Tag Archives: sex education

Sex Education and Your Preschooler

I am a mother of two daughters, ages 3 and 5, I have a Master’s degree in Public Health Education, and I have over ten years experience as a sex educator. Yes, I’m that mom who can’t wait until her kids ask where babies come from.

The term “sex education” is widely misunderstood. What most people don’t understand is that sex education is built upon a foundation of anatomical and emotional vocabulary, self-respect, self-exploration, body image, family values, communication and negotiation skills – and that’s just in the toddler/preschool years!

Sex education begins when you look into your baby’s eyes, meet their basic needs, and start to build a safe and secure attachment. The baby will cry, communicating the only way it knows how, and you’ll meet its needs, which is how your child starts to trust you.

woman-changing-diaper-photo-450x400-ts-75677441Diapering is another of those early opportunities you have to create positive experiences and foster brain development. Use gentle touches. Use positive language. Don’t use words like gross, disgusting, and stinky because remember that you are applying those words to their genital area and they need to have a positive relationship with their private parts. If they reach for their genitals while you’re changing them, don’t swat their hand away because that gives them the sense that there’s something wrong with them, that somehow touching their own body is wrong. Instead, gently move their hand to the side.

Before you know it, your 12-18 month old seems to be picking up a new word every day. By this time, you’re asking her where her nose, elbows, ears, and toes are so why not include the rest of the anatomical parts? Your son doesn’t have a “birdie” or a “ding dong,” he has a penis, scrotum and testicles. Your daughter doesn’t have a “vajajay” or a “potty maker,” she has a vulva and a vaginavagina. Your daughters can’t see their vaginas so it is best to use the correct term for the part they can see and touch (vulva). You may feel weird saying these words especially if your parents didn’t raise you using these words, but practice makes perfect. An elbow is an elbow, a back is a back, and a penis is a penis. Send the message that you are comfortable talking about their bodies because after words come sentences. And questions. Oh, the questions.

Seize questions and teachable moments like they are winning lotto tickets floating from the sky. If you aren’t sure how to answer their questions, follow these tips.

Using that technique, here’s a conversation I had with my almost-three year old:

Daughter: “How did the baby get out?”

Me: “How do you think it happened?”

Daughter: “It boomed out of her mouth.”

Me: “Well, that’s interesting.”

And maybe you’re wondering why the sex educator mom didn’t tell her daughter the whole truth… well, I know my child best. I knew her body of knowledge and vocabulary about the topic and she was still 2 years old. I did not think it was age-appropriate to tell her the whole truth at that time. Lucky for me, she asked me again recently and I told her that a baby comes out either through the vagina or by surgery. Children ask more sexuality-related questions by 8 years old than they will the rest of their childhood and adolescence. Take advantage!

My two year old is starting to sit up on the changing table with legs spread apart to examine her vulva. I let her. I say, “that is your vulva.” She repeats after me. And just like that, a valuable teachable moment occurs.

When my oldest was three she had some questions about pregnancy. A well-intentioned friend told her that her baby was in the tummy, but she knew the tummy to be the stomach, where food goes. I clarified for her, “the baby actually grows inside of a very strong muscle called the uterus.” Teachable moment.

Messages about privacy and self-exploration are now working their way into conversations with my four year old. She has discovered that it “tickles” when she touches herself. I tell her it is ok as long as she does it in private. We also teach her that other people want privacy when they are in the bathroom and changing rooms.

My husband and I avoid using the f word. Not the swear word, the FAT word. We are both aware that early adoption of a healthy body image will directly influence her sexual decision making later in life. If she values and respects her body, she’ll hold her future partners to the same standard.

bodyimageA lot of the messaging about family values at this age is unspoken. Do you shower or get dressed in front of your little one? Do you show affection to your spouse and/or extended family members? Do you look at yourself in the mirror with appreciation or disdain? What role does your faith play? Do you and your spouse argue respectfully or not? And much of it is spoken, hopefully loud and clear. 

So the next time someone tells you that your child is too young to receive sex education, tell them they are wrong. In the beginning, sex education isn’t about sex at all. It’s about giving your child a solid foundation to stand on. Help them learn to love, respect, and trust during the early years because it’ll make a huge difference during their adolescence. Be open, be honest, and don’t fear THE BIG TALK. You know you’re doing it right if you’re having many little talks. You can do this!

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Fun Friday: John Oliver on Sex Education

You need to watch this video. That is all.

