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WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND?

The More You Know

61 comments | January 10th, 2012

(story by Mir, from WouldaCouldaShouda.com)

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, which was of course the era of Very Meaningful After School Specials and the little "The More You Know" PSAs on television. (Also: "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" My smart-ass question was always, "But what if I want my eggs scrambled?")

I attended middle and high school just as national phobia about the AIDS epidemic hit, too, which meant that I was subjected to year after year of watching middle-aged women—always someone a little stodgy, unflappable, and so unremarkable that we all felt positive she had most certainly NEVER had sex—come to an assembly for the express purpose of rolling a condom down a banana as a demonstration of How To Stay Safe. Schools were teaching sex ed with a vengeance, you might say. At least where I was.

Plus, as I've mentioned before, I grew up in a household that very much believed that knowledge is power. My mother talked to me early and often about my body, sexual maturation, and all the various related matters.

This is why it always shocked me when it came time for Ye Olde Separated Genders Sex Ed Classes (at some point after the health teacher rolled a condom down over a banana, natch) and we did the index card thing. Remember that? You'd have your lesson about the eggs and the fallopian tubes and the "shedding of the uterine lining" (is there a weirder sounding phrase in the English language?) and whatnot, and then everyone was instructed to write down any questions on index cards and pass them in. This way, we could anonymously ask about whatever we liked, and not be embarrassed, and get answers.

I usually just didn't pass in my card. Sometimes I'd write "I don't have any questions." But the questions that came from my classmates… sure, I'd giggle along with the rest of the class, but mostly I was horrified at how much so many of the other girls apparently didn't know. Everything from the standard, "Will I still be a virgin if I use tampons?" and "Can you really get pregnant in a hot tub if you're wearing a bathing suit?" on down to "Is douching with Pepsi good contraception?" Whoa.

My lot in middle school was much like most kids at that most awkward age; I wasn't popular, I wasn't one of the Beautiful People, but I wasn't a total outcast, either. Being smart meant I was offered a grudging spot on the fringe of the in crowd, because we tended to share classes. Debbie was both one of the Beautiful People AND she was totally popular. She not only had a boyfriend when we were in 8th grade, she had a boyfriend when we were in 8th grade who was in high school (ooooooooh!). She always had designer clothes and she had a set of ribbon barrettes (fellow former 80s children may remember those, where skinny ribbons were braided through a barrette and then left to stream down along the ends into the hair) in every color of the rainbow, to go with every outfit. To add insult to envious injury, she had long, straight, blond hair. (My frizzy brown locks only wished to be so pretty.)

Debbie was sort of my friend because we were both involved with a mock trial club that was almost entirely high schoolers and mostly boys, so we stuck together there. I knew we weren't really friends; I wasn't nearly cool enough for Debbie to really like me, after all. We carpooled to mock trial and hung out together there, but she rarely talked to me at school.

One night Debbie called me in a panic.

"I got my period," she said.

"Congratulations?" I said. Was Debbie really calling me to tell me this? I may have pinched myself.

"What do I do?" she continued, a note of urgency in her voice.

"You, uh, tell your mom?" I suggested.

"I can't," she hissed. "There's pads and tampons in the cabinet in the bathroom and I don't know what to do. This pad is HUGE and I hate it. I feel like I'm wearing a diaper."

"So wear a tampon instead," I said. "I always wear tampons. You can't even feel them."

"I… don't know how. And doesn't it stop you from having babies?"

Suddenly being popular and pretty seemed to have a hidden downside. "Debbie," I said. "There's instructions on the tampon box. They don't stop you from having babies, what are you talking about?"

"I thought they make it so you can't have babies ever. I thought I heard that."

"Maybe if you never take 'em out," I offered.

We both giggled, then. I talked her through the tampon thing and then she said something that surprised me:

"Thanks, Mir. I knew you'd know. I could never talk to my mom about this stuff."

Even at 13, I thought that was one of the saddest things I'd ever heard. Debbie and I never ended up best friends, or anything, but she was always kind to me, even sometimes when other people weren't.

You know, my daughter's 13, now. She's the one sitting in health class, now, rolling her eyes at what her classmates don't know. I like to think that with Google and YouTube and everything, kids can become better informed, more easily, even if their parents don't talk to them… but I hope their parents talk to them. I think being in Debbie's situation—or one like it—must kind of suck.

Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more informed choices you can make. Everyone seems to agree about that until it comes to human sexuality, and then some people seem to believe that mystery is the best option. I don't get it.

Did your parents talk to you about this stuff? Do you find it hard to talk about, either with your kid(s) or others? How do we make these conversations easier?

(read more Mir here)

 

61 comments

  • carmen

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I should have used more tampons. That’s my new line when people ask me “Don’t you know how you had all those kids?”

    I try to be open for all the questions – and so far, I think I’ve been pretty successful. (I’m sure there’s one of my kids out to trip me up, though.) My mom gave me a set of books – The Life Cycle Library – and told me if I had any questions to look in the index. I’m trying to be a bit more open.

