As I mention in the video, this isn’t really a lesson about puberty, but sort of a pre-lesson to help children understand that people go through different stages of development throughout their lives. You can download a PDF here to help you with the container exercise I outline in the video.
Thanks once again to graphic artist Greer McNally who created a whole bunch of sexual anatomy diagrams for you to use as part the Anatomy Puzzle activity described in the video! You can download the PDFs below:
You’ll notice that the diagrams show the external and internal anatomy of the clitoris. Did you know the clitoris has an internal structure? I certainly didn’t until just a few years ago. If you watched the puzzle demo in the video, you may have noticed that Greer and I included the clitoral legs as part of the puzzle.
I’ve never seen an internal sexual anatomy diagram that includes the inside bits of the clitoris. Even the outer clitoris is a no-show in a lot of external sexual anatomy diagrams. As the proud owner of a clitoris, I find it strange – and by strange I mean sex-negative and misogynistic – that its inclusion in sex education is seen as optional.
We don’t even want to name or identify parts of the body connected to pleasure. Then we wonder why folks raised as women and girls have so much trouble asserting themselves sexual when they get older. I’m not here for any of it – that’s why my sex ed includes the clitoris!
If you need diagrams to do the anatomy exercise outlined in the video, you can download them here. Just a heads up that these are illustrations of naked humans, so if that’s NSFW for you, best to have look outside of work. If you’d like a more modest version, our amazing artist Greer McNally has provided an alternative illustration feature a happy kiddo wearing a supahfly watermelon bathing suit. You can download that here.
Greer very generously volunteered her time and talented to #SaveSexEd. She created all of the illustrations and diagrams for the project simply because she wanted to y’all to have the materials you needed. If you, or someone you know needs graphic design work done, Greer would be more than happy to chat with you. You can check out her Instagram here, or shoot her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
#MeToo. Before it was a hashtag, popularized by celebrities, it was a movement started by a woman named Tanara Burke, an activist working with young sexual assault survivors. The movement began over ten years ago, but only recently have some of us been willing to listen to the people who need to tell us that their sexual agency was disregarded, ignored and violated.
While some victims of sexual misconduct are finally being heard, there are still entire groups of people: folks of colour and indigenous people; trans and non-binary folk, people with mental illness, people with disabilities; poor folk; and youth who are overlooked in these conversations – even though statistically they are at greater risk of being sexually mistreated.
Our culture doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to prioritizing sexual consent. And that is, at least in part, because our culture doesn’t prioritize sexual pleasure.
Instead of treating sexual pleasure as a human right that we’re all entitled to, historically our culture has taught us that sexual pleasure is something that drives men, that for them it’s inevitable, and the rest of us are responsible for managing, navigating, negotiating and avoiding the consequences of the male libido.
Pleasure is important. No matter what your gender, race, ethnicity, body-size or ability, you are entitled to choose to have partnered sex or not. And if that’s your choice, you are entitled to feel good about the sex that you’re having. Pleasure is about feeling good in your body. It’s also about feeling good emotionally, ethically and spiritually, if that’s part of how you move through your life.
On the flip side, if we want to get with someone sexually, whether it’s flirting, playing touching, going down on someone, intercourse, whatever, we need to care about that person. If we want to express and explore our desire for someone, we need to start by giving a shit about their feelings. We need to approach them with basic human respect. We need to honour their right to their own pleasure. If their version of pleasure doesn’t include us, or the things we want to do – that can be disappointing, and frustrating and sad but we’ve gotta deal with that because while we’re are entitled to pleasure, we’re not entitled to getting it at someone else’s expense. If they’re not into what we’re into, we need to back off. If we’re not sure, we ask. Even if it’s awkward or weird. We ask anyway.
How do you feel about the MeToo and TimesUp movements? How do you we make sex and sexuality happier and safer for people? Comment below and let’s chat about it!
It’s been a minute since I’ve done a book review, but I was listening to recent episode of the podcast Sex Gets Real, hosted by my friend Dawn Serra and she interviewed author Anastasia Higginbotham about her series of children’s books, “Ordinary Terrible Things”.
