As someone who writes about women's health and sexuality for a living, I hold myself to certain standards where it comes to my daughter's education. So I teach Em the names of all of her body parts. I try to avoid passing along feelings of body shame. And in an attempt to teach her about consent and agency, I don't force her to kiss or hug anyone she does not want to kiss or hug.
She'll be just two in about a month, so I don't know how much benefit she gets from any of this.
But I do know that the unhealthy messages of a culture that continuously fails its women have a way seeping in, softly and insidiously, almost by osmosis.
And so I soldier on.
Happily, teaching Em the location of her vulva has been a cakewalk. But as she approaches 2, I know things will get much more complicated much more quickly. I'm going to have to teach her about things like gender and privacy. I'm going to have to teach her that Mommy likes to poop with the door closed for a reason, and that culturally established gender norms are not something with which she should concern herself.
And I'm going to have to somehow teach her all of this in a way she can understand.
Luckily, I have a list of about eleventy billion books written solely to help children learn about their sexuality in an age appropriate way. Books like Gail Saltz's "Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts" and Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple's "Not All Princesses Dress in Pink."
But I know that throwing a few board books her way and hoping she gets the picture isn't going to be enough. (I know this because that was a main component of my first attempt at potty training my daughter.)
If I expect her to grow up as a knowledgeable young woman with a healthy sense of her own sexuality, I'm going to have to learn how to talk the talk... at her level.
No. If I expect her to grow up as a knowledgeable young woman with a healthy sense of her own sexuality, I'm going to have to learn how to talk the talk... at her level.
Which is why I'm now simultaneously reading three different books on how to teach your children about sexuality from birth on, all of which I'm finding indispensable:
The first one is Debra Haffner's "From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children from Infancy to Middle School." Laid out in sections organized by age group, Haffner's book gives parents a solid plan for what they should be teaching their children as they make their way through babyhood, toddlerhood and, eventually, tweenhood. It also includes a kick-ass appendix for books your children can read as the years go by.
Next on the pile is Justin Richardson M.D. and Mark A. Schuster, M.D., Ph.D.'s "Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child's Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens." It contains chapters on modesty, sexual orientation, puberty, and more.
And then there's my favorite, Deborah M. Roffman's "Sex & Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex." I'm a huge fan of Roffman's friendly, open, and easygoing tone, bolstered by her own stories of missteps in the parenting trenches. Beyond this, she does a brilliant job of showing readers how to approach difficult topics with their children... no matter their cultural or religious background, or their belief system.
Not that this means I'm done. After all, I still need to read Peggy Orenstein's latest, "Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape." And then there's Al Vernacchio's "For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health," lauded by many of the sexologists I know. And, of course, Logan Levkoff's "Got Teens?: The Doctor Moms' Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realities."
But there are some years to go before I need to crack those spines. Let us first survive... The Toddler Years.