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    • Midj

      Posted on January 10, 2012

      Same books for me, Carmen. What was funny was that my grandmother read them to get the real information. She knew intercourse created babies but not how… It was enlightening to know there was an adult who didn’t know. I have always been open with both my kids. Occasionally, they offended people who weren’t quite so open with their own kids (uh, my sister-in-law, for one, ooops) but I’m really glad I went with answering their questions, openly, honestly and age appropriately.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted on January 11, 2012

      Bwahahahahah!!! @”new line” – I am absolutely stealing. I have four.

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  • Danielle

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I think my friends and I were talking about this stuff, constantly. I might have learned it mostly from them…or television? I just remember by the time I was old enough for people to try and educate me (around 12) that I was pretty up on everything.

    My mother did buy me books, including a fantastic book about changing bodies with transparency overlays of a man and a woman as they sexually matured, and asked if I had any questions after I had gone through it several times, laughing at words like “hump.”

    And I very distinctly remember a glossary of medical and slang terms in the back of one of them that defined “jilling off” as something that supposedly meant female masturbation. Has anyone ever used this phrase? Ever?? Even then, I thought the authors had made it up, hoping it would catch on… It *is* a bit clever.

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  • amy

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My parents covered the basics of anatomy and childbirth, but not menstruation and relationships. I decided to be a much more informative parent than mine were, and my children can ask me anything. My daughter felt comfortable enough to ask her father for help when she got her first period.

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  • Amy

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    Yeah, my repressed parents never really talked about sex to my sister and me. Whenever we would leave the house on dates my mom would admonish us with her standard “don’t let him touch you down here”. And tampons. No ma’am. She wouldn’t let us use tampons saying that once we were married we could use them…probably why my college roommate taught me how to use them…but alas, I’m with you on parents talking to their children. My eventual children will be well versed. And won’t use cutesy names for their bits. It drives me crazy that people want to act like penis and vagina are bad words (getting down from my soapbox before I get started. Even though I don’t have kids, I would think the easiest way to be able to talk to kids about this kind of thing would to remove the shroud of mystery from around it. I always thought sex was bad and wrong and shouldn’t be talked about because it was so mysterious. Remove the mystery and then it’s easier to talk about.

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  • aly

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    i have a 1 1/2 year old daughter and i have no idea how/when/how/how/how i would talk to her about this stuff. my mother NEVER did, but i read everything and anything i could get my hands on and learned all about sex/growing up that way. (thank YOU jackie collins for making my sexual expectations completely unreasonable! ;)). i would love to hear (either here or on your personal blog) how/when/how/how/how you were able to develop that kind of relationship with your daughter. i just… have NO idea.

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    • Mir

      Posted on January 10, 2012

      Aly, if you go back in my blog archives you’ll see I’ve always used proper body part names and talked openly with my kids about this stuff. (Here’s one of my favorite posts, from about five years ago. Back then I had a commenter take me to task for telling my daughter that sex happens when people want to have a baby because “that’s not always true.” Of course as she got older and we talked more, I revised that initial information, but in that first discussion, I felt like it made things easier for her to understand.)

      I think the two best pieces of advice on this I ever received were:

      1) “Answer what they ask.” Kids will ask when they’re ready, and if you answer ONLY what they’ve asked about, they’ll ask for more when they want to know. You don’t want to deluge them with information, but if they’re asking, don’t skate around it.

      2) Remember that there’s no such thing as “THE sex talk.” Ideally, it’s an ongoing conversation that happens over years. The more you open the lines of communication when the kids are little, the more likely they’ll feel comfortable coming to you with the difficult stuff when they’re older.

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      • Liza

        Posted on January 12, 2012

        If you have not yet read the post Mir links to above, GO RIGHT NOW!!! It is my absolute most favorite of her posts EVER, and one of the best things I’ve ever read about talking to your kids about sex/bodies, AND one of the funniest things on the whole Internet. All at once!

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  • Karen R

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My parents gave me lots of books about puberty, but never actually talked to me about what was happening to my body. For a long time I thought the only reason to have intercourse was to have a baby. I felt so sorry for those couples who “kept trying for a long time” to have a baby — the poor things must have had to undergo lots of undesirable intercourse.

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  • Anon

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My mom was very good at establishing good communication. It always amazes me when anyone is against sex ed saying it will lead to promiscuity. I was very well informed about all aspects and lost my virginity at age 25. I also had the odd experience of being a virgin in my early 20s and somehow finding myself being the one to explain 1) that while yes, your doctor is correct that herpes is treatable, you still have the virus for years to come and 2) no, the test saying it is accurate as soon as one day after does not refer to one day after the last time you had sex. It made me very sad to know how little access to information about their own bodies was had by otherwise very smart people.

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  • Mary

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    Oh, the memories you’re stirring up! Basically, my mom handed me a set of books (cause we all know how much girls at THAT age love to sit and read!) and said “When it gets red down there, let me know.” (You may want to put your coffee down for this part…) So, I’d sit there and “inspect” “down there” to watch for any sign of redness to the skin. Oi. Imagine my surprise when it did “get red down there”?!?!?!

