“All boy animals have penises. Even frogs,” said my grade five teacher on Day 1 of sex ed. The classroom dissolved into nervous giggles and it set the tone for the week: awkward. Through playground whispers I’d heard how babies were made and was curious if the impossible-sounding part about the penis inside the you-know-what was true. And I hadn’t yet read Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret, so Mrs. Beaton’s talk on menstruation was the first I’d heard about that looming monthly fact of life.
Oddly, up to that point in my life I hadn’t heard much — if anything — from my mom or dad on the subjects of puberty and reproduction. Back then, parents didn’t really have those conversations with their kids.
Avery’s grade four class is beginning a unit on human sexuality this week at school and it’s comforting to know that I’ve already talked with her about the topics they’ll be covering. I started the dialogue early, when she was in grade three and she and her friends began asking around about how babies were made. That was an awkward conversation:
Me: “So, you know how boys have penises? Well, when a man and a woman love each other…”
Avery: Silence. Then, “Yep, that is gross.”
Me: “Do you have any questions?”
With the puberty conversation, which involves topics such as tampons, bra shopping and pubic hair, I learned that’s it’s way easier to talk about these subjects with your kid when you have an instruction manual of sorts. (That way, instead of making eye contact during the part about bleeding from your vagina, you can just look at a picture of a cartoon tween choosing between tampons and pads.) For us, this came in the form of the American Girl books, The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls (there’s a 1 and a 2). We looked through each book together, then Avery read them by herself, then we hung out on the couch and went through the books page by page, with Avery stopping and asking questions when she wanted more info. It wasn’t awkward at all. Instead, it bonded us as more than mother and daughter — it brought us together as females sharing girly info.
It also felt like one of the first pre-emptive things I’ve done as a parent — actually having the talk before I check the iPad search history and find out she’s been Googling “How to use a tampon” or “How to make sex.”
And yesterday, when her teacher called them to the carpet to initiate the lessons on human sexuality, she was able to raise her hand when the teacher began, “So, who can tell me what puberty is?”