As I listened to Anastasia describe the series, it sounded right up my alley, so I promptly ordered all of her books. They arrived a few days later, and I was not disappointed. Read on to learn more about this remarkable series. Or if you prefer, you can watch the video review here:
“Ordinary Terrible Things” help kids and their families explore some of the more complex realities of life, bodies and relationships. Currently, there are three books in the series: Divorce Is The Worst; Death Is Stupid; and Tell Me About Sex, Grandma.
As adults, we know that difficult emotional experiences like death and the end of a relationship can be painful. Even sex, which can be wonderful, can also be really intense and overwhelming and in sometimes harmful. As parents, many of us have strong protective instincts. We want to shield our kids from pain and as a result, we might avoid talking to them about complex topics like sexuality, the end of a relationship or the death of a loved one.
As a parent, what I appreciate about these books is that they remind me that my kid lives in the same world that I do. He has a child’s context, but he does see what’s going on in our home, our community in the world. And just like me, he has reactions and thoughts and feelings about all of it.
I also appreciate that Ordinary Terrible Things, validate children’s feelings. It lets them know that it’s okay to be angry or sad. It lets them know that It’s okay to be curious and that their questions are valid. It also lets them know sometimes grown-ups – even the grown-up who love them – get it wrong.
The whole series is lit, but I want to dive more specifically into Tell Me About Sex, Grandma.
Now, if you know me you know that I don’t think sex is terrible and after listening to Anastasia’s podcast interview, I’m confident that she doesn’t either.
Anastasia explained that what’s tough and confusing about sex for many kids is that it’s everywhere in our culture – it’s in the music they hear, it’s on billboards, magazine covers and all over the internet. And yet, it’s also something that adults try to hide from kids. We don’t talk about it much. Anastasia believes that those social contradictions around sex can be very confusing for children, and give sex this sort of mysterious power.
Tell Me About Sex, Grandma doesn’t go very deep into penises and vaginas and the biology of sex. It’s a story told from the point of view of a child who wants to know why most grown-ups won’t talk about sex. The child goes to Grandma and basically says, “This is super weird, no one will tell me anything. Can you explain what’s up with sex?”
Grandma reassures her grandchild that it’s normal to be curious about sexuality. She explains that sexuality is part of us; that we learn about it over time as we grow. She says that some things we learn when we’re younger; and others we discover when we’re adult. She also explains that certain aspects of sexuality are private and are only for the people involved. Grandma also talks about consent and how each of us has a body that belongs to us. She explains that as we grow, we learn more about what we like and don’t like and that each of us gets to decide those things for ourselves.
Anastasia Higginbotham also illustrates her books as well. The pages are photographs of mixed media collages done with magazine and fabric and bits of paper. It gives the pages a dynamic, textural quality and there’s something about the handmade aesthetic that creates a feeling of intimacy. I kind of felt like Anastasia had made the book just for me.
I also appreciate that Tell Me About Sex, Grandma is the focus on extended family.
There’s often a bond between the oldest and youngest generation in a family. My kid has a very close relationship with his Zadie, that’s very different than the one he has we me and his dad. There are also many kids whose grandparents are their primary caregivers or whose grandparents are part of their extended family home.
Anyway, I highly recommend Tell Me About Sex, Grandma and the other books in this series. If you’d like to check them out, hit up your local library or order them here. You can also check out Anastasia Higginbotham’s website. She’s going to be adding more books to this series that cover racism, same-sex relationships and more!
If you have a favourite book about sexuality, families or relationships you’d like me to review, let me know in the comments below!
Do you have a vulva? Does someone you love have a vulva? Want to know how to keep it clean happy and healthy? Well, I gotchu vulvaphiles! Today’s post is all about the care and keeping of one of my favourite body parts. If you’d rather watch, instead of reading, here’s the video version:
What exactly is a vulva?
The vulva can be found betweens the legs, at the apex of the thighs. It’s made up of several parts including the outer lips (labia majora), the inner lips (labia minora), the urethral opening, the vaginal opening and the outer parts of the clitoris (the head, shaft and hood).
