The Anatomy Lesson

Last week, Nate the Great of did a guest post ( on these pages. She blogged about a conversation she had with her teenage boys about sex education.

While my children are younger than Nate’s, there have already been inquiries down that road. I like to say I handled it smoothly, but I’ll let you be the judge. The article below appeared in 201 Family – a local magazine.


My first grade son asked me the name of a female body part. He was in the bath and doing his usual playing thing – putting water in his mouth and then spitting it out as if he were a refined decorative fish at an upscale establishment. While I find it silly and annoying, he does it quite well and smiles and giggles each time he does it. So, as long as he keeps the water in the bathtub, I grin and bear it and let him have his good time.

I popped my head up from the Wall Street Journal. Egypt could wait. This was important. “What? What did you say?”

He repeated with all seriousness, “What is the female body part called again?  They don’t have a penis – right?

This is the same boy who just that day freaked out because he could not find his SpongeBob video and who the day before screamed as if the house was on fire wanting to know how much four plus six equaled. Striving not to let my face reveal the shock I felt, I replied, “That’s right, girls’ don’t have a penis. Only boys do.”

“All girls have the same thing?”

“Yes,” I answered him,” I paused, not quite knowing how to go on with the conversation. How much did I need to say?  Surely, he was not ready for a detailed anatomy lesson. Was he going to ask me where do babies come from next? Had he heard the word sex? I was definitely not ready. I glanced at my watch – when would my wife be home?  “Why are you asking me this? Where did you ever hear this?” I grew up the youngest of four boys, and at his age, I told people I hated girls.  My grandfather used to tease me and make me repeat “I hate girls.”  It made me feel like I shouldn’t say it, and he seemed to find it amusing.

“I just want to know.”

“Do kids in your class talk about this? The school bus, kids are talking about this on the school bus – right? It’s okay, just tell me.”  I could almost swear this was not on my mind in first grade.  One of my most vivid memories of first grade is my best friend and neighbor, Marc, and I walking around the school yard playing follow the leader with our eyes closed. We would take turns: one day he would lead and I would put my hands on his shoulders and the next day I would lead and his hands would be on my back.

No water spitting now. He was saying some word to himself quietly trying to get it right. “I just want to know.”

I tried to press him again about where he first heard the word but was getting nowhere.  He barely tells me anything. We laugh and play together but rarely does he reveal the bigger stuff to me.  He saves that for his mom. She’s a better interrogator than me. I don’t have the stomach for it. She’s fierce and gets him to talk. It’s a good thing.

I was stuck. Do I tell him? Does this ruin his innocence?  Does it start him down a path that could end in sexual depravity?  Or is it an innocent question?  Is he discovering himself and curious? It could be an intellectual inquiry.  I took a deep breath and quietly answered him, “It’s called a vagina.”

“What,” he said in that abrupt nearly harsh manner he often says the word.

Now, it was my turn to repeat myself though this time I said it in a more regular tone of voice. I said, “It’s called a vagina.”

He looked up at me curious as ever and said, “Every girl has one?”

“Yes, every girl has one.”

He seemed content with this answer. He started repeating the word over again though it did not sound like I had said it. I didn’t bother trying to correct his pronunciation. I was relieved to have the conversation ended. I know he is growing up, is curious, and is exposed to certain things that I might not want him to be. However, I am much more at ease with this being one of those conversations that belongs in the category of we’ll deal with it then sort of thing. Does 21 sound reasonable?