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  • Lauren

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My mom an aunt grew up in a house where nobody talked about this stuff. When my mom got her period she was terrified, and she burned her dress in the incinerator. When she finally confessed all to her mom, her mom handed her a box of pads and told her she would need them every month.

    That story is probably why my entire life, my mom had open and honest discussions with me about my body and sex. And my aunt sent me tons of age-appropriate books to make sure I stayed informed. And I fully intent to be open with my children, as well.

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  • Mandy

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I got a couple of books and that’s it. Plus Judy Blume, but I found her on my own. When I started (first day of 8th grade!)I was too mortified to ask for supplies from the school nurse, so I made do with toilet paper, rushed home, and could NOT tell my mother. Instead, I asked, “How do you get, um, ketchup stains out of underwear?” No celebration, no going to buy supplies (older friends did that AND took me out to dinner.) Imagine my feelings when an older girl in after-school care said that her mom AND dad made her a maxi-pad-shaped cake to commemorate her menarche.

    I have a son, and at 2 he knew the proper names for all his body parts. He obviously doesn’t know the details, but he very much looks forward to the day his testicles make their “seeds” so he can have the 1,000 babies he wants.

    By the way, did you share all the comments from yesterday’s post with Chickie? What was her reaction?

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    • Mir

      Posted on January 10, 2012

      Mandy, she sat down and read the post and all of the comments after dinner last night. I asked her what she thought and she kind of ducked her head and said, “Your commenters are nice. Also a lot of them had even worse stories, so that made me kinda feel better.” :)

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  • Megan

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    Nope – no discussion. Not that my mum wouldn’t have, I think…, just that she wasn’t comfortable opening the conversation and I wasn’t going to ask – no sir! My one sex talk was when I asked her what ‘virgin’ meant (after listening to that filthy song Silent Night and she waffled on for what seemed like HOURS while I didn’t listen to a word. I still have no idea what she said; I just decided virgin must be a fancy holy word for corner because that’s what fit in the carol.

    We also didn’t really have sex ed in my school system past the very vague one in fifth grade that left those of us without older siblings just about as clueless as we were when we went in. I learned more from Frankie’s repertoire of dirty songs than I did from that hour of sex ed! (although the phrase ‘whacked it with my big banana’ caused me a fair amount of angst for several years – thanks Frankie)

    So my kids heard it early and often and in all different types of language and settings. Seems to have worked so far, but I have no doubt they have their own set of horror stories about how THEY had to learn about this stuff!

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  • Karen P

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I’m 32 and married and still waiting for my mom to have “the talk” with me. I am truly thankful I had educated friends on these topics growing up or else I think I would have been screwed!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    The night before my wedding, my mom said she wanted to talk to me about ‘wifely duties’… yeah she didn’t mean cooking and back rubs. As far as learning about puberty – I got an awkward conversation with a ‘learning kit’ from Tampax on the day I started. Seriously I learned more from the 4th grade viewing of “Julie’s Story” & companion handout…

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  • Leslie

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I got my first period in 5th grade, at Girl Scout camp (of course). I thought I was dying. I had no idea what was going on, and felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. Finally, one of the leaders saw that I had an issue and took me aside to talk to me. I can remember the look on her face when I told her I thought I was dying. She told me what was going on and made sure I had pads and such.

    Of course all the other girls knew, and it was totally mortifying (I was a fairly socially backward kid to begin with). After camp, my mom bought me pads, but the only other thing she told me was that I had a sore (!) inside me which would bleed every month. I learned all the real stuff from my friends.

    Now, I have a 13 year old son. His Dad and I have been pretty open with puberty and sex-related things, and he knows he can always come to me with questions, and he has. I’m glad we have that level of comfort that my parents and I lacked.

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  • Nelson's Mama

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My Mom had provided me with some basic information, but I had gleaned tons of stuff from all of the issues of Reader’s Digest that we got in the mail. Remember “I Am Jane’s Uterus” and “I Am Joe’s Prostate”? I practically memorized those articles!

    When my girls were small, my husband had a problem with me using the word vagina – he was horrified and in his words said “what if they go to school and say that”! So, I said fine. I’ll use twat and we’ll see how well that goes over ;-)

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  • Arnebya @whatnowandwhy

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My mother never said anything to me beyond “don’t bring any babies in here; I’m not raising any more babies.” Mind you, I still really didn’t know HOW I would actually procure said baby. Because penises, looked at directly, make you go blind and if touched, give you warts. Also, hickeys cause neck cancer. Look it up!

    I grew up in the late 70s/early 80s as well and the herpes video shown in sex ed class is why I was still a virgin when I graduated. (Also, the Trilogy of Terror after school special is responsible for my fear of small dolls).

