(Warning: Mom, you probably don't want to read this.)
I've experienced a bit of a health scare this past week. You know what, this post discusses the importance of openly discussing sexual issues, so I may as well be honest with you. I flunked my pap smear. Actually, I have flunked two of my last three pap smears. The first abnormal test two years didn't concern me, but this most recent one did. After dodging a bullet once, I thought that doing so a second time was definitely pushing my luck. That and the stress of waiting for my biopsy results put me on pins and needles for the past few days. Good news, though. My OB (whom I absolutely adore, btw) called today to inform me that I passed. So aside from a recheck in three months, I am off the medical hot seat for the moment.
My cervical cancer scare got me thinking, though. My daughter is at the age for getting the Gardisil vaccination, and I have been privy to several conversations with other parents about what this vaccination may or may not communicate to our daughters. (FYI- I have absolutely nothing against vaccinations, even though I am rather put out that after getting the chicken pox vaccine eleven years ago, I still contracted chicken pox from my own two-year-old child. No, it wasn't any fun having chicken pox as an adult and even more embarrassing having to go into the drugstore to fill the Valtrex- usually a herpes med.- prescription that my doctor wrote for me.)
I digressed, back to Gardisil. Yes, I understand that some people feel that offering Gardisil to teens seems like giving them permission to become sexually active. But to me, it just seems like protecting your daughter against a disease which could greatly impact her health. While I completely agree with teaching teens about abstinence, as parents, we have an obligation to provide our children with all the information that is available. While I sincerely hope that my children wait until marriage- or at least until they are in committed, stable, adult relationships- before having sex, I have to also be realistic that this may not occur. To that end, I must be willing to openly discuss sex, its consequences, and how to protect themselves with my children, in an age-appropriate manner, of course.
Believe me, these discussions make me uncomfortable, too, and are not the easiest thing to do. Our children will certainly learn about sex somewhere, but I would prefer for them to hear about it from their parents, rather than gather inaccurate information from their peers. I've experienced both ends of the spectrum. As a public school teacher, I taught 5th grade family life to tween girls who did not know about getting their periods. I was shocked that their mothers had not previously discussed menstruation with them, much less shown them pads or tampons. What would the poor girls had thought if their periods had started at school? Believe me, nothing quite compares to the look on a girl's face when you explain to her how to use a tampon. When I taught middle school, I very quickly learned that many eighth grade girls knew and had experienced much more than I had at their age, however.
My husband and I try to openly discuss sexuality with our tween daughter, but we don't see any harm with calling in reinforcements when necessary. To that end, we enrolled Curly Girl in our church's human sexuality weekend for fifth graders last year. I will admit to being shocked that the co-ed class kept the boys and girls together and openly discussed all aspects of sexual behavior. There is something amusing, though, about hearing a minister speak about enjoying sex. Parents came for part of the class, and I was taken aback when I saw the slang words for sex and the human body that the fifth graders had heard out in the world. (Again, if kids don't learn about sex from their parents, they're going to hear it somewhere.) The comic relief occurred, however, when one of the boys grabbed a tampon (Remember, I said the class openly discussed all aspects of human sexuality), swung it around his head by the string, and yelled, "What's this. . . a cat toy??". Yes, he did, and it was hilarious. Hey, I'm all for males learning about feminine products. I, for one, have certainly sent my husband to Target with tampons on the list of things for him to purchase.
The way I see it, my job as a parent is to teach my children about the world in which they live, even if that world contains topics I would prefer to gloss over. But I can't and shouldn't do that- to avoid discussing sexual topics with Curly Girl and Car Guy, as he grows older, would shirk my parental responsibility and miss out on a golden opportunity to grow closer to my children.
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