Positive sexual health starts at home, so roll up your sleeves and get the conversation started.
Published in Parents Canada in September 2015
When I was in Grade 5, my best friend told me a woman got pregnant when a man spit in her mouth. Sure, it seemed preposterous, but she pronounced this with such authority that I believed her. Besides, her father was the school principal, which gave her opinion added weight.
This notion was cleared up the following year when my very religious mother quietly passed me a slim book that explained the mechanical workings of the sex organs and made it very clear that sex was just for making babies. It focused a lot on body parts, such as the somewhat menacing looking Fallopian tubes, while neglecting to provide the crucial information I was desperate for, such as how to kiss a boy.
This, in addition to a few overhead anatomy slides projected on a pull-down screen by a red-faced teacher in high school health class, was the extent of my sex education.
I wanted things to be different for my two daughters. So when they were toddlers, I pushed past my discomfort and used correct anatomical terms such as vulva and labia. When they were in preschool I read them Boys, Girls & Body Science, which explained how babies are made. I taught them about boundaries by explaining the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch."
I didn't assume their future gender preference would be heterosexual, making it clear that if they ended up being attracted to girls that was perfectly fine with me.
By the time they started kindergarten, they knew more about sex than I did when I started high school. If anyone ever tried to pass off some lame story about getting pregnant via mouth spitting, they'd be able to set them straight but fast.
I tried to project confidence during these discussions, but truthfully, I always felt self conscious and a little too earnest. When you are brought up in an environment where sex is shadowed by shame and secrecy, you don't suddenly start talking about it with the technical expertise of Sue Johanson and the frank flair of Mae West.
And it didn't get any easier as they got older. One day, while driving my oldest daughter to Grade 6 band practice, she turned to me and said, "You know, mom, you think you've told us all about sex but there are still things I don't know." She then blurted out that some of the boys in the band made fun of her for playing the "tromboner."
She knew they were referring to something sexual, but wasn't sure what and was upset with me for not filling her in on this bit of sexual slang.
I adopted a tone of cool indifference while matter-of-factly explaining what a "boner" was. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was talk about erections with my 12-year-old daughter, but I figured if she had the courage to ask, I had better show the same courage and answer as honestly and accurately as I could.