(Oh, and it’s got some “colorful” language so maybe you don’t want to watch it at work.)

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What We’re Reading via The New York Times

If you don’t follow The New York Times, you should. One of the reasons we love it is because they publish excellent and timely articles on health, and we sex educators rely on it to stay up on the latest news. It is a reliable and sound resource for us. Here are a few of our recommendations from the last month or so…

Searching for Sex, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, January 25, 2015

If you’re fascinated by all things sex ed like I am, you MUST read this article. I’m not even going to prep you with a little introductory paragraph because I want you to be totally blown away. The article is a bit long so if you don’t have time now, bookmark it for later.

Medicating Women’s Feelings, by Julie Holland, February 28, 2015

There are lots of things our society doesn’t talk enough about and mental health tops the list, in my opinion. This article, written by an experienced psychiatrist, says enough is enough! She says, “The new, medicated normal is at odds with women’s dynamic biology; brain and body chemicals are meant to be in flux. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathic to our children’s needs and intuitive of our partners’ intentions. Women’s emotionality is a sign of health, not disease; it is a source of power. But we are under constant pressure to restrain our emotional lives.” I highy recommend this read…share the article, talk about it, reach out to a friend.

Two Strains of H.I.V. Cut Vastly Different Paths by Carl Zimmer, March 2, 2015

Two strains of HIV-2 have made it to gorillas from chimps, and it's created two rare strains, O and P.

Two strains of HIV-2 have made it to gorillas from chimps, and it’s created two rare strains, O and P, both of which have jumped to humans in Cameroon

We’ve posted many articles about HIV before, including this one the origin of HIV. What I like about Carl Zimmer’s article is that he retraces what we already knew about HIV’s origin, but helps us fill in the gaps by exposing us to new research. HIV-2 didn’t just take one giant leap from primate to human, IT TOOK NINE! HIV-1 was trickier to track down. Scientists have been sifting through chimpanzee and gorilla feces for years looking for answers and now they finally have definitive proof that they can use to reconstruct the path that HIV-1 took. It’s a very fascinating read so be sure to check it out!

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Fun Friday: Leave it to the Swedes…

When you’re a sex educator, people send you all sorts of funny things. Two people sent this video to me this week. The Swedes take their sex education very seriously and start educating very young. There’s not stigma, it’s just a matter of fact, health, and science. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they have one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

So, enjoy this little jam from Snoppen and Snippan, the peppiest penis and vulva you’ll ever meet. Happy Friday!

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Sex and Pregnancy Myths

Today’s post is by “Obi,” a Nigerian doctor conducting his field experience at Planned Parenthood as part of his MPH program. He was a general practitioner in his home country with main interest and expertise in maternal and child health.

There is a lot of information surrounding sexual intercourse and pregnancy, and a lot of it is incorrect. Easy access to the internet has made it so much easier to get information, but it is hard to know what’s true. This misinformation can lead to risky sexual behaviors especially among teens and young adults. Since the topic is also very sensitive, teens prefer to discuss about it among people they are comfortable with (friends, significant other) and they could be just as misinformed.

This 4 minute video discusses some myths about sexual intercourse and pregnancy, some of which I have heard as a teenager and some I have heard from the teens I teach sex education classes to.

Below are a few myths and the truths about them explained:

Can I get pregnant if I’m a virgin and it’s my first time having sex?
Yes. Your chances of becoming pregnant are always the same: 1 in 20.

Can someone be too young to get pregnant?
Once a woman is ovulating, she can become pregnant. Ovulation occurs before your first period (since ovulation begins 14 days before your period).

What if the guy “pulls out” before he finishes?
Once a guy is aroused, he releases pre-ejaculatory fluid. That’s at least 300,000 sperm swimming upstream. And guess what? It only takes 1 sperm to fertilize an egg. Pulling out should not be the only form of birth control that you and your partner use.

Can I get pregnant if I’m on my period?
Absolutely. For those that have shorter cycles (or are irregular), you can ovulate during your period. Sperm can also live in the body for up to 5 days, so if you ovulate within 7 days of having unprotected sex, you could become pregnant.

Can I get pregnant if I’m having dry sex (the act of sexual motions while still wearing clothing)?
Any time the penis and vagina come into contact, there is the slight chance of pregnancy or STI transmission. All it takes is for seminal fluid to get inside the vagina.

Is it possible to get pregnant by having sex in a pool?
You can get pregnant in any kind of water – bath, hot tub, etc. (you get the idea) – if actual intercourse takes place.