    I refuse to have my daughter feel so unprepared (or be a Debbie, with a mom she couldn’t go to). When I got my first period (I was late, the summer I turned 15. My daughter got hers last summer, at 10), I called my mother at work and she said “OK and? Use a pad.” And I distinctly remember thinking, “What do I need to write down?” I started talking to my daughter early and had a friend give us her daughter’s well-used Americn Girl book called The Care and Keeping of You. She comes to me with questions and I ask my own every now and again. You know, trying to combat my mother-in-law having told her babies come from eating baby seeds. UGH!

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    • JMH

      Posted on January 11, 2012

      I LOVE that Am. Girl book…My almost 11 yr. old daughter have read it together and I use it when she has questions. It has sparked great discussions. I hope to find something similar to use with my son in a few years.

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      • Mir

        Posted on January 11, 2012

        Another vote here for Care and Keeping of You. Love that one!

        I would say the boy counterpart is “What’s Going On Down There?” by Karen Gravelle. Though my son read it and promptly announced, “Well, that was disgusting.” Heh.

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  • dgm

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My mom had been a nun before she got married, and she was very conservative (uptight) about anything relating to sex and reproduction. Everything I knew about “down there” issues came from the mean streets of the suburbs, Judy Blume, and a black and white film I saw in health class in 5th grade. I was the last of my friends to get my period, though, so I pretty much knew the score by then. When I told my mom, she gave me a box of tampons from the bathroom and said there was an instruction book inside. My friends thought that was very progressive of her to let me use tampons, but honestly I’m sure it was just because they were already in the house (for her and my sister). It allowed her not to ever have to discuss anything with me. We never had to speak of it again.

    I was determined to be open with my own daughter, but she is much more embarrassed about these things and she really does not want to have long discussions about them. Nonetheless, she asks questions and for help when she needs it, and she knows I am there to impart my extensive wisdom on her.

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  • ScottsdaleGirl

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I am certain I learned all I needed to know from Ms Judy Blume.

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    • Amy

      Posted on January 11, 2012

      Ditto.

      I had a comfortable enough relationship with my mom that we could talk about periods and stuff, but I think she knew that I was smart enough to figure out the important stuff on my own and to not make stupid mistakes. I’m not saying that other people can’t figure it out or that smart people don’t make mistakes (like my sister, who was pregnant in high school), but I don’t think there was ever any concern over my sexual/pubescent well-being back then. When I started my period in 6th grade she wasn’t home (dad was, but there was no way in hell I was going to him). It was pretty much a non-issue. I knew what to do and where to find pads. I was pretty excited, actually. When it was clear that I was in a pretty serious relationship in 11th grade (with the person I’m married to!), my mom once said, over dinner, “Well, if you must, wrap that willie!” I think my dad just about died in that moment.

      I teach middle school science, so I get to do puberty and human reproduction. I LOVE teaching this stuff. I love that my students have a teacher that is not afraid to talk openly about their bodies and that they can trust to ask pretty much whatever they want.

      (Funny aside… My curriculum rotates every three years, so I don’t teach reproduction every year. I was talking to my kids the other day, who will be the same kids I teach next year when we cover sex. Someone asked what we’ll be studying next year, and I mentioned a couple things, and then added “sex.” I went on to say “which is really fun!” as in the UNIT is really fun, not that SEX is really fun. One kind of clueless 7th grader innocently looked at me and said “sex is really fun?” Oh, my. I don’t think we all laughed that hard in a LONG time.)

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  • diane

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    When you said you got to the section about the index cards, I thought you were referring to the construction paper demonstration we got. Which was the nurse gluing one pink and one blue piece of construction paper together, and then trying to rip them apart, leaving a paper-strewn ripped up mess. That’s what happens when you have sex, you see.
    I’m not joking.
    And yes, I got a book after I told my mom that I knew where babies come from. (I was right in that I knew a sperm and an egg were involved, I just didn’t know how that worked exactly) It featured frogs, which confused me a lot about human biology.
    When it was time for my period, I got another book and a “here, read this. any questions?” Um, no. I mean, yeah, but I wasn’t sure what to ask. Also, I got my period at the age of TEN which was horrible. Thank god there was one other girl who started at the same time, I was distressed and mortified enough.
    As mentioned on your other blog the tampon instruction was “buy a box, read the instructions if you want to try it.”
    To be fair, my mom grew up in an uber-Catholic family so none of this is really surprising. But I admire the open discussions you have with your daughter and hope to someday be the same (right down to the ridiculous giggles over stuff that no adult should giggle over but…oh hell, we can’t help ourselves.)

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  • Wendy

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My freshman year of high school, during the “life creation” section of our human biology class, we learned everything there was to know about how babies get created. I felt lucky in that I already knew it all since my mom was never hesitant to answer any questions we had growing up. But the thing I remember most from the lesson was the following story:

    The teacher was discussing the general mashup of things that make up semen. And she talked about how two of the major components are sugars – fructose and galactose specifically. One of the Popular Girls, who was admittedly super sweet but also not the sharpest tool in the shed, raised her hand and asked, “Mrs. Teacher, if it’s made up of all that sugar, how come it doesn’t taste sweet?”

