The Facts of Life

OK, we're going to try to keep this one clean. I mean, as clean as possible while still saying what I mean.

See, I was fine with the whole "My body is changing" type of book. We have our favorite one, and really—everything was fine.

Except everything was not exactly everything, if you know what I mean.

It's all very well to talk about ovaries. And armpit hair. Very well indeed! But it doesn't begin to talk about, you know, other stuff. Stuff like: First base and erections and sexual pressure. Oh my!

Of course, these are things you should talk about with your child. Preferably while you're in a rowboat or something, with fishing rods. And then your kid, who is maybe 14, says, "I'm so confused about boys!" (or girls or whatever) and you smile wisely, even ruefully, and say, "Gee, I was confused too when I was your age." And then you say a whole bunch of wise stuff.

Trust me, this scenario is far, far better than trying to find a parking space when it is 93 degrees out and someone is honking really loudly at you and your eleven-year-old says "My friend's sister's friend said she went to third base with a boy and what does that mean anyway?" while you have a heart attack.

I am of the opinion that even if you do manage to pull it together to explain the fine points of the bases, it's always helpful to have a book as well. For one thing, people don't roll their eyes at a book (or if they do, the book doesn't mind). Also, the book is there to be perused over time, instead of someone saying to it, "Oh stop, stop, that's so gross."

That's not to say that I have the perfect book. These are the books we got from the library:


Which is, ah, a trifle hetero-normative, if you will, on the cover there.

And then this:


They are—fine? I must say, I kind of can't stand "girl power" as a phrase, especially when it's accompanied by an exclamation point. It seems so unbearably false, you know? I find it alienating. I mean, I get that it's supposed to be something to aspire to, but it's a bit peppy for my taste.

But they did, these books, talk about, you know, stuff. Which was helpful. 

The question is, are there better options? Should I haul out an old Our Bodies, Ourselves (which I, personally, read compulsively when I was a teenager)? Is there something, somewhere, that's, I don't know, better? That will make the world an easier, less terrifying place for my children to exist?

That would be nice, wouldn't it?

10 thoughts on “The Facts of Life

  1. Wow you really have your finger on the pulse. I literally had this conversation yesterday with my daughter. I mean, I know it’s supposed to be an ongoing discussion threaded throughout daily life so that the subject at hand isn’t freighted with taboo and all, but… I had this conversation yesterday.
    I got her two books. One is “It’s Not the Stork” which is really aimed at much younger kids, but the format is not an easy read-aloud and my daughter, at least, is very big on the eye-rolling and the “ugh, just stop talking” so it’s helpful for her to read it on her own. She did ask me questions after reading a bunch of it. Questions like “If the egg and the sperm split in half to make twins, aren’t they smaller and weaker?
    There are two books after the stork one, one called It’s So Amazing, about puberty, and one called It’s Perfectly Normal, about “sex and sexual health”. Frankly they’re all a bit peppy for me, and the titles are so precious they make me want to puke, but I guess there are only a couple of directions you can go with this topic, and I’d prefer peppy and precious over the alternative.
    The other book, which I haven’t given her yet, is Period, which is about just what it says and which has been out for many years.
    I’m fascinated to hear what other suggestions come up here.


  2. What about It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Michael Emberly? We are about 8 years behind you (god willing) and have been reading It’s Not the Stork (by the same team). So I can’t speak to how heteronormative it is; I guess there is a full chapter on homosexuality. I do know that they conflate sex and gender sometimes, in both the little kid book and probably the teenage book.
    (I accidentally posted this comment on your linked page instead of this one. Oops!)


  3. Another fan of It’s Perfectly Normal here– good coverage of some of the emotional & social issues, and while the little cartoons are kinda cutesy, I figure that’s not such a bad thing to take the edge off such a loaded and squirmy topic.
    Also, for my Bat Mitzvah some 30+ years ago my cousin (yep the cousin that you know) gave me The Teenage Body Book, which was hugely informative about just the kinds of things you’re talking about, and quite possibly a literal lifesaver for me. I just looked it up on Amazon & they have a new edition (c2008) that’s got some very good reviews.


  4. I have boys, and there’s a considerable amount devoted to sex and puberty in the books I do have, but I can’t remember where they are and what their titles are. I also can’t remember the name of the article I read only yesterday about the subject — how we are in denial as parents about our teens’ sexuality. Sorry to be so obtuse, but I’ll try to track down these links and come back to report! (And I love your parking lot question — the car seems to invite all these things, doesn’t it?)


  5. Besides the old, battered 70s version of ‘Our Bodies, Our Selves” the hands down favorite at our house, believe or not, was put out by American Girl. It is called, “The Care and Keeping of You”. It does not address sexuality much (so is not exactly on topic) but great a puberty and its changes.


  6. On my list to read: Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality and
    Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers
    I’m just writing down the suggestions of others for the girls.


  7. I have this whole theory about how kids bring up this stuff in the car because they don’t have to look at you, or worry about you looking at them. Uncomfortable conversations are slightly less uncomfortable without eye contact.
    I have nothing to suggest on the book front.


  8. We also have the It’s so Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal books. I like them because they are cartoon-y and kid like, but the information is matter of fact and include the whole ball of wax, so to speak. My daughter asked for The Girls Guide to Boys for her 11th birthday this summer, I haven’t read it because it is locked in her hands. I assume it is like the rest of the American Girl books. I better get The Care and Keeping of You as well…
    I am so glad that my kids have books. I didn’t. The only books I had were Are you there God, it’s me Margaret, Then Again, Maybe I won’t, and Forever…Thank God for Judy Blume!


  9. The crazy thing is—we don’t even own a car. It was a rental, so it’s almost like they had to wait until we rented a car.
    And wow—the Girls Guide to Boys sounds scary to me, because I am dim and in denial.
    I’ve got to say, the Teenage Body Book also sounds compelling, I wonder where in the bookstore they even store these things…


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