Monday marked the start of the much-anticipated 5th grade Family Life Education unit, aka sex ed.
I say “much-anticipated” because in many ways it really feels like a right of passage, a marker that one chapter is closing and another is opening. By this time of the year all the testing is done, kids and teachers are talking about the transition to middle school and everyone’s abuzz with field trips and spirit days, concerts and ceremonies. Family Life Ed is an important element in the crescendo that is the end of 5th grade. A sign that “yup, you’re growing up.”
M.’s friend had just completed the Family Life unit and so over the weekend, while driving them somewhere, I was able to listen in on the backseat debrief. Her teacher had prepped them by saying that everyone receives this information in different ways…that some would giggle, some would hide their faces…and that it was okay. The first day they talked about friends and making good choices. The second day focused on boy’s development, the third on girls. On the fourth day…well M.’s friend never got to that point. Conversation devolved into what pictures showed hair growing where. I was pleased to hear the whole thing discussed in the most-matter-of-fact way.
I’ve always taken the matter-of-fact approach. Perhaps it came from having two curious verbal girls and living in a small house with one bathroom for many years, but from a very early age certain things were just “out there.” One thing seemed to lead to another. Explaining what those tube-y things next to the sink were led to menstruation led to how babies were made. And not just egg meets sperm but yes, that goes in there. Birth control pills. Viagra commercials. All part of the ongoing conversation.
So I was astounded at how many otherwise educated moms were flummoxed by things reproductive, who couldn’t bring themselves to use proper and specific anatomical terms, and instead resorted to the blurry “bottom” or silly diminutives. I remember one mom (who I respect a lot) recounting how her purse spilled in front of her 3rd grade boy, and when he asked what a tampon was she had hastily shoved it back into her purse and changed the conversation. She wanted to “preserve his innocence.”
Another time I listened slackjawed as a mom explained how she and a friend were going to take their sixth grade daughters away for a weekend to have “the talk,” and furthermore she was going to tell her daughter that “oral sex was like licking a toilet.” Excuse me, did I hear that right? Licking a toilet? Surely she wasn’t serious. Yes, she repeated, that’s what she was going to tell her. All I could think was “hello future sexual dysfunction.”
At that point that I decided that talking about sex with kids was going to be my next freelance article.
My premise was that in an age of early onset puberty, in vitro fertilization, same sex parents, rumors of middle school oral sex and Fergie’s Humps, parents were living in la-la land if they thought that there was somehow a golden age between “you have a wee-wee just like daddy” and “the talk” at, oh, around age 13 or 14.
I started doing some research and hit on my two favorite resources: 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 and The Care & Keeping of You: The Body Book for Girls by American Girl. I even garnered something of a reputation as a sex ed straight talker. One day out of the blue I got an e-mail from a mom at school who I knew only glancingly, who had been told by another mom that she should talk to me about resources.
So on Monday, after M. had her first Family Life Education lesson, we were again in the car driving and I asked how the class had gone. Just the talk about friends and good choices, she replied. And then she said, “You know, I think you did a really good job in talking to us about sex, mom. I mean you used the actual words and weren’t weird about it and stuff. “
Bowl me over with a feather. Mark the calendar. My daughter actually said I did a good job.