I've talked with my daughter, M, over the years about growing bodies and relationships. It starts young, really. As a single mother, M toddled after me even if I went into the bathroom, so yes, she knew that sanitary pads had something to do with being a woman. I'm sure my explanation was very, very simple. Once I told her teachers not to worry, that M had insisted on wearing a pad inside her diaper to school that morning. She was likely barely 2 years old as she insisted upon being potty trained shortly after, the older kids in her class were all trained so she would be, too (ages 2-6 year old primary Montessori class). At that toddler age, she was learning the difference between boys and girls, and how to identify with her own gender. M knew she was a girl "like Mommy," and Mommy sometimes wears those. Oh, I almost forgot, she wanted a bra, too. (And would only wear dresses or skirts, until she was in approximately 1st grade, so in the colder days I'd have her wear leggings underneath, figuring oh well, the skirt portion is an extra layer. I always wanted M to realize the opportunities that people can have, I did not wish her limited to girly-girl things. Heck, her first babysitter gave M her first doll, and my mother many since then. I didn't mind, just provided the black and white and red stimulating" toys, and then more gender neutral ones, initially. Yet, she IS a girl, and loved girly things. It's okay to embrace femalehood, just IMHO, don't feel limited by ones gender.
Time moves on, the conversations get deeper. The topic of, um, "playing doctor" and feeling good came up around kindergarten age, so we talked about "alone" time and privacy, that it's not bad but it is personal. When M was old enough to be trusted in a bath or shower alone, I let her, checking in of course, in the younger years. A good way to model respect, is to give it, and I do knock on the door before I enter, whether her bedroom door or the bathroom door. She could be reading, or making "perfume" concoctions with her bath toys and shampoos, in the days of constant 24/7 daycare for children, a few moments alone for "whatever," is important. (Eventually, that these things can be shared with someone such as a spouse came up, too. She's not going to wait until she's married, but I can still point out that within a very loving, committed relationship, is best.)
Body parts and friends having siblings, at age 8 years old, her dad's long-term girlfriend, Sh, had their baby, Si. And animals having babies. Horses are stabled near M's school, other early elementary animal research included very basic mating information. M and I think her friend, Md or maybe G, did a very long, possibly 28 pages long, written report on dogs, and a large, detailed clay dog park, when in 2nd year (grade). (Yes, I then relented that much more into considering us getting a dog, even if I'm more a cat person.)
Television and movies and books and friends and music......... I do not and likely will not ever have M have a television in her room. I don't have one in mine, either. I think that just separates families (admittedly, it's her and I, not a home with older teens and toddlers, who may be best watching separate shows). Heck, neither M nor I have much time for television to begin with, and I monitor what M watches, mostly. Even if I'm in the kitchen making dinner and she's working on something, or it's a downtime yes you may watch 1 hour tonight, pick your show, time, I am aware of what she is watching. And, we'll talk about it.
She's now 12 1/2 years old, few shows appropriate for that age, really. She's loved the show, Arthur, and Comfy Couch, yet neither would really fit her actual needs and interests now, other than nostalgically. Much of what is on, I find to be "trash" television, really. Even some of the ads during the SuperBowl (we turned it on for half-time and occasionally keeping up with the score), I thought were very violent, too violent for all the youth likely watching (and too violent for MY tastes). We'd progressed to watching "Joan of Arcadia." Great show now off the air. Right now, the only good one I know of for middle schoolers (and younger, and older, I like it, too!), is "Everybody Hates Chris." Funny as heck, family show. Yet, a lot comes on related to sex and relationships, sometimes quite casual sex, even in "family shows" at times, or "Friends," or if "Girlfriends" is the show she choses, and Malcolm in the Middle and Saturday morning girls shows which don't really talk of sex, butdo about relationships at times. And we'll talk, or I'll at least point out that this is good, this isn't so good, a man should treat a woman this way, not that, or vice versa for the womans actions and reactions.
