I know P, my eldest daughter (13) thinks grown women are totally obsessed by menstruation. I know this because she told me. “Dad”, she said, “why does every woman I meet start talking about periods”?
Both Grandmothers, three Aunties , three female neighbours, two mother’s of friends, four or five ad hoc female friends and even a couple of ex-girlfriends got in on the act. All have told me they have had a conversation with P “just to make sure everything is OK on that front”.
It is interesting that they all tell me after the event. “I’ve spoken with P” Note the past tense.
I’m not knocking it – I am sure the desire to help with this aspect of my parenting comes from a good place…what was it @coffeecurls told me over twitter one evening when we were discussing periods…(we just were OK) ”there are things about periods that as a man you won’t even know!”
That phrase “you won’t even know” struck me. It serves me now as a reminder that there really are things I simply couldn’t comment on with any degree of confidence. That said, I thought I actually knew loads about periods – they come once a month, they hurt, you need hot water bottles and tea, you can use tampons or towels (best to experiment to see what works for you), they alter hormone levels and you can become tearful and maybe even a bit shouty, and they also have something to do with the moon or tides. I think. Um, that’s it.
Come to think of it – thank you ladies one and all. You were right in your assumptions. Like most men, I guess I do know next to nothing about menstruation.
What really strikes me though is that this small platoon of women, while seemingly falling over themselves to talk about menstruation, are not pushing themselves forward to talk to my daughter(s)about sex. Do they really think that this is a subject best taught by their Dad or school or mates or that marvellous life lesson of trial and error?
It’s an interesting question – and one answer might be, if we are honest, for the majority of us (and I know I can speak for many Dads) this whole area of sex education just feels a bit uncomfortable. I will use the word “embarrassing”.
I’ll share a story with you. In our house the subject of sex education was first raised when P came home from Primary School (year 6) and asked me outright: Dad, is it true that girls have a button and that if you stroke it, it makes you feel nice?”
Once I picked myself up from the floor and finished choking, I simply asked in an effort to divert the direct questioning, “who told you that”?
“My teacher, Miss N…” came the reply.
Quickly putting all thoughts of Miss N’s “button” to one side, I replied, rather sheepishly, that I am sure Miss N was right. At that precise moment I had rediscovered belief in God and was praying nineteen to the dozen that the conversation would stop right there.
I have been thinking about writing on this subject for some time, and it strikes me that there are four levels of sex education that could really be taught best at home as well as in school:
1 – the basics – the actual mechanics.
2 – sexual health – avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STI’s etc…
3 – the fun bits
4 – insight into the deeper emotional and relationship perspectives
Thinking this through, I am on safe territory talking about levels (1) and (2) to my own kids. Get me onto level 3 (the fun aspects of sex) and I am, very suddenly, completely out of my depth. I am sorry to say that I am one of those parents who will provide their daughters with what @venaramphal describes as the “good girls script”. It’s depressingly true – the sex education I will deliver to Priya and Anya will extend to something akin to “Here’s how to do it, be safe, and try not to do it until you’re much older”
Half an education!
And the saddest thing of all is that as their Dad, I feel unable, incompetent, and unqualified to talk through the emotional issues that will arise when they start sexual relationships. Not just because they are girls and I’m a man. But, as with menstruation, there will be things I just won’t know; it seems to me that like most men, talking about relationships and emotions does not come as second nature. Couple that with the fact that I have already admitted that sex is not really something I want to talk to my girls about anyway, and my inarticulate ramblings would become well, just that. Inarticulate.
And the thing is…all of this I have just written – well I think most Dads and maybe some Mums will be able to relate to at least some of it…but for me, I have this feeling that it just might not be good enough. I know much of this is taught in schools (probably a much better education than we had at school), but look at any UK statistics in this area and the picture is one of rising STI’s, especially among women under the age of 20, and ever rising numbers of unwanted pregnancies.
As they get older I want my girls to enjoy healthy sex and have fulfilling relationships. Of that there is no doubt. But, against this worrying statistical backdrop I have this growing, rather unpleasant feeling, that if I am to do my bit to help them achieve this, I may need to shake myself down, find the right words and the right time and work my way through some difficult conversations!