    The teacher stopped for a moment. Sort of opened and closed her mouth a few times, and soldiered onward about how not all sugars are sweet. All of the boys in the class immediately turned and looked at her with new-found interest. And then there was a moment where you could see it suddenly become obvious to her what she had just admitted by asking that question and the subsequent mortification to follow.

    It was one of my favorite high school moments.

    But back to the topic at hand – I have always been very scientific with my children about what all happens and how. It seemed easiest to answer their questions long before they were old enough to know they should be embarrassed by it all. And to answer them as clearly as possible. My daughter was 5 when we were discussing dairy farms (we drove past one every day to drop her brother off at school). How you get milk from girl cows because the girl cows make the milk to feed their babies, where the milk comes from on the cow, how come even though the baby cows don’t stay with the mama cows, the mama cows still make milk, etc. She thought about all of this for a day or so. Then, out of the blue, from the back seat of a full car including the boyfriend and my older son, came up with what I thought was a very profound question: “Mama, if we get milk from the girl cows, what do we even need the boy cows for?”

    And that is how my 5 year old go to understand animal husbandry. Because of course she wanted to know if the same process is how human babies were made. And then how the babies got out. And is that how she got out? and what about her brother? and did daddy put them in there like the boy cows helped make baby cows? could she make a baby now? etc. my girl is always full of questions. And I really think it was helpful that she asked them all in front of her older brother. Who I don’t think wanted to be the one to ask all of the questions, but certainly wanted to know the answers.

    The same sort of questions this past year (she is 7) lead to a very thorough explanation of the menstrual process and why I have a cabinet full of tampons. Which involved what they thought was a VERY humorous mental image of a cotton ball stuffed up your runny nose and how hard it would be to shove all the way up there to stop the nose from running but how pushing it through a fat straw would probably make it easier to get in there. I have probably scarred them for life, but by god they will understand it all as it TRULY is and not what bits and pieces they can cobble together from TV and friends at school!

    this was a long comment. I apologize. :)

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  • jen_alluisi

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I have to say, my heart is breaking a little reading some of the stories above. My mom was VERY forthright and honest about everything. Of course, my mom treasures honestly and plain talk above almost everything else in the world, and we were a Girl Scouting family (as in my sister and I were both Scouts, and my mom was a leader for a while, and even when she wasn’t a leader, she was a very actively involved volunteer and we were close friends with the other leaders and their families). My mom was very clear on the fact that she didn’t want us to have sex, but if we were going to, we should use as many forms of protection as feasible; she was clear on exactly where and how babies came from; and she was helpful and wonderful on the subject of menstruation (and on debunking the crazy myths I occasionally came home from school asking about). I graduated HS in 1995, for a time reference point.

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  • My Kids Mom

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My mom was, gratefully, good at advice and education. I was the one on the playground who actually knew the facts.

    I don’t have girls, but 10yo son started OWL classes at the Unitarian Congregation last week (Our Whole Lives). I read that it is one of the only classes in our country that teaches more than either science only or abstinence only. I also keep all the Robbie Harris books around for my boys. I hope they’ll be prepared for boy experiences and won’t freak out at their own bodies.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My poor dumb mother had the conversation with me twice. when she was pregnant with each of my sisters, so I was 3 and almost 5.

    But she only had the conversation twice. and it was an open and shut conversation. and it was unremarkable. So… I forgot it all by the time I was 7, 8, 9. I mean, I knew that male animals and female animals made baby animals, but as it applied to humans? total mystery to me when I got to sex ed in 5th grade.

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  • Gaylin

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My older sisters says my mom had the whole ‘talk’ with them. I never got the talk, in Grade 5 or 6 there was the film at school which left me believing that once you started your period, you bled every day, for life. When I did start my period, my mom got mad at me, now ‘we’ were all bleeding and it was going to cost her more money.

    Good thing I was a good listener as I eavesdropped my way to knowing about periods and sex. I didn’t start mine until nearly 14, thank goodness. Now at 52 I wish the darn thing would just stop already.

    A friends 3 year old asked me last week why my car was so small. I told her I didn’t have kids so I didn’t need a big car (they have an SUV, I have a Honda Civic). Her response: Can you go buy some kids?

