The ABC’s of Sex Ed
Did you see the episode of Sesame Street in which Big Bird teaches kids about sexual anatomy? He lifts up a baby muppet’s dress to reveal her anatomically correct genitals. “Now boys and girls, we’re going to look at little Maggie’s clitoris,” he says. Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster gather round and sing a song about the clitoris, and by the end of the show everyone knows what C stands for.
Okay, it didn’t really happen, but I can dream can’t I? I was indulging in that fantasy last week when I heard that it was the 41st anniversary of Sesame Street. I believe that teaching children about sex should come just as naturally and comfortably as educating them about everything else in their young lives. If our kids learn about noses and toes from Big Bird, why shouldn’t they learn the names of all the parts of the body? By omitting this information, not only do we miss an opportunity to teach them that sexuality is good, we actually send them their first message that it’s not—a message they will receive countless times in their lives.
Even the most well-intentioned, best-prepared parents struggle with sex education. When my daughter was eighteen month’s old she liked to rub her plastic Winnie the Pooh figurines against her labia during bath time. After years of working in the field of sex education, I knew that was perfectly normal activity. And while I didn’t stop her, I did have trouble taking advantage of this golden opportunity to rehearse the names of her genitals—something I did instinctively when she played with the other parts of her body.
I often wished for a little help from the usual sources. Christopher Robin’s gang taught my daughters about friendship, and Big Bird helps with ABCs, but there’s no way kids will ever see Dora the Explorer exploring her own anatomy. Sadly, Sesame Street, which set such a high bar for children’s educational programming, is now too busy fussing about whether to censor a celebrity’s provocative outfit, leaving little time for truly provocative–and productive–programming. (Oddly enough, it looks like Sesame Street tried to bridge this gap with a sex ed special in 1992, so if anyone has any history there, pass it on!)
Yes, we parents are on our own, but it’s not an impossible task if we push ourselves. By the time my second daughter started touching herself, I had a bit more practice. One day, she and her older sister were goofing around in the bed and I seized the opportunity to answer the younger one’s questions about her vulva. I found on my bookshelf an older picture book I had called The Yoni, which depicted, believe it or not, photos of vulvas in nature, and we browsed through it together. We laughed a lot that night, but they also thought it was somehow magical that nature could mimic their lovely lady parts so elegantly.
- The Sexual Anatomy Alphabet
- Montana Sex Ed Program: Why Kids Need It
- Toddlers and Preschoolers: Too Young for the Sex Talk?
- Q: Both my girls get all grossed out when I try to use sex terms. How can I help them get more comfortable with the subject?
- “Did You and Daddy Ever Do Sex?”