A vulva is NOT a vagina
As I mentioned, the opening of the vagina is a part of the vulva, but the vagina itself is a canal that runs up inside the body.
How do you get a vulva?
Some people are born with vulvas. Some people have them created as part of gender confirmation surgeries. Some people born with vulvas might still opt for cosmetic surgeries such as labioplasty, to alter the appearance of their vulva.
Keeping the vulva clean
Generally speaking, vulvas are pretty low maintenance. Most vulvas produce skin nourishing oils and healthy bacteria that keep things in balance down there. All you really need to clean the vulva is a gentle cloth and some warm water. Aggressive scrubbing and using perfumed soaps or body gels can throw off your vulvas pH balance, which can lead to skin irritation or infection.
After you go to the bathroom, wiping away from the vulva, towards the anus, helps keep unhealthy bacteria away from the vulva. If you have a baby or a toddler, you can keep their vulvas clean and comfortable by gently washing them with warm water at bathtime. Also changing diapers as soon as you’re able to will help reduce the chances of your little person getting rashes or irritated skin around their vulva.
Keeping the vulva comfortable
When it comes to underwear, vulvas love breathable, natural materials like cotton. I also find bamboo undies soft and super comfy. Going commando is also great for your vulva, as it allows the skin to breathe freely. If you do choose to forgo underwear, just look out for air vents when you’re walking down the street.
Hair removal and grooming
Most people with vulvas start growing hair on their outer lips once they start puberty. Some benefits of the bush include:
- having a cushion to protect the skin against friction from clothing and during sex with a partner;
- trapping the body’s natural pheromones – that natural hormonal scent that attracts sexual partners;
- protection from certain types of external bacteria that could otherwise get into our nether regions and mess up our balance.
Basically pubes are natural and useful and if you like yours, embrace that bush!
If you do decide to remove your pubic hair, remember that the skin on your labia is sensitive. If you want to shave, soaking in a warm bath for several minutes, applying a moisturizing shave gel, using a new razor and taking your time, will reduce your odds of painful nicks/cuts. If you’re waxing, lasering or doing electrolysis, a professional with lots of experience can help you get the results you want safely.
What does a “normal” vulva look like?
The short answer: “normal” vulvas look all kinds of ways. They’re kind of like faces. Most of them have the same basic features, but everyone’s features have their own individual combination of shape and size.
If most of the vulvas you’ve seen are from porn or health class diagrams, you may have an impression that the clitoris is a perfectly round button, the outer lips cover the inner lip and that Aeverything is perfectly symmetrical. Some people have a vulva like that but a LOT of people don’t.
It’s very common to have uneven lips, or to have the inner lips hang down lower that the outer lips. It also not unusual for the skin around the vulva to be darker than skin other places on your body – particularly for Black and Brown folks, like yours truly.
The clitoris, the hood, the lips change and even the vaginal position and size depending on a person’s level of sexual arousal. So Not only do vulvas look different from each other, a specific vulva looks different at different times.
Vulvas and sexual pleasure
During sex, a lot of people enjoy touching their vulvas or having their vulvas touched by their partner(s). Having clean hands, smooth nails can reduce the chances of irritating the skin. You or your partner might also choose to also wear gloves or finger cots.
If you’re exploring your own vulva, pay attention to what feels good for you and what doesn’t. The head of the clitoris is often described as the Holy Grail of sexual pleasure. It’s full of nerve endings, so it *can* feel really good to play there, but there may also be times when direct clitoral stimulation is too intense. If that’s the case, you can always focus your attention elsewhere A lot people really enjoy the feeling of having their lips stroked or gently tugged, or even running their fingers through their pubic hair.
If you’re playing with someone else’s vulva, ask them what feels good. And if they don’t know, ask them if they’re open to having you explore and if they can give you feedback on what’s working and what’s not. And of course, don’t just start poking around down there…make sure you have their authentic consent first!
In the last post, we learned about the Human Papilloma Virus: what it is; the different strains; which ones are sexually transmitted and which ones can lead to serious health risks like cervical cancer. If you haven’t had a chance to read it you can get caught up here.
