“Mommy, what happens if you’re pregnant and you don’t want to keep the baby?” This is the question my seven year-old daughter asked me first thing on a Monday morning a few weeks ago. It took me a minute to rouse my brain and get my head around what she was asking while the sun was barely rising and the morning routine had yet to begin. I wiped the sleep out of my eyes and I told her that you would give the baby up for adoption. They have quite a few adopted friends so I figured that would be a satisfactory answer. My daughter squinted her eyes at me and said very slowly, “What else could you do?” At this point I realized she had heard or read something and I had to veer in the much more tenuous direction. “Well,” I said,”There is a medical procedure called an abortion and a doctor has to perform it and it’s not a choice any woman wants to have to make but it’s important that she has the choice to make it.” I held my breath and waited to see where the next question would go. “You said you had to be a grown up to have a baby but then why does Sarah Palin’s daughter have a baby and she is only 15?”
At this point I realized the time had come for a real sex talk. No more platitudes about falling in love, getting married and poof! having a baby. Up until that Monday morning my daughters’ questions had always centered around how the baby comes out. And aside from my then 4-year-old daughter loudly broadcasting to a morning busload of passengers that she did not want to be cut open but wanted the baby to come out her vagina we hadn’t really run into any sex specific questioning about the mechanics of the whole thing. So, I told my daughters (both of them were hanging on my every word at this point) that I would buy a book while they were at school that day that would explain everything and we would read it together after school.
Luckily for me I knew exactly the book I wanted to buy. About a year ago I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture at my daughters’ school given by the head of Health Services for the NYC Public School System. Most of what he said didn’t really apply to little kids, and much of his time was spent giving us truly frightening statistics about the sexual activity of New York City youth (and I mean youth as in YOUNG), but the best tip for me that night was that he recommended a book called It’s So Amazing as the best book to talk to young kids about sex.
That afternoon I sat on the couch with a daughter on either side of me snuggled up close and we began to read It’s So Amazing together. I can’t recommend this book enough. It covers just enough about puberty to be informative without delving into too much mushy and emotional preteen stuff that would freak out a younger kid. The actual scientific journey of the sperm to the egg is presented in comic book style and had my daughters cracking up while really understanding the concepts. The sex part is presented as part of love and there are no weird hairy 70s illustrations like some other books, just more up to date comic illustrations that make it clear these are adults and sex is an adult thing. There is a discussion of love and the many types of love as well as all the various ways families can be created. And I have to say, the fact that this book is written for both boys and girls can lead to some very funny moments. The explanation of wet dreams and erections had my daughters practically rolling on the floor. They could not get over that boys don’t always have control over their penises and a part of their body could act on its own. I had to bite my tongue to not say that that was true of most men as well…
About a week after our mini book club afternoon I received an email from a woman at Planned Parenthood about their campaign to make sure that the NYC Sex Ed curriculum, which has been approved and ready to go, actually gets taught in our schools. The timing couldn’t have been better. Age appropriate sex education is so necessary – now more than ever. I decided to have an honest sex talk with my girls, but I also kept it at their level. We did not leap into birth control or teenage sex. We didn’t talk about sex for pleasure. We talked about sex in a way they could understand, and needed to understand. In a few years that talk will evolve but there is no doubt in my mind that this joint book reading laid the foundation for those future conversations. At the very least I didn’t want them getting misinformation from other kids or being talked into doing something because they didn’t know what it was. Knowledge is power and empowering my daughters about their bodies has as much to do about learning about sex as it does about nutrition, exercise and hygiene.
The approved NYC Public School curriculum is all about self-respect, boundaries and hygiene in the lower grades. There is no reason for a school not to include it in their curriculum especially now when we are more focused than ever on children’s health. We teach the food pyramid, we are calling for a food revolution, we are insisting on more recess and gym time, and we are implementing anti-bullying measures at every turn, yet the care and health of our children’s bodies seems to stop there. If we truly want to focus on building self-respect and self-esteem it seems to me one of the most basic things we can teach children is how to care for themselves and how important it is to have their own space and ownership over their bodies. This is what Sex Ed looks like in K-3. It’s not about “the sexual intercourse” as my daughter now calls it, but it’s about acknowledging that children have a body and they need to know how it works and that it belongs to only them.
I don’t think a school should or can take the place of a parent having these talks with their kids, but how many of you had a real talk with your parents about sex or even love when you were growing up? It’s time to let go of the weird notions about Sex Education and start seeing it as part of the broader health initiative afoot. Read the materials. And if you’re a public school parent get involved – ask your principal if the curriculum is being taught, and if not, why? We’ve kept It’s So Amazing on the bookshelf since our talk and I’ve seen my daughters pull it out to read once in a while as if they’re just checking something. Sometimes they’ll ask me another question, and sometimes they just put it back when they’re done. It’s reassuring to know they’ve got the information at their fingertips and aren’t ashamed to ask about it.