Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sex ed

For three years, 4th through 6th grade, I watched the same movie about getting your period. You know the movie I'm talking about. The one all the girls would watch while the boys went out on the playground to play dodgeball. The one where a woman with a soothing voice would speak in clinical terms about "your changing bodies". The one that you would watch while you sat in the dark room and hoped no one would notice you blushing furiously every time the soothing-voiced woman would say "vagina" or "menses".

I'm sure there were a few different versions of The Period Movie but the version I saw for three years in a row started off with a girl looking sad as she walked home from school. The girl looked like she was about 16 and she had bodacious mall hair.

When the girl got home she told her mom that she had gotten her period for the very first time ever that day in school. The mom hugged her daughter and then they went shopping for maxi pads. Cut to them coming back from the grocery store with three giant bags of sanitary napkins. As they unpacked the boxes (marked with labels like "PADS" and "LIGHT FLOW") they both looked happy and secure in the knowledge that they could bleed for weeks and never stain their acid washed jeans.

Towards the end of the film the narrator made an offhand mention of how some girls like to wear tampons so that they could play sports. This was the extent of my sex ed in school.

Now in spite of the fact that I grew breasts in preschool I was, by my estimation, the last person in the word to get my period. I was well into 9th grade when it finally came. I had been waiting for that day ever since 4th grade when I first saw that movie. It may not have taught me much but it did teach me that when I got my period my mom would hug me and go out and buy me a truckload of maxi pads and we would share some sort of age old womanly knowledge. Also I would get mall hair.

The day didn't turn out exactly like I had always pictured it. I was at swim practice changing into my swim suit when I noticed a little blood in my underwear. My big day had come at last! I waited till everyone else had left the locker room then I pulled my coach aside and told her I couldn't practice because I had my period. I felt so grown up. "I've got tampons in my bag" she said. "Take one and get moving!"

Tampons? But... but... tampons? No one ever talked to me about tampons! Where was my giant box of "PADS"? Where was my hug?

Mortified I returned to the locker room and made myself a pad about the thickness of my thigh out of toilet paper. I stuffed it into my underwear and headed out to the parent waiting area to find my mom. She would understand. She would hug me and then I would have mall hair and everything would be all right.

When I found my mom she angrily asked why I wasn't practicing. See, me being on the swim team would seem to indicate that I liked to swim competitively. The fact was that before almost every swim meet I would have a panic attack and then claim I couldn't swim because I was about to faint/throw up/die. I guess my mom thought my freak outs had extended to practicing too.

Through tears I explained that I couldn't practice because I had gotten my period. For the very first time ever. With panic in my voice I explained that my coach wanted me to wear a tampon and swim anyway. My mom softened a little bit but then told me that she had driven my brother and I a half hour to get to practice and very first period or not I was swimming that day.

I spent about 20 minutes in the bathroom stall trying to figure that damned tampon out. It was made all the more difficult by the fact that I was crying about what a massive disappointment the day had turned out to be. The only sex ed I had ever received* turned out to be a lie. No one was happy or excited for me. I just got yelled at for missing swim practice.

Why am I thinking about all this now? Because yesterday Joseph came up to me with his Very Serious Face and said "Mommy, can I talk to you for a few minutes about my privates?"

Now his questions left me struggling not to laugh out loud but I answered them as seriously as I could. I tried to give him all the information he was looking for without overwhelming him. It made me think about how I want to prepare my kids for the reality of puberty and sex and all that uncomfortable to talk about stuff.

I have to be the one to do it because when Joseph asks Jesse a question about sex Jesse turns red and says "Uhhh... um... go to bed."

So it falls on me to be sure my kids aren't left thinking that puberty means kick ass hair and hugs from your family. I don't want their memories of puberty to include crying in a public restroom in Germany for 20 minutes while they fumble with a tampon and then trying to swim with it only inserted halfway. Um. Not that they most likely would but you know what I mean.

Sex ed isn't something I really thought much about when I first had kids but I realize now that I'm going to have to step it up and make sure my kids are informed. Especially Joseph because if they still do sex ed the way they did when I was a kid all he'll get is three extra days of dodgeball.

*Not long after I got my first period ever my mom took me to this presentation at the hospital about AIDS and on the way home she explained to me what a blowjob is**.

**I give my mom props for her openness and honestly and there was a lot more to the talk than that but at the time I was so mortified by the whole experience that I sort of blocked the rest of it out.

One year ago today I had 1000 blog posts but no gall bladder.
Two years ago today people didn't know how to compliment a pregnant woman.


shyestviolet said...

your openness about your first period is way too awesome for words. at the risk of getting too "we're all part of a great big woman family," yesterday I was thinking about how traumatic a first period can be, how terrifying tampons first were, and that (dear god) I someday have to explain periods to my children. so good on ya. I'd chest bump you, but I think we'd just hurt our boobs, and I'd end up hitting your tummy anyways...

ALW said...

HHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! That is sooo damn funny! I think it will be less funny when my kids get a little older. Great post.

Stimey said...

LOVE this post. I can't imagine what I would have done if someone handed me a tampon on the day of my first period. The horror.

I love that Joseph came to you to ask questions. I think that shows you that you're doing something right there.