I got an email the other day that said, "I just want you to know that what you said in your book about cultural context and women's health made a lot of sense to me. I have a lot of shame around sex and I don't know where it came from. I think that shame makes dealing with my female issues a lot harder."
I knew exactly what she meant. My gynecological issues were always loaded, where my general health issues were totally different. No one gets embarrassed at the orthopedic's office.
Carl Jung reportedly said, "Shame is a soul eating emotion." I would argue it eats us up physically as well. We carry shame around sexual issues because of the messages our culture sends us about sex and our bodies.
In Rethinking Women's Health, I wrote, "Many of our attitudes, our beliefs, and our embarrassment about our private parts set up a culture of disease." Why? Because we separate female health from general health. "By relegating sex and vaginas to compartmentalized regions of medicine and culture, we remove them from the whole context of wellness." We leave a strange vacuum in awareness, knowledge, and honest conversation about female health because we are too embarrassed to talk about it.
Evading conversations about basic human physiology with kids creates a situation where the only messages they will receive come from, as Mar Pipher calls it, the "junk culture" of media where sex is a commodity. If our own families cannot talk about how life works and how our bodies play a central role in life cycles, how are we supposed to have the knowledge to understand when something is right or wrong with our health? We expect young people to make good decisions about their sexual health when we can't even tell them what's what without blushing.
These conversations are hard. They are uncomfortable. But they are vitally important if we want to heal the rift our culture has placed on young people. I believe that by reuniting sexual health with health in general, we could make serious gains in one generation. Breast cancer, within a very short time span, went from being a silent disease to a campaign so public you see pink ribbons on fruit. Taking reproductive health out of the dark and normalizing it would vastly improve how we deal with female health.
I provide a ton of resources on how to talk to kids in healthy ways about sex, sexuality, and reproductive health in the first section of Rethinking Women's Health. There are a ton of great curricula out there for schools, churches, and youth programs. The number of well-written books and website to share within families is growing. It's time for our generation of parents to put on our big girl panties and change the conversation.
I would love to know what works with your family. Right now, my daughter is seven. She is still running around the house with no clothes on. She has two big brothers, and I am conflicted. I don't want to cause her to be shameful about her body, but... Let's help each other!