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  • Kirsty

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    My mother never told me anything about any of this, ever. When I got my first period at age 14 I tried to deal with it on my own but caved in eventually and asked for her help (dying of embarrassment at the same time). After that, I would find a pack of pads left discreetly in my bedroom every now and then, and that was that. Everything I learned about sex, babies, periods etc. came from school. My friends and I never talked about periods either. I seem to have been at a very repressed school… (that’s 1980s private all-girl schools in Britain for you, I guess). I didn’t even dare to try using tampons till I was at university (and failed several times before I finally got the hang of it).
    I now have two daughters – one just turned 10, the other will be 8 in April. We’ve never had any kind of “talk” because neither one has ever, ever asked any questions about where babies come from or what tampons are (mine are easy enough to see in the bathroom) or anything. My elder daughter clearly knows a fair amount (presumably from school? I have no idea) but I don’t know, she’s just not asking questions and I don’t know how to bring it up. They’re both addicted to Glee so watching that has been an opportunity to discuss certain things (teen pregnancy, homosexuality, etc.) but whilst I was quite ready to go into detail, they just weren’t interested (only question: “How does Quinn know who the father of her baby is?” – I explained the Finn-hot tub nonsense and the Puck-sex reality and that was it. After that they wanted me to shut up so they could watch the show). I’ve told them repeatedly that they can always come to me and talk to me about anything, that I won’t get angry and that I’ll try to help (all stuff my mother NEVER said to me) but it’s not happening. I’ve bought some pads and slender tampons to be prepared, and I have a book on “growing up” (a book they’ve been able to read at will for years but never have as far as I’m aware) to help explain things visually, but I’m clearly doing something wrong… I’m so desperate to have a better relationship with them than my mother ever had with me but it’s not working so far…

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  • Jessica

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I was a very well-read kid, so I knew tons of stuff I probably shouldn’t have known. My mom was also very open about it. I remember the first “big talk” where she also invited questions (there are some things teens are curious about but really don’t want to know, FYI). I have always been a big believer in using the correct terminology for body parts (down to vulva, not vagina, unless you are really talking about the vagina). In my teens and 20s, I regularly befriended people who were 10-20 years older than me quite easily, for some reason, and they always said I was much more knowledgeable about sex and the human body (male or female) than they were. The kicker? I was still a virgin until I got married at 26. I often had married and unmarried but sexually active friends coming to me with questions about sex and their bodies. Very odd. I was my group’s own personal Love Line (as one friend told me). (And yet, I’m very private about my own sex life and am a strong “no details given” kind of person.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    Thank God I had older sisters. I started when I was 11. I was at school and I went straight to my sister who tied her jacket around my waist and took me home. I already pretty much understood what it was since I had 2 older sisters and with that many girls… My mom made a big deal of me being a “woman” now and made a big dinner and announced it to my DAD which made me want to hide under the table. I was a tomboy and I did not have any interest in being a woman and I hated that she made a big deal of it. Sigh. I know she was being supportive in her mind. My sisters, who are girly, probably were happy about it and that was her frame of reference.

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  • Em

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    I am a nurse and feel very comfortable talking about the science of it all with my 10 year old daughter. She asks, I answer but I feel like the science of it is only half the story (if that). It is the ginormous emotional aspect that I have a hard time talking to her about. It isn’t that I believe talking to her will somehow inspire her to be active sooner, I just feel like it is a subject that, in its entirety is sure to overwhelm her. And honestly, where do you begin? You have boys that have a totally different perspective about sex. You want to be careful of certain boys, keep yourself safe but these are the people you will be doing all of this maturing along with and oh, by the way, you’ll probably be every bit as horny as they are when you are a teenager but when that unexpected baby comes, guess who will be answering its cry and and shaking up every plan or goal you ever had for yourself? But its NATURAL! Your body may be ready before your mind is. You need to control yourself but not be ashamed of yourself but not let anyone else tell you what you want when you are at your most confused. Yeah, I’m terrified of those conversations (with my daughter! Don’t even get me started on what I don’t know how to say to my sons!)

    Re: Kristy’s comments about Glee. My daughter also loves the show (so do I) and I pick and choose episodes to let her watch because some of it does, like a lot of TV, make jokes and make light and I am not sure what she takes to heart. I’m afraid she’ll overlook the fact that Quinn got pg having sex and zero in on the stupid hot tub idea. I have a much easier time letting her watch the homosexual story lines, to be honest. Love Kurt, love his dad, my favorite parent-child TV relationship ever.

    Perhaps I overthink it :-)

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    • Kirsty

      Posted on January 11, 2012

      I agree, but my daughters are primarily French-speakers. My 10 yo’s English is pretty good, and I know she follows the basic storylines of Glee, but a lot of the dialogue nevertheless goes over her head. I’d be much more picky about what episodes she watches if it were in French. And yes, Kurt and his dad are wonderful (I particularly love the scene where they “have the talk”, it actually brought tears to my eyes!). The homosexual parts have been great as my girls had NO idea such a thing existed and now, instead of learning dodgy stuff in the school playground they’re totally cool and informed (very much the basics – no “details” as to who does what!). It’s also great for the whole tolerance thing. And it’s a fun show! We are three Gleeks for sure!

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  • mamaspeak

    Posted on January 10, 2012

    We got the information via after school special “Where do babies come from?” when I was 7. My BFF’s mom got pregnant, so they borrowed the movie from the library & the book. Let us watch the movie, handed us the book; my BFF was 6 & my brother was 5 and asked if we had any questions. I know that we asked a few questions about how the baby got out. I don’t really remember the answers. It wasn’t traumatic, I guess.

