Mothers, big sisters, aunts, cousins and sometimes other trusted family members are usually the first ones to talk to their younger family members about sex, which can be a good or bad thing especially depending on just how much they know and understand about sexuality. As sensitive a subject as sex is, loved ones should definitely be the first ones to tell adolescents about it. However, our own conceptual framing, biases and lack of knowledge can also taint impressionable girls’ framing of sexuality and reproductive health. So in the interest of not leading young girls astray, here are a few things we must stop telling them about sex!
1. Good girls don’t have sex!
Abstinence is great and we all wish that our girls were but in reality that’s just not the case. So why turn a blind eye to the situation? It only adds to the problem. We need to equip our girls with the truth so they can not only protect themselves but embrace and own their sexuality.
When we categorize sex as something that only bad girls do, we subconsciously send the message that “good” girls should not enjoy sex. The challenge that this creates is that as our “good” girls grow up and become women who get married, and still are harboring the “good girls don’t” stigma. As a result, they are less likely to experience sexual pleasure with their partner; which can ultimately contribute to significant problems in their relationship. In addition, many girls who grow up with this belief may suffer from sexual dysfunction which may have been prevented if they grew up with a healthy view of sexuality.
In addition, this belief reinforces the shame, stigma, guilt, embarrassment and taboo that surround sexuality. The negative consequences of this are that as our girls grow up and become women, they tend to be less likely to have healthy and positive feelings regarding their body and their sexuality.
2. Douching helps keep the vagina clean and healthy.
For years women have been told to douche in order to feel fresher, cleanse their vagina and keep it smell spring time fresh. This belief has been passed down throughout generations and still remains a common practice today. The only reason we are still caught up in the belief that douching is relevant is because the media and companies like Vagisil and Massengill have a product to market and sell. It is their job to make us to believe that the vagina is dirty and nasty and in order to feel good about yourself and your vagina you need to use these products that will help the vagina smell like flowers. Having some vaginal odor and discharge is natural. However, if you notice a very strong or foul odor and/or a funny color discharge, it may be a sign of infection.
In recent year, however, many studies have shown that douching can actually be very harmful to the internal environment of the vagina. Douching can actually have adverse effects on the vagina by washing away healthy bacteria and pushing harmful bacteria further up into the vaginal canal. This can create an imbalance in the internal environment and make it much easier to get an infection
The vagina is actually designed to cleanse itself. Washing the vagina with warm water is enough to keep clean. Using perfumed bath and body products only irritate the sensitive lining of the vagina as well as the inner and outer delicate folds of the vulva; the labia minora and labia majoria. Utilize caution when using a face towel or luffa on the vulva, especially as they dry, because they can carry bacteria that may be harmful to the vulva as well. If you must use a soap, then stick to using a non-scented, alcohol-free soap only on the outside of the vulva area.
3. Cutesy names for the female body parts.
Vajayjay, twat, slit, pussy, beaver, kitty, punany, coota mama, coochie, black box, deep hole, down there, titties, watermelon, twins, boobs, jugs are just a few of the slang names that we use when referring to our body parts. When you stop to think about it, many of these names are not cute at all! They are down right negative and derogatory. They send the wrong message about the female body. Not only that, some of these words are very uncomfortable to hear. When we teach our girls to use cutesy names instead of using the correct terminology for body parts and functions, it takes away the value. When we devalue something, we do not respect it and take care of it. This lack of respect or value of their body places girls risk for sexually transmitted infections, HIV and pregnancy because they don’t value their body enough to protect it.
Using slang terms also limits their ability to have an educated and informed conversation with their physician. Many physicians are not culturally competent. They do not understand the vernacular and slang terms that are sometimes used when referring to body parts and functions. This lack of understanding can contribute to receiving the necessary treatment and quality of care. The bottom line is that if the physician cannot understand you, then how can s/he help you.
Finally, because there are as many different slang terms for each body part and sexual behavior as there are letters in the alphabet, it creates a communication barrier for parents. So essentially, you could overhear your daughter having what appears to be an innocent conversation but she really may be talking about sex! However, the unfortunate part about it is that you would not have a clue what she is saying because she is not using the correct terms. In addition, you may have missed the opportunity to intervene and/or provide her with the tools and skills to remain abstinence or negotiate safe sex.
4. Do not touch your body.
It is so important that we teach our girls that it is ok to touch their body, after all it is theirs. They must learn the body parts and functions, they must learn how to properly take care of their body, and they must learn the what is natural and healthy for their body. Teaching our girls not to touch their body only sends the message that their body parts and functions are something that is unnatural and nasty. It perpetuate the stigma and helps to create shame and guilt regarding their body. This negative view on their body will ultimately contribute to unhealthy ideals about sexuality.
In order to fully discover, explore, and embrace their sexuality, girls must become intimately acquainted with their body. It is essential to having power over of their sexuality and that begins by being comfortable enough to explore their body. Additionally it helps lays the foundation for learning to understand, respect and communicate their sexual attitudes, beliefs, needs, wants and concerns, not only to our physicians but their future partners.
Lastly, by teaching girls to love and honor their bodies, it helps to reduce body image issues and self-esteem challenges. Girls and women who love, respect and value their body are less likely to put themselves at risk.
5. Nothing at all about sex.
In a day in age where sex sells everything from diapers to dog food and the media bombards us with oversexualized images of scantily clad women, we can not afford to remain silent about sex. The dangers of not talking to girls about their sexuality is that it does not prepare them for becoming young women. Many adult women have shared horror stories about beginning their menstrual cycle and not having a clue about what was going on or how to take care of themselves. Imagine how terrifying that could be to a girl who has not been educated about her body.
Avoiding conversations about sex does not mean that they are not going to do it. It only means that they are going to sneak and do it. We were created as sexual beings and we will be sexual beings until we die. Sex is a natural part of life. It’s who we are! It encompasses every dimension of our lives. The urge and desire to have sex does not go away. Not properly educating our girls with the knowledge, skills and tools is only creating a recipe for disaster. Ultimately, they will learn the information from somewhere and in most cases what they are learning is not accurate.
When should you start talking to girls about sex….as soon as they start asking questions. Everything should be done in a developmentally appropriate way. Be open and honest. Allow them to ask questions. If you don’t have the answers, find them! Also, please talk to them all aspects of sexuality, not just about the physical aspects of sex. It is important to make sure they understand the emotional, spiritual, social, legal and economic repercussions of having sex. And while education about sex is great, you also need to take it a step further and teach them the skills. It’s great to say “use a condom” but if you don’t teach them the proper steps to use the condom, where to get the condom and how to negotiate safer sex, then it’s useless.
To all the men, please talk to your daughters! Have a no-holds-barred conversation with her from the male perspective on sex and sexuality. Educate them on the qualities and characteristics that man looks for in a woman that he is serious about. Take your daughters out on a date! Become the standard of what she should look forward to from a man by demonstrating how a man should respect and treat a woman. Your actions will make the difference in the type of relationships and behaviors that she engages in. And just it might save her life!
While I do understand that having conversations about sex can be very uncomfortable, nevertheless it is critical. If you are uninformed or uncomfortable talking about sex, then seek out the assistance of someone who is professionally qualified to have the conversation.
**Syndicated Content: Originally written by Dr. TaMara for MadameNoire.**