I did get hooked on Grey's Anatomy:) (so the only two shows we aim to watch are Grey's Anatomy and Everybody Hates Chris). Grey's once did a show where four girls are potential young mothers of a discarded, potentially dying infant. M and I talked a fair bit about that, with me opening up the discussion. I told her of the Maryland law, that should "any of her friends" ever be in such a situation where she is scared, that the baby could be left in a space place, such as a police station, etc., and the girl wouldn't get in trouble, etc., etc. M initially looked at me like "why are you telling me this, I'd never do such a thing." I did remind her that I love her, and if SHE were ever in a bad spot, she'd better let me know, and I'd help her, not to be scared to tell me anything. But, she heard me. M notices Dr. Addison Shepard on that show, and the work with infants. M thinks she wants to be a neonatologist. A more recent show had a 14-year old, motherless girl scared she'd gotten pregnant the first time she'd had sex -- this didn't require a long lecture or conversation, but a couple sentences here and there, as M's life moves along, isn't a bad thing.
M knows I've checked, and my health insurance will cover the cost of the HPV vaccination, and why I plan for her to get it. Not all cervical cancers are caused by the HPVirus, and not all HPViruses are prevented with this vaccination, but by golly, especially with guys with HPV oftentimes having no symptons, sheesz, I am not risking my daughter's life by her NOT getting this. It wasn't a one-time conversation. M knows I've had pre-cervical cancer myself. Talking of HPV and cervical cancer is a here and there as the years go on conversation, just as any topic of sexual health is, or, should be, IMHO.
In Upper Elementary, M's school held a Health Education class. It focused, appropriately, on body changes and expectations. I do believe that no child should be left in surprise as to the natural changes that occur in his or her body. My mother had given M a few books by American Girl, rather mild ones, one more on how to take care of oneself, washing hair and face, etc. Another mother was concerned about the topics and the class, as her daughter was, well, her daughter! yikes, and did not know anything about menstruation or upcoming body changes at all.
I'm not sure how much information M obtained that she had not from my mother or me (or C and Sh, perhaps), but she got some information to put away and save, and I talked with her again, too. These questions, I can talk about:) I remember letting M know that she could talk with me, but, if she didn't wish to for whatever reason, I asked her if she knew who else she could talk with, gave her ideas, too. Other adults in her life, from family to school to youth advisors at church. I felt pretty good about how I'd been handling things in regards to M and her developing self, preparing her in positive ways.
Recently, I let M know that she could call her doctor's office, or our health insurance, too (she has a copy of our health insurance card), for whatever reasons. At M's 12-year checkup, I asked M if she wanted me to go in with her or not, and she said yes. I asked the pediatrician, also, who said it's at age 13 when they have the girls come in separate from the parent. At her age 14 year checkup, is when I;ll probably have M get the HPV vaccination, still likely premature for M, but that's okay.
I recently mentioned to M yet again about how I'm still hoping that she waits until after high school to have sex, I forget how the topic came up, a news story or something perhaps, but while we were driving to dance. It used to be that much of our talks came at bedtime, me tucking M in, now, it's more often in those long drives. M responded, "Don't you mean until after college?" She doesn't want to have a child when she's still studying. Hey, that works for me, even if I believe she'll change her mind about sex long before she's out of college.
So, yesterday and today, M has Sexual Education. It's done every 2 years in their combined 7th and 8th grade class, so just happens that she's getting this at 7th grade, not 8th. The parents note said that it will include discussion of STD's and protection. I'd laughed with one of M's two teachers,Mo, that maybe they should hold this class BEFORE their trip to New York City. Mo said she's not seeing any issues or problems in this class, yeah!, I'm so happy for this confirmation. Me, either, actually. It's a tight-knit, close, class, really, many growing up together all these years, with a sense almost as if brothers and sisters. (I used to imagine a kibbutz was like this, in some ways.) I know that M's not been hanging around any particular guys, even if I do think she still has a crush on J.... or? I told M that she's having this Sex Ed class now, as some kids throughout the nation DO get involved sexually at this age.
A couple weeks ago, M and I were watching a Tyra Banks show. Her shows can be a bit too advanced for M, but sometimes not. They do discuss "real" issues, and Tyra's show on eating disorders including anorexia was great. M wanted to watch it. It's on late, but M wouldn't have school the next day, hmmm, good topic, we have talked of previously, yet, I relented. M and I even got to talk about being accused of being anorexic when not, or name calling for really skinny girls. That was me, and that's a girlfriend of hers, too, I always super thin and teased for it. But, for some, it's also an eating disorder. Tyra seems to aim for a combination of empowering and enlightening. Then Tyra had an ad on for an upcoming show, I believe with Janet Jackson. The clip showed Tyra asking asking Janet, if Janet had ever faked an orgasm. IIRC, Janet laughed, and her answer not shown, of course, teasing us to watch the show to find out.
