I originally performed this piece live as part of the Listen to Your Mother Austin 2016 Show. I’m sharing it here again as just one example of why I believe that science-based, comprehensive sex-ed is important for all children.
When I was 8 years old, I became a walking after school special when I showed a neighbor boy my underpants in exchange for a fun-size pack of Life Savers.
I should have known he was bad news when he suggested we take his riding mower out for a joyride around the back pasture (not a euphemism). Our ride ended with the lawnmower stuck in an irrigation ditch and me in his grandpa’s basement trading a peek at my underwear in exchange for his hard candies (also not a euphemism.)
I immediately went and told all my friends the great news so that they could join my prostitution ring and score some candy too. Their reactions were less enthusiastic than I had hoped:
“You really shouldn’t show people your underwear.”
“I don’t like Life Savers. Did he have any chocolate?”
“I’m going to tell my mom!”
But worst of all was my friend Danielle who informed me that when a boy sees your underpants, you get pregnant. I had no reason to question her expertise on this topic; after all, she always seemed to know what to do with naked Barbie dolls.
And just like that, I had gone from proud candy entrepreneur to a slut-shamed, psychosomatically pregnant third grader.
Thanks to my limited, 8-year old attention span, I didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on my ‘pregnancy,’ but every once in a while, after a particularly large meal, I would look down at my swollen, gurgling belly and wonder if Danielle had been right.
Around the 31st month of my immaculate conception, my mom casually strolled by the couch one night as I was trying to watch Three’s Company and plopped down a book next to me.
It was called “The Miracle of Life,” or “A Blessing from Heaven,” or something much holier than “Get Knocked Up for a Pack of LifeSavers.”
I’m sure I grumbled some disinterested and snotty response, but inside I knew this book held the answers to whether that rumbling in my stomach was a Blessing from Heaven or tonight’s pork chops.
I flipped through the book just enough to confirm my suspicion that most pregnancies do not last 31 months. I also snuck a peek at the illustrated penis diagrams and was immediately grateful I never asked to see Mr. Life Saver’s underpants.
As you can imagine, my LifeSaver pregnancy scare has influenced the sex-ed approach I’ve taken with my own kids.
To ensure that my daughter would not follow in my reproductively confused footsteps, I started her sex education early. And I do mean early. When her Portlandia-style, co-op preschool sponsored a talk for the parents called, “Facts by Five,” I was the first to sign up.
Since most of our kids were 3 or 4, I assumed the discussion would be about proper names for body parts with a little sprinkle of stranger-danger mixed in. What I did not expect is that within the first two minutes of the talk, the sweet looking woman at the front of the room would instruct us to all stand up and repeat after her:
“THE PENIS ENTERS THE VAGINA.”
If you’ve ever wondered what your sex-ed parenting style is, it will come into laser focus the moment someone asks you to chant, “the penis enters the vagina,” over and over with a room full of your friends and neighbors.
Some silently mouthed the words, like you do while singing “Happy Birthday” at a party for a kid whose name you can’t remember.
And then there were those people who didn’t hesitate to loudly enunciate, “the penis enters the vagina!” as if they were shouting their latte order into the speaker at a Starbucks drive-thru.
My reaction was to giggle like I was a first-grader calling someone a ‘butt’ for the first time, but I obediently chanted along, rehearsing so I would be prepared to offer my daughter a no-nonsense answer to the question of how babies are made.
I returned home that night with an arm full of books and a heart full of good intentions to foster a healthy, open dialog with my daughter about sex versus the more laissez-faire approach I had growing up.
We started off slowly, reading the books about good and bad touches and how we don’t do things, or go with someone, even if they promise kittens or puppies or money. She paused, was quiet for a moment and asked, “Wow. Not even for GUM?”
“No, sweetie – not even for gum…..(or Life Savers.)”
When I became pregnant with my second child, we discussed my pregnancy in such detail that my daughter started referring to the planet Uranus as Uterus. We read, and reread the books from our sex-library featuring fun, colorful cartoons of sperm fertilizing eggs. Until one day, she looked up from the book and asked, “Wait a minute. If the egg is in the mom and the sperm is in the dad, how does the sperm get to the egg?”
This was it. The day I had been training for.
I took a deep breath and looked straight into her innocent, curious eyes and answered as calmly and confidently as if I was telling her what we were having for dinner.
“The penis enters the vagina.”
“Oh, that makes sense. Can I go watch Dora now?”
That was it. No follow up questions. No weird props or disturbing stick figure drawings required.
We ended our discussion with our standard reminder that this is something we only talk about with mommy and daddy and that if she tells her friends what we’ve discussed that all her stuffed animals will explode and she’ll never get gum again. (Okay, we didn’t say that last part, but it was totally implied by the look in our eyes.)
That little girl is almost 11 now. It remains to be seen whether our straightforward, “the penis enters the vagina” approach will help keep her any safer in the years ahead.
At least I know she has enough information to protect her from the Danielles of the world. Plus, you can’t be too safe these days…There are a lot of boys with hard candies out there.
To learn more about supporting comprehensive sex ed that addresses the needs of LGBTQ students, please join us at InformedParentsOfAustin.com and in our Facebook Group at (for Austin residents only, please. Outside of Austin? You can follow our Informed Parents Facebook Page.
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You can view the original Listen to Your Mother Austin performance of this piece here. (Apologies for the scary face.) 🙂