Her Eyes

We’ve been putting it off. Every time she asks a question, we give her just enough of an answer to keep her happy. After all, she’s only seven- she doesn’t need to know everything today. But we’re good, modern parents, who know communication is key and hiding these things from her will raise her with a stigma around them. So we’ve always wanted to be relatively open and open-minded about how to teach her about the birds and the bees.

It started a couple of years ago when a boy friend of hers kept wanting to be alone and intimate with her. I could always tell that she really wasn’t into his kind of attention. So one night, I sat her down and taught her that if any boy, or man, tries to touch her in any of the three key places (that’s boobs, butt, and the “lady parts” to you laymen) that she’s supposed to say “No. This is my body.” And then come and tell us, or another grownup what happened. We wanted to protect her from being hurt. At age 5, that was our goal.

Now she’s 7, and though not as interested in boys or romance like her 4 year old sister is, she’s asking more questions. And last night she asked, when faced with the concept of birth control, “Why do you need to take something to stop a baby from being made?” In other words: “Can’t you just prevent pregnancy by NOT putting a penis in a vagina?” I knew it was time to explain to her that there’s this thing called “sex” that grownups do… and they do it more than once… and they do it even when they’re not trying to make a baby.

What I always imagined would be a lesson in biology I would be teaching my daughter, turned out to be more profound than just fallopian tubes and sperm: I was supposed to teach her that her body belongs to her; that her daddy and I are a safe place for her to confide in; and that sex is something she has the right to have. As much as we would ideally prefer for our daughter to always remain 7 and sex-free, we know our job as parents is to teach her how to fly, so she can one day leave the nest, carrying knowledge and confidence.

The closer she sat to me, the more she asked questions, and the more she was no longer distracted by the video game on her watch, I knew this was the right time to have this conversation. It was like I was answering questions she was just then realizing she had. So I explained the basics, and I reminded her that no one is allowed to touch her without her permission. But what I also really wanted her to hear was that she has 100% ownership of her body, and she is free to choose whom she wants to share it with.

I wanted so desperately to control her future encounters. I didn’t want her to make the mistakes I had made by selling herself short, compromising herself, putting herself into dangerous situations, or ever feeling like she was any less worthy than a man was. And most importantly, that she owed no man anything.

But she’s going to learn for herself, and that’s just the way it is. I wanted to give her the groundwork for a healthy sex life (and not “healthy” in a quantitative way, but in a qualitative one.) When girls are taught about sex, they seem to be taught only how to protect themselves (this is the pill, this is a condom, here is a rape whistle, boys only want one thing, etc.) I wanted to teach my daughter that sex was her right to have- and to give. And just because females are, anatomically speaking, the receivers of sex, doesn’t mean they have to take it just because it’s given.

She asked me how people ask other people to have sex with them. Do they just go up and ask them? I told her about the first time daddy and I kissed- how it just happened naturally. At that moment, my husband returned to the room (of course having left intentionally as he knew we were having “the talk”.) And there, in front of my daughter, my husband and I told her that we kissed in his kitchen one Saturday night, because we wanted to, because we were friends who felt like we wanted to do that with each other. And I loved him all over again at that moment, because something so simple as our fulfilling our desire to hang out with each other had taken us along this journey of creating the three best little girls in the world.

At the same time that my husband and I have decided we are done with this chapter in our lives of expanding our family, we are teaching our eldest daughter of three how she has the power to do the same. In the same few months that a woman almost became president and that “Wonder Woman” hit movie theaters with a bang, what’s most important is not that my daughters are good at math, or that they know how to hit a baseball, or don’t wear pink, or even believe that they can be president one day. What’s most important to me is for my three little girls to know that it is in their love for themselves that their power lies.

This afternoon, she showed me an art project she made at school where she had to create an acrostic poem with the letters of her name. And the first letter of her name being “A” she chose for herself “Amazing girl.” Yes, I thought. That’s exactly right.

Now I just have to figure out how to get her to believe that forever.