Does sperm die once it hits the air?
This is 110% FALSE. Sperm can live for 3-5 days if it’s in a warm, moist environment.

There are many more myths out there about sexual intercourse and pregnancy.

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What Happens When You Give Teens FREE Birth Control?

New research from the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that giving teens FREE birth control decreases their pregnancy, abortion, and birth rates. Uh, duh.


Since 2007, a St. Louis program has been offering 15-19 year old females free access to FDA-approved birth control such as pills and shots, but encouraged LARC use (long-acting reversible contraception – aka – IUDs and implants). Of the 1404 participants, 72% chose to use LARCs. Enrollment in the program also included education, so I’m not surprised by the majority of the participants choosing the more effective, longer-lasting methods.

Here are the numbers that will knock your socks off:

During the 2008–2013 period, the mean annual rates of pregnancy, birth, and abortion among CHOICE participants were 34.0, 19.4, and 9.7 per 1000 teens, respectively. In comparison, rates of pregnancy, birth, and abortion among sexually experienced U.S. teens in 2008 were 158.5, 94.0, and 41.5 per 1000, respectively.

Did you see that? The girls enrolled in the study had a 9.7 (per 1,000) abortion rate, while their unenrolled U.S. peers endured a rate over 4 times that! Dig a little deeper into the study and you’ll read that HALF of the 14-17 year olds who enrolled in the study reported a previous unintended pregnancy!

The CHOICE Project isn’t the first of its kind, but it is obviously changing lives in the St. Louis area. Removing the barriers (cost, access, education) to birth control is a proven and effective way to reduce the pregnancy, abortion, and birth rates. Although the teen pregnancy rate continues to drop in recent years, we’re still one of the worst of the developed nations. The next step is getting the policies in place that support teens/women/families in their quest for planned pregnancies.

Studies like these are clear: increased use of effective birth control prevents unplanned pregnancies and abortions. While the nation continues to use women’s health and family planning as a political football, what more ammunition does one need to vote in favor of increased education and access to birth control?



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Jane Fonda Teaches How to Get Physical In a Safer Way

I regularly have parents contact me asking for resources for discussing sexuality related issues with teens. I usually refer them to Planned Parenthood, but I am always looking for new reading materialteen to recommend to teens. I recently stumbled upon a book called Being A Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health, Identity & More, by Jane Fonda. I was unaware of her commitment and dedication to the issues of teens and preventing unplanned pregnancy. I only knew her as the actress, activist, and workout guru but I will now add sexuality educator to the list. Apparently, she always had a passion for helping youth, but in the 90’s lived in Georgia and became heavily involved in helping young people navigate adolescence. Jane went on to found the (formerly the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention) Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential and the Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Health at Emory University.


Jane remarked,

“I have a passion for this work, partly because, when I was a teen, I was very confused, not particularly happy, awkward about negotiating relationships with boys and didn’t know where to go for answers. I wrote the book because I was asked many times over questions like (from girls) ‘how do I know if I’m in a real relationship?’ and ‘how can I say ‘no’ and still be popular?’ and ‘when is it okay to have sex?’ I would see boys so confused and sad because they felt they treated girls well and were their best friends but couldn’t seem to get them to be their girlfriends. So many young people my non-profits work with don’t understand enough about how their bodies work, don’t know enough about ways to prevent getting pregnant or getting someone else pregnant, or how to avoid getting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and think that oral sex isn’t really sex and can’t give them an STI.”

This book is written in a very simple way that allows teens or adults who have a teen in their life to skip around and find the chapters with the topics that concern them and come back to the others at another time. This would be a great book for parents and teens to read at the same time and then discuss with each other. She did a fantastic job at discussing the topics in a medically accurate, non-judgmental way. She must have been a sexuality educator in a previous life! She really gets teens and the issues they struggle with around their changing bodies, hearts, and brains.

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Didn’t Learn That in Health Class!: STDs and Stigma

The way we talk about sexual health is incredibly important. If we want to reach a place in our society where people can easily gain access to reproductive health care, we need to learn to talk about sex, sexuality, and our bodies in ways that facilitate this change. This is particularly important when it comes to talking about sexually transmitted diseases, as the stakes for breaking away from the shame-based fear currently associated with these infections are incredibly high.

hiv-stigma-cycleOftentimes individuals who have a sexually transmitted diseases face a great deal of ridicule within our society. This scorn is reflected in casual conversations, media representations, and unfortunately even in some education related to sexual health. Negative notions about STDs may portray individuals who have them as being dirty, sexually promiscuous, and irresponsible. This creates a mold in which only “certain types” of people get STDs. The problem with this logic is that research has shown that 1 in 4 Americans currently have an STD, with almost half of these infections taking place in the 15-24 year old age range. If you are engaging in sexual activity, and especially if you are having sex and not using a barrier method (such as condoms and dental dams), it is possible for you to contract an STD. Infections don’t differentiate between “certain types” of people.