In this post, I want to address some questions that came up in a recent discussion I was having with some folks online about HPV vaccines. If you’d prefer watching info, rather than reading, I’ve got the video version right here:
The conversation I had online led to some interesting questions/concerns. Essentially, some folks were wondering:
- Why does the medical community seem to ride so hard for vaccines like Gardasil Cervarix
- If medical scientists care so much about patient health, why haven’t they developed a cure yet?
- Is the HPV vaccine a ploy so pharmaceutical companies can sell more drugs?
I think asking questions and thinking critically is good practice, particularly when we’re making decisions about medical options and our sexual health. So let’s address these questions using the Values/Facts/Myths framework. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, it’s three simple guidelines I often suggest to help people express their views about sexual issues clearly and effectively:
- Own your values
- State the facts
- Avoid myths
Before I dive in, I would like to remind folks that I’m the academic type of doctor, not a physician. But I did want all the information in this post to be accurate, so I did consult with a medical doctor on this post – the wonderful Dr. Jeff Eisen. He works at Victoria General and Royal Jubilee Hospitals in Victoria, BC. He also happens to be my brother-in-law. Thanks, bro!
Vaccines: my values
My personal values definitely come into play when I’m making decisions about getting vaccinated, or having my kid vaccinated. I want to be clear about my own beliefs around this topic, so you have a sense of where I’m coming from.
I feel a responsibility to take care of my own health and my family’s health as best I can; beyond that I believe I have a responsibility in supporting community health.
I have faith in the evidence that the scientific and medical communities have offered in regards to vaccines and protection they offer, particularly when it comes mass or “herd” immunity. I trust my doctors. I also trust information from organizations like Health Canada, The Centers For Disease Control and The World Health Organization, who all promote vaccination as an effective way of preventing the spread of infection.
These values are part of the reason that I choose to get vaccinate and why I have my child vaccinated.
That having been said, I also value personal choice. I’m not going to tell you what to do with your body or how to manage your family’s health. Those are decisions that you have to make for yourself. But I will share some of the facts that have influenced my beliefs and choices when it comes to vaccines.
Vaccines: the facts
So why do doctors’ recommend vaccines for HPV? Why don’t they just cure it?
The reason that medical science hasn’t introduced a cure for Human Papilloma Virus is because it’s a virus. Viruses are microorganisms that work by sneaking inside our of cells and basically taking over the controls, like a little hijacker. You may already know that human cells divide and replicate. Viruses get into the cell and incorporate their own DNA into a human cell’s DNA so that when the cell replicates itself, it also replicates the virus’ proteins.
Our bodies have this awesome thing called the immune system. The immune system works in several ways, that are dope and fascinating (sadly, I don’t have the expertise to explain it all) but basically, when our bodies detect a virus, the immune system gears up to fight the infection.
If you did read the last post about HPV, you might remember that often our bodies can clear an HPV infection all by itself. That’s because of the immune system.
So, the immune system kicks ass. But it also needs time to ramp up its attack to kill a new virus. In some cases, by the time our immune system realizes we’ve been infected, the virus is already so widespread that it’s difficult for the immune system to destroy all the infected cells without also damaging our bodies. The consequences can be serious, or even fatal, such as cases where HPV infects the cervix and leads to cervical cancer.
Once our immune system encounters and fights a virus, it creates memory cells, called B cells. The B cells float around in our body and if a virus returns, the B cells bind to the virus, they start rapidly churning out antibodies to go kill it.
A vaccine (also called an immunization) kind of pre-infects the body and helps the immune system to recognize that virus. That way if a virus like HPV enters our body, our immune system says, “I’ve seen you before, you’re not supposed to be in here,” and quickly does its virus-fighting thing.
Vaccine: the myths
Finally, I want to address a few myths about HPV vaccines. As I mentioned earlier, some folks assume that pharmaceutical companies develop vaccines because they’re more profitable than cures. After all, we can cure infections like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, so why not HPV?
