday (menstruate) and that I wished that day would come really quickly (what on earth was I so excited about?). I don’t remember talking to anybody about that day and what I learned. I likely talked with my step-sister and sisters about this stuff, but I don’t have any particular memories of it. I do remember my step-sister getting her period first and telling me that the maxi pad felt like having a banana between her legs. We laughed at that one, and I envied her discomfort.
I do remember my mother-in-law giving me a sort of sex talk before I got married. I remember being a little uncomfortable, but I played it cool. Her advice was sound and I’m grateful for her bravery and openness. She was right, and what she said was appropriate for my situation and my impending marriage. I’m not sure that what I learned that day would have been any help in high school or younger.
I don’t have to imagine having a daughter. I have one with whom we’ve talked about sex with. I asked a bunch of my more experienced friends how they talked to their kids, and I read online about how to have “the talk.” I ultimately got some children’s books about sex at the library and we sat down as a family and read them. We stopped for questions and to clarify some of the ideas. My daughter listened intently, said she understood, and then went on her merry way. She wasn’t frightened or shocked by it. She didn’t say anything funny, as some of my friends’ kids have. She just accepted it and moved on. We may need to keep talking about it. I don’t think a birds and bees talk is one that can or should be had just once. I think it needs to be repeated.
What I want my daughter to know is that sex is normal and natural, but that she should wait until she’s married to experience it. I’m not a prude, but I do think that a lot of problems can be avoided by girls and boys waiting to have sex with the right person at the right time. But I don’t want her to be ignorant or so innocent that she can’t protect herself. I also don’t want her to feel that it is bad or wrong. In terms of puberty in general, I wrote previously about it in connection with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. One of the books I have used to talk with my daughter about these changes is The Care and Keeping of You by the American Girl company. I highlight this book in the Alice post.
In terms of sex crimes, I think all girls should have an understanding of what is healthy and what isn’t so that they don’t blame themselves for sexual violence. That’s easier said than done, but I think we need to overcome rape culture and a rhetoric of victim-blaming (whether that includes dress or attitudes) that continues to place women as objects and as vulnerable. Elizabeth Smart’s story is a vivid example of the harm that some of the rhetoric surrounding sex can have on girls’ psyches. After her book was published, she gave many interviews. In one, she talked about feeling dirty and like a licked cupcake or a chewed piece of gum (because of bad object lessons) after being raped. Girls should not have to learn about sex in ways that makes them feel like less than a whole person if their first sexual experiences are out of their control, or even if they are in their control. There is a double standard when it comes to sex, and it isn’t healthy for anybody.
I’ve said enough. If you’d like to answer any of the questions for this assignment, feel free in the comments. This can be both an enlightening and sensitive topic.