It also is important to remember that one reason we hold such negative views about sexually transmitted diseases is because they are contracted during sexual contact. We wouldn’t publicly ostracize someone because they caught a cold, nor would we spread rumors about someone’s character because they contracted a nasty case of food poisoning. Promoting negative ideas about STDs and the people who have them is tied in with our culture’s negatives notions about sex. There ARE risks to having sex, just like there are risks to nearly any type of human contact. However, the current cultural shame around STDs doesn’t promote knowledge or understanding, nor does it propel people into seeking medical care. However, the best way to decrease infection rates and encourage more individuals to seek testing and treatment may just be to highlight the fact that an STD is an infection, and like other all infections requires professional medical help. If we work to remove the cultural stigma surrounding STDs we may be able to start a more genuine discussion about how STDs are spread, what can be done to prevent them, and what to do if you have an STD.

The first of this month represented World AIDS Day. In keeping with a focus on HIV and AIDS, there are some organizations that work to reduce stigma, and provide a great example of how we can communicate about STDss without relying on negative assumptions or misinformation. One such organization is The Stigma Project, which is a “grassroots organization that aims to lower the HIV infection rate and neutralize the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS through education and awareness via social media and advertising.” Another organization is The Sero Project, which is “a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice.” Check ‘em out!

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Ten of the Craziest, Yet Common Sex Education Questions

School is back in session and our sex educators are back in the classrooms fielding questions that would make you blush. Or gasp. Maybe both. Here’s a post from Genevieve revisited because without fail, someone is going to ask about blue waffle.

I was looking at a stack of questions I’ve received from students in various classes and thought it would be fun to share a few of them with our friends on Feronia. Here are a few of the questions with brief answers. The amount of detail we give depends on the class, age of students, and any follow-up questions.

1. How do you get blue waffle? Blue waffle is actually a made-up STD that does not exist. If you Google it you will find a picture of what looks like very bruised and disfigured female genitals.

2. Is it true that the penis feeds the baby when a girl is pregnant? The vagina and uterus (where the baby is) are separated by the cervix, which blocks semen from getting to the baby. Babies get their nutrition through the umbilical cord and placenta.

3. Is it true that you can test for STDs by putting ear wax on your finger and then inserting the finger into a girl’s vagina? I heard that if she squirms or it burns then she has an STD. The only way to test for STDs is by visiting your medical provider or going to the pharmacy and getting an at-home STD kit.

4. Is it true that if you drink Mountain Dew or Red Bull it will kill your sperm so you don’t get a girl pregnant? This is a myth that has been circulating since I was in high school. These beverages will not prevent pregnancy.

5. Is it true that if the male does all the work or is on top that you’ll have a boy? Is it the same if the female does all the work? The male’s sperm determines the sex of the baby, not the position of the male or female during sex.

6. Is it true that if a male “produces” in a female while she is pregnant then the baby will look more like the father? The way the baby will look is determined by DNA when the sperm joins with the egg.

7. If you are already pregnant and you’re still having sex, can another baby form? You cannot release another egg when you are already pregnant, but now and again there will be two fetuses and an early ultrasound will only detect one.

8. What is the largest penis on record? I would normally answer this by saying that the average erect penis is 5-7 inches long and I’d talk about the importance of not focusing on penis size as a way to define masculinity. For Feronia: According to the Huffington Post, the largest penis on record is held by John Falcon, who has a 9-inch penis when he is flaccid and a 13.5 inch penis when he is erect. His penis size was publicized due to being frisked at an airport in California.

9. If you put your mouth on a penis can the sperm come out? If it does can it travel down and get you pregnant? Yes, sperm can come out but it is impossible for it to travel from the mouth to the uterus. You can, however, become infected with an STD from unprotected oral sex.

10. Could a male animal get a female human pregnant? This is impossible, but it is understandable that students would ask this question because they hear a lot about how closely matched our DNA is to primates. There’s also some crazy stuff on YouTube.

Class dismissed!

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