So, M asks me, "Mom, what's an orgasm." I have to admit, I was not prepared for THAT question. I want to be able to answer any question of hers. I know I've sometimes told youth in youth group that they could not receive an answer then, as it's an adult issue and as mature as she is, she's not an adult (then again, that dealt with the reason for one girls parents divorce). Yet, this is a legitimate question. M's not too young for the answer to this question. If we're able to talk sexual education issues, this IS part of it, just, well, seems so personal. Talks about pleasure and stuff......... I ended up telling M that I would answer her, but let's wait until after her sex ed class. I wanted to give her a timeframe, give me some time to think and prepare, and her perhaps a bit more information in class (which didn't talk of orgasms, but hey). M asked me again the next morning, and I repeated my response. I don't like putting her off, but I didn't yet know how to answer her.
So, a couple weeks go by. M has a last-minute dance rehearsal last night, one of her makeups from weather cancellations Sunday. What a scramble, switching around her riding lesson (the last week of this session, and she'd missed last week as C wouldn't let her attend, even if my mother had offered to drive her there), getting a fill in for part of the rehearsal until M could get there, ultimately, working out. We usually chat enroute, unless M is focusing on homework or "resting." We talked about her Sexual Education class held yesterday. "Mom, they're not called STD's any more, as people can't catch diseases, but STI's now." I think that's the reason. Other more clinical stuff. How class was with a delay (they missed Physical Expression), how was Chance (who LOVED his treat even if part was cracked and the sweet feed portion was frozen, um, seems her backpack was left outside in the cold at her dad's again??), did she get out and play in the snow Sunday, how she'd downloaded the game, Bejeweled, onto her dad's computer and how excited she is to have obtained a very high score. On and on. I love just talking with her sometimes.
"Mom, what's an orgasm?"
Oh, wow, I'd forgotten, but she had not.
So, I answered her. I started off with the quick reminder, that sex is a gift from God. He does wish us to use it appropriately and in the right context, but it is from Him.
And, I talked as clinically as I could in explaining what an orgasm is, is for, etc., etc.. M tells me that a male needs to "calm down" after before he can go to the bathroom as the spermem uses the same path. I correct her, "It's semen, honey, semen includes sperm, but it's semen you mean here." And I tell her some dating etiquette things (if a boy says he needs to use the restroom even if he just has, just let him go, I was told as a girl, etc.) And I tell her how I believe faking an orgasm is almost like lying, that it's better to be honest, and few reasons why. We talk. I ask her if they have a chance to ask questions anonymously in her sex ed class, and they did yesterday, and will again today. I tell her that she can ask them, too, what an orgasm is, if she wishes.
"BarnFriend says that in her school, there's a 7th grader who's pregnant, and two 8th graders." What school does BarnFriend attend, again? It's a regular, large, local middle-to upper-class public middle school. "The 7th grader is pregnant by an 11th grader at [high school name]." Most of these parents are well educated, most would have political beliefs encourging sex education in public classes, etc. Yet, one potential sexual crime and three pregnancies in one "good" middle school.
Sadly, I'm reminded why these discussions are needed NOW. M read a several page article last night, in preparation for today. M said it was mostly about how everything's starting so much earlier. I read it, too, per her offer, as I do much of her seminar readings. Society pressures and focus on appearance, for girls and boys, but primarily on girls, sexual pressure, even mentioned that a hospitals used to see most of their eating disorder patients at age 15 and above, now have eating disorder patients starting at ages 5 and 6 years old. It didn't mention physical maturity happens at an earlier age now, then it did many years ago.
I tell M what Mo had said about her class. Oh, I've talked with M about who she may have any interest in, or others, but we chat again. Some of her friends have "dated," M had one years ago, sitting on the opposite end of the row of seats at the theater, his mom and I sitting further back, lol. I tell her that I know she's not doing any of this now, hanging out with boys even but I meant sex, and I laugh, "Besides, when would you have time?" M laughed, too. "Right, when WOULD I have time?"
This is a particularly busy time, the St. Patrick's SEASON, but, really, keeping a physically-oriented girl involved in healthy, physical activities, is not only more likely to keep her feeling positively about her body, critical in those middle school years, but, can keep her too busy to have a lot of downtime needing filling up...... I don't tell M this, my additionalreasons for keeping her involved in her two main loves:) It's okay. I'd tell her if she asks, but, all in time. She's growing up fast enough as it is.