Today Twelve was reading a news magazine (she only reads them for the ads, I suspect whilst hoping that she actually learns something once in awhile) and started reading out loud from an article about women's achievements in various countries. Which country has the highest rate of abortion, the most Miss Universe winners, the highest per-capita vibrator use, and so on.
When she got to the part about vibrators, though, she quickly moved on, saying she didn't want to know what vibrators are. She used exactly the same tone that she had used a moment before to indicate that she didn't care which country has the highest representation of women at the national level. It's a tone very similar to the one she uses to dismiss the possibility of having a crush on anyone, ever. We are becoming quite familiar with this tone around here.
After wondering briefly how it's possible that she doesn't know about vibrators, I realized that I'm relieved that she doesn't: It means that she's still my little girl. It means that she hasn't learned as much from peers as I fear she might. It means that my sex education practices are working exactly how I've intended them to.
My sex ed policy with Twelve is twofold: First, ask what she thinks, then (if needed) answer her questions exactly, with no more information than she's requested. Sometimes, kids already know as much as they need to know, and after asking Twelve what she thinks, all I need to do is reassure her that she's got the right idea (this works well in response to questions about Santa, just fyi). If what she thinks isn't quite correct or if she just doesn't know, I answer the question. If that is satisfactory to her, fine. If not, she asks another question, I provide more information, and so on. There's a built-in age-appropriateness mechanism going on here. If they're asking, they're ready.
Twelve found out how babies are made when she was five, with a series of increasingly insistent questions: BUT HOW DOES IT GET IN THERE? Fine. There's an erect penis involved. (If I remember correctly, five-year-old Twelve received this information with equanimity.)
Seriously? This kid a) doesn't know about vibrators and b) doesn't want to know? They're right, adolescence does mess with you.
Anyway, I may one day have an opportunity to ask Twelve what she thinks a vibrator is and to clarify things for her a bit in the pleasure device department. But.
What if I don't?
What if Twelve is past the point at which she and I can have these healthy, productive conversations? What if she looks it up on the internet? What if she asks her peers and they tell her that vibrators are alien tracking devices that attack our eyeballs while we sleep?
What if she figures out what "That's what she said" means and I never get/have to explain it to her?
I need Dan Savage to come to the rescue. R and I are longtime fans of Savage Love, Dan's syndicated weekly sex advice column. We get a huge kick out of reading the letters, because then we get to try and seriously check in with each other just to be sure - really sure, since you never know what might have changed since the last time you asked - that neither of us would be sexually aroused by watching the other poop.
ANYWAY. I need Dan Savage to write a dictionary of all things sexual. I think he would be the obvious person to do this because a) he's an expert; b) he's so funny; and c) I just finished reading his book The Commitment, which means that I now feel like I'm his and Terry's new best friend.
This dictionary would be the substitute for conversations with mom about sex, for when people are in that difficult age when they don't know anything much about sex but can't be bothered to take their moms seriously. (AHEM, Twelve, that would be you.) Each entry would have a simple, basic definition of whatever the thing is (Vibrator: A device used to provide sexual pleasure), followed by additional details for those ready for more information ( ... I can't do it. Use your imagination).
Full confession (and something I hadn't thought of until just now): I looked up "condom" in the regular dictionary, in Mrs. S's English classroom, in the seventh grade. I'm kind of proud of my twelve-year-old self, actually: I wasn't quite sure if I knew what a condom was, so I looked it up. Worked pretty well; I didn't find out about flavored, colored, or glow-in-the dark condoms, but that was okay. Finding out more than I wanted to know might have freaked me out. I'd like the same to be possible for Twelve, given that regular dictionaries don't have entries for 'pegging' and 'santorum' and that she's known about condoms for some years already.
Okay, New Best Friend Dan, I think that the Dan Savage Sex Dictionary-o-Rama would be an excellent thirteenth birthday gift for Twelve. Her birthday's in October, it's already March, it will take a couple of months for editing and printing and then there's distribution ...