    In 5th grade, my other BFF (lived down the street,) got a book from her mom about what was happening to our bodies. This friend was the poor girl who needed a bra & started her period in 5th grade. Her mom was divorced & very sexually active, it was the 70s. In hindsight, as a parent, I don’t think I would want my kid getting this type of info from someone like that, but we got correct info, so there’s that.
    My mom told us she could talk to her about anything, but her non-verbals told me something much different. I’m glad I had someone like that who would answer everything honestly & not make me feel guilty or shameful.

    My girls are 8 & 5. They know all the right words, all the parts, all the details. When the oldest was 4, she started asking questions & I wasn’t sure how much information to give her. I got her a book called, “It’s Not the Stork”. When she had a question I’d say let’s find out what the book says. She often would forget (she always asked in the car,) but I’d find her looking at the book on her own. I would mention stuff on the page she was looking at, nothing big. Once in a while, that might be the book we’d look at & discuss before bed. When she turned 7 we got the next book, “It’s So Amazing” Gets into more of the specifics in regard to her body & it’s changes. There’s one after that for ages 10 & up. We passed on the Stork book to her sister, when she was 4. Little one has TONS of questions too. She’s big on coming into the bathroom on me. Both have seen me have my period & they know details. (My body gets prepared to have a baby, but if Daddy & I don’t make one, then it gets rid of the stuff, since there’s no baby that needs it.) I have an IUD, so I don’t get very long or heavy ones anymore. Actually, my little one (5 now,) is fascinated w/boobs & pubic hair. Wish I could videotape her asking the questions, so I could torture her w/them as a teenager. ;-) We use the correct names, but my oldest one prefers to call “down there” her bum & the little one has followed. I explained that if something was wrong down there, and they told a dr or someone their “bum” hurt and it’s the vulva/vagina, etc… the dr would think it’s their backside. We’ve agreed that “Parts” or “front bum” and “back bum” were acceptable terms, tho they do know I’d prefer they use the correct words. The thing that drives me nuts, is that our neighbors, their friends, have told their kids you make babies from a “special hug,” and other misleading, inaccurate information. More than once the older one has come home w/a story about how Suzie Q says you can get pregnant from a toilet seat” or something equally horrifying. I’ve explained that sometimes people feel uncomfortable talking about this stuff, so they generalize or “gloss over” the facts. My kids are the going to be the 20yo virgins instructing their dorm mates on the facts of life. Those other parents have been warned that my kids know all the info, have books w/pix in the house & in their rooms. They know they are free to discuss all this stuff. IOW, my child & I may be teaching your child sex ed, if you don’t. I can’t imagine why they don’t want to play date at my house…. ;-)

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  • Brigitte

    Posted on January 11, 2012

    I was a smartypants nerdling who had special privileges to read a bunch of books from the grownup section of the library at a young age, both fiction and nonfiction. That was enough education for me!

    Though it DID feel weird in teen years to know more about sex, when I’d never even been kissed, than my far more “experienced” friends . .

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  • Sheryl

    Posted on January 11, 2012

    “Is douching with Pepsi good contraception?” OMG, YOU ARE MAKING THAT UP.

    I approach sex ed with my kids the same way you do. I’m a bit flummoxed when it comes to my nine-year-old son because he doesn’t want to hear anything about “that stuff.” I can’t say the word sex or boobs or, God forbid have a conversation on the subject. His sisters really took it in stride, but he is mortified about it. I may have to send him on a weekend trip with dad? I dunno. Or maybe I’ll just leave a banana and a condom on his bed, and let him figure it out, lol.

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    • Mir

      Posted on January 11, 2012

      Hand to God, I didn’t make up the Pepsi thing. Apparently because you can shake up a bottle of soda, it actually used to be not-uncommon for girls to use it as an emergency contraceptive post-coitus, assuming that it would shoot up in there and kill the sperm? *shudder*

      Totally hear you on the boy not wanting to discuss it. I figure they’re listening even if they’re gagging and covering their ears.

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      • OffOurChests

        Posted on January 11, 2012

        So this preceded the whole Diet Coke and Mentos thing? (:))

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      • Brigitte

        Posted on January 12, 2012

        Ha, now all I can think of is the “Malcolm in the Middle” episode (“Long Drive”) where Lois has Malcolm trapped in the car on a 3 hour drive and tells him everything he needs to know. Of course, he starts out gagging and all, but by the end, he’s listening and asking questions!

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  • Gigi

    Posted on January 11, 2012

    Sex or anything that related to it was never discussed in my house. The closest I ever got to “The Talk” was a book I found on my bed about puberty one day after school. When I first got my period I was so unprepared that I hid it from my mom for a full year. It also didn´t help that I went to catholic school so most of my friends were as poorly informed as I was, thank God our 8th grade biology teacher, when she realized how little on the subject we actually knew took it upon herself to educate us. And she did, thoroughly. She also answered every single question we had. She became my favorite teacher and I´ll be forever grateful to her. My kids are only five so they haven´t asked too many questions about it but I plan on answering every single one of them when they come. I want them to be able to come to me with any doubts or questions they might have. I hope I can deliver.