Chlamydia and Gonorrhea can be cured because they’re bacterial infections. Bacteria are separate life forms that invade our bodies. Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections because when bacterial cells enter our bodies, they are distinct from our than human cells. It’s relatively easy for the medication to recognize and target the infection without affecting other parts of our biology. Meanwhile, because viruses like HPV get inside our cells and become part of our DNA, preventing viral infections like HPV requires a completely different approach than treating Chlamydia and Gonorrhea.
I’ve also talked to some folks who worry that there’s a risk of contracting HPV from the vaccine. HPV vaccines don’t contain live virus. They contain surface proteins which help the immune system recognize HPV if it enters the body. When you get the HPV vaccine, you’re not actually being infected with the virus.
The lack of a full-on cure for HPV and other viral infections isn’t evidence of a pharmaceutical conspiracy. It is evidence that viruses are complex and our bodies are complex. Scientists and doctors aren’t magicians. Curing viruses is a really tricky problem and medical science hasn’t found the solution yet.
It’s a sexually transmitted infection, but also it isn’t.
It can cause genital warts. Or cancer. Or both. Or neither
If you get it, your body will get rid of it unless it doesn’t. You can be vaccinated against HPV and also you can’t.
All of these things are true, which begs the question: What’s the deal with HPV?
I talk and teach about STIs a lot, but I want to take an in-depth look at HPV or Human Papillomavirus specifically because a lot of folks aren’t clear on what HPV is and how it can affect our health. All the information I’m going to cover in this post is also available in this video.
If your HPV knowledge is a little shaky, you’ll get no judgement from me. I actually had to go back and review my facts before shot the video. HPV is a bit tricky beast because it isn’t just one thing. Currently, there are over 170 identified strains of the virus. Each strain is identified by a number – more on that later.
Of the 170-something strains of HPV, about 40 strains can be spread through sexual contact
It’s most commonly spread through penetrative vaginal and anal sex; and in some cases can spread through other types of sexual contact oral sex, hand jobs, fingering, scissoring and so on.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection on earth. In fact, almost everyone who has partnered sex will contract HPV at some point in their lives.
Sometimes HPV is no big deal
There are several strains of sexually transmitted HPV that the body’s immune system can clear up on it’s own. According to the World Health Organization, 90% of HPV infections are cleared by the body within two years. There are also strains of HPV that the body doesn’t clear, but that also don’t cause any significant symptoms or problems.
But because there are so many different types of HPV, it’s important to know that if you have or had one of these low-key strains it doesn’t mean that you’re immune all HPV. You’re still at risk of contracting one of the more serious types of HPV. It’s also important to remember that you can transmit HPV to a partner whether you have symptoms or not.
HPV and genital warts
Genital and anal warts are the most common infection caused by HPV. There are several strains that can cause genital warts, but two specific strains – HPV-6 and HPV-11 – cause close to 90% of genital/anal wart outbreaks.
The strains of HPV that cause warts are different from the strains that cause cancer. Genital warts aren’t dangerous, but they can be itchy or uncomfortable and you may not like the way they look
Genital and anal warts are a bit unpredictable. The can be brown, pink or white in colour Sometimes they appear as single warts, other times they grow in clusters. The may grow larger, or spread, or they may not.
If you develop genital warts, a doctor or medical professional can talk to you about how to treat and manage the outbreak.
HPV and cervical cancer
There are a few strains of sexually transmitted HPV that may cause serious health problems, and lead to cancer of the throat, vagina, anus and most often cervical cancer. In fact almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV, usually strains known as HPV-16 and HPV-18. These strains of HPV can cause pre-cancerous lesions on the cervix.
Like other types of HPV, sometimes the body will heal precancerous lesions can clear up on it’s own. Also, if a person has access to regular pap smears, and a doctor detects lesions they can often be treated successfully before they become cancer.
Left untreated; however, pre-cancerous lesions caused by HPV can progress and become full-blown cervical cancer. Risk factors associated with HPV and cervical cancer include:
- Having partnered sex at a young age*
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Smoking tobacco
- Having an already compromised immune system.
(*Note: I don’t want to stigmatize folks who’ve had partnered sex early or who have sex with multiple partners. The increased risk isn’t a moral judgement – it’s just a statistical thing.)
Vaccines like Gardasil protect against HPV-6 and 11 which are common culprits for warts and HPV-16 and HPV-18, which are the most common cause of cervical cancer. Often the vaccine is recommended for youth between 9-13 and that can freak some parents out because, why so early?
HPV vaccines are most effective if it’s administered before a person has any partnered sexual contact whatsoever, which is why many folks recommend having youth vaccinated in late childhood or early puberty.
Finally, while HPV vaccines can significantly reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer, most doctors still recommend that us cervix-having folks still get our pap smears on the reg.
These posts are based on the questions in my guide, (Over) 100 Questions To Ask Your Kids About Sexuality. The guide is free and if you don’t have it, you can get it by clicking here. To watch the video version of this post, click here.
Best practices or “etiquette” around when we should share other people’s photos online is a relatively new social consideration. For many of raising kids today, the Internet wasn’t even a thing when we were young, so we didn’t have to deal with any of this growing up.
When I was in high school, I posted photos on my locker door. The potential audience reach was anyone who happened to wander down the drama room hallway. But when our kids post photos on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media platforms, when youth share photos of other people, it’s possible for those images to wind up anywhere.
One thing we can do in our conversations about online behaviour is to encourage our teens to think about the effect sharing information and images might have on others. I call it “online empathy”. When someone posts a photo online, we can share that photo anywhere, with virtually anyone. But should we?How might sharing the photo affect the other person, particularly if that photo is embarrassing or upsetting for them? How might it affect our relationship with that person? And regardless of whether we know the person or not, how might sharing their photo reflect on us and our character?
Exploring these questions is a chance for your to help your teens reflect on their own values in terms of how they want to treat others, and to think about how they want to live those values through their online behaviour.
Every day in April, I’ll be posting a video about one of the questions in my guide, (Over) 100 Questions To Ask Your Kids About Sexuality. The guide is free and if you don’t have it, you can get it by clicking here.
Trigger/Content Warning: This post contains non-graphic mention of childhood sexual abuse.
Today’s topic is probably the most serious of any that I’ll tackle in this series. I don’t think any of us who care about the kids in our families or our classrooms ever want to think about them being abused or victimized. But the reality is, that sometimes people hurt children. And if that happens, they need help. So today’s question is for the children in your life: “If someone hurts you, or touches you in a way that makes you feel scared, angry or sad, who can help you?”
Look for the helpers
Like I said, this can be really tough to think about as a parent, but we don’t have to telegraph our concerns to our children. For the most part, we’re helping them identify people that they like and trust. In many ways, this is a positive talk.
And while getting help in an abusive or dangerous situation is tremendously important, these are also people your child may be able to rely on in less sinister situations like if they’ve hurt themselves, they feel sick, or they have a problem they want to talk about.
Try not to influence your child’s list. Instead, let them take the lead on naming their trusted people. Their list might include:
- Older siblings
- Other family members
- Family friends
- A teacher or principal
Abuse isn’t good for you.
In terms of sexual and personal safety, gently remind kids that if a touch feels bad, they can always tell someone. Now all kids will have some physical experiences they don’t like. For example, most kids hate being vaccinated because they have to get needles and those things hurt!
But the pain of being vaccinated isn’t the same as being abused. You can explain that although something like a needle hurts, it’s good for them because the medicine from the needle helps your child’s body stay strong and healthy. When people are being abusive, they’re doing things to our body we don’t want AND that aren’t good for us.
Grown-ups should never touch in secret.
You can also let your children know that a grown-up or older person, like a babysitter or even a family member, should never, ever touch them and then ask them to keep it a secret. Let them know that if that happens, it’s important to tell even if the grown-up told them not to. Also, let them know you won’t ever be mad at them for telling you.
You can also be clear that it’s okay to tell at any time. Sometimes if someone does something to us that feels weird or bad we feel shocked or confused and we might not tell right away. That’s okay and again, that’s not their fault. Let them know that it’s never too late or the wrong time to tell a trusted grown-up if they need help.
Finally, let your children know that it’s never, ever their fault if a grown-up or older person does something harmful or abusive. No one ever deserves or causes someone else to hurt them.