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    • Jessica

      Posted on January 12, 2012

      Gigi, I hid it for at least a year, if not two, from my mom. I knew all about it and wasn’t embarrassed by it, but I did know that my mom had a big mouth and would tell everyone (including all passing dogs and insects) about it, so I didn’t tell her until I was older. (She’s still the same way, so I rarely tell her anything I don’t want broadcast to everyone she knows. Good thing there wasn’t Facebook back then, or when I did finally tell her, she would have put it on there. I know, because she did it with my niece…)

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  • Sarah

    Posted on January 11, 2012

    My parents never talked about sex, and I went to a catholic school from grade 3 to grade nine, so I don’t remember ever having “the talk”. When I was 11, I had a Dr’s visit (with my mom) and the doctor asked if I had any questions, I didn’t, and my mom just said “she reads a lot .. (which I did). To be fair, I had three younger brothers by the time I was seven, and I remember “breast feeding” my dolls by putting them under my shirt. I was also really nosey, so I’m sure I listened in on a lot of adult conversations.

    Sex ed was handled as a part of religion class in grade 7 and 8, and we learned about menstruation – and there was a big debate about whether it would be okay for the school to put tampon and pad vending machines in the bathroom. In grade nine (catholic school) the gym and health teacher closed the door, and cautiously announced “I can’t tell you anything, but if you ask questions, I’ll try to answer”.
    In grade 10 (at a public school) I just about died of embarassment when I had to copy a long note about various forms of contraception – I’m pretty sure I’d heard of condoms, but that was it!

    I’m 32 now, and over Christmas, my mom told a story that I’d never heard (and don’t remember). Apparently when she was pregnant with my youngest brother – I would have been six – I came up to her and announced “So, I know how the baby got into your tummy, but how is it getting out?”

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  • Mary

    Posted on January 11, 2012

    Oh the stories I have. I was an advanced reader, and read about a girl starting her period, probably in a Judy Bloom book. I asked my very Catholic mother what a period was, and she said she’d answer me later. The next day, I got dropped off at my pediatrician’s office, where she said to me “So, I understand you’re asking a lot of questions about sex.” Sex! I hadn’t asked anything about sex, I asked what a period was!

    Of course, that was way better than what was covered in my Catholic school. We learned the difference between male & female anatomy in science class, then they split us up for religion. Girls were left with a very young, newly married teacher, who got peppered with all our questions. Boys were sent off with the priest, who sat them in a circle, simply said “Sleep with your hands outside the covers,” then passed out rosaries and led them in prayer for the rest of the hour.

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  • Liza

    Posted on January 12, 2012

    My parents tried, but were very embarrassed, so I remember the complete and full extent of my sex ed with them:
    1) In 7th grade, I asked a question about hair down there. The next day, mom gave me Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, the teen sex ed book from the makers of Our Bodies, Our Selves. AWESOME. My friends and I read it so completely that the binding was destroyed by 10th grade.
    2) Just before 9th grade, dad decided to try talking to me about sex, while Benny Hill was on TV. (???) The gist of his point was, “don’t trust boys.” I remember him looking at my mom and saying, “Help me out here?” and her answering, “I think you’re dangling very well all by yourself.” At which point I begged to be excused.
    3) While driving me out to college, dad tried again. I was driving, so I couldn’t look at him.
    Dad: Your mother and I hope you know that we believe sex is something very special that should only be shared with someone you plan to spend the rest of your life with.
    Me: *cough* *sputter* First, I desperately tried to think of an answer that wasn’t a lie but that would let me out of this conversation without telling my dad it is already too late. Then, I swear, God spoke to me. The words that came out of my mouth were perfect. “Yes, Dad. I understand.”
    I *did* understand that’s what he believed! I didn’t happen to agree, but I understood it just fine. (I’m no theologian, but I think God has more important worries, like violence, poverty, cruelty, etc, and doesn’t really obsess over who is having sex, so long as the people involved are consenting and respectful of one another.)

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  • Dorothy

    Posted on January 12, 2012

    When my grandson was about 14-15 years old, he was shopping with his mother when she bought a box of tampons. He knew what they were for,but wanted to know how they worked. So in the car in the parking lot Mom opened the box and with a bottle coke showed him how they worked. I loved that he was brave enough to ask and she was brave enough to show him.

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  • bryan

    Posted on January 13, 2012

    A little late on the commenting bus, but I wanted to share that my daughter prefers to learn from books. (When she went to the dentist for the first time, she brought the Little People book Meet Michael’s Dentist. And her tooth brush, to show him how she brushed.) And I’d always tried to answer all of her questions, but not answer questions she hadn’t actually asked. When she got through reading one of the many books I have gotten her, she stomped into my room, IRATE. “MOOOOOOM! You told me that SEX was somebody’s GENDER!” Which I had, when she was 3 and read it on a form at the doctor’s office.

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