I was doing bedtime with my 4-year old daughter June a few months back, and she started to squirm underneath her blanket. She looked over at me with a mixture of dismay and curiosity. Then words poured out of her mouth that I was not fucking ready to hear that night.
“Mommy, I don’t like my nose down there. It feels so weird!” June blurted out with her actual nose scrunched up in disgust.
Quite understandably, I was confused AF. A nose down where?! But thankfully, I managed to temporarily push down the shocked laughter bubbling up inside and pretended to be way calmer than I honestly was. “Um… what nose, baby?” I slowly and gently asked my innocent child.
June then proceeded to point to the top of her vagina as she grimaced. “This nose!!!” she exclaimed.
I took a very deep breath. I took the deepest breath I’ve taken in a long ass time. My brain scrambled to figure out a proper response, until I remembered that kid-appropriate honesty has always been my jam. I wasn’t going to stop being truthful now, no matter how temporarily uncomfortable I may have felt to be thrown this evening curveball.
“That’s not a nose, baby,” I said. “It may feel like a little nose, but it’s something totally different. It’s called your clitoris.”
Let’s just say, my daughter was absolutely floored to discover a new body part that was not, in fact, another nose.
As for June calling her clitoris “weird,” I assured her that it’s a natural part of a girl’s body just like her legs and hands. Her tiny jaw dropped when I revealed that I, too, have a clitoris. I said that sometimes it might feel good to touch, and that it’s perfectly okay to be curious about it. I also reminded her that just like her vagina, the clitoris is a private part of her body that belongs only to her, and that I’m here if she ever has any more questions about it. Half-awake, my little girl reacted with a simple “mmm-kay,” shrugged her shoulders, rolled over, and passed out.
This is just one of the many wild experiences I’ve been privy to as a mother raising her two children in a sex-positive household.
I remember exactly the moment when I decided that I’d be the kind of parent who talks honestly and openly to my kids about their bodies. One fateful summer during my first pregnancy, my nine-year-old stepdaughter Bella pulled me aside during an afternoon to secretly ask what a period was. Once I got the official blessing from my husband and Bella’s mom, we had a hilariously awkward, mind-opening discussion.
This single conversation with Bella evolved into dozens of ongoing talks that ultimately lasted the entire summer and continued whenever she got interested in learning something new. We covered the topics of puberty, body acceptance, sexual identity, the basics of physical intimacy, and even consent. By the time Bella entered middle school, she was well equipped to understand the basic workings of her own body and others’, and she felt at ease knowing she could literally ask me anything without fear of shame or judgment.
I knew from the moment my stepchild trusted me with that first question, I wanted to have the same open and easygoing relationship with my own children. I am fortunate enough to say that I currently do. June asks me why buttholes itch with as much ease and confidence as she does when she runs around the house screaming to the world that she’s a gay cowgirl. My 18-month old son chooses to twirl around in dresses and notices his penis often with youthful wonder. My children know that I’m married to their daddy and also identify as a bisexual woman, and they get that babies can be born either vaginally or through a c-section — and what each experience entails. When I get my period, my daughter not only begs to wear a maxi pad just like her mom, but she also gleefully announces to the whole house that she, too, has her period.
And as you can imagine, we call every body part by its actual name in my home. We do this because I believe my children don’t deserve to feel ashamed or afraid to know what each physical aspect of them is really all about. So that means vaginas are called vaginas, penises are called penises, and as of a few months ago, clitorises are called noses. Just kidding. We call them clitorises.
When the time comes and my children begin to wonder about masturbation and sex, I will be there for them with equal parts thoughtfulness and respect. Both of my kids will be taught when they’re ready that self-pleasure and solo exploration are both inevitable parts of growing up in a body. They’ll be able to ask anything they want or need about sexual encounters and the variety of protective measures that are available to them so that those encounters are approached with mindfulness and trust. I’ve begun reading empowering books to June so she can absorb the message early on that she is the boss of her own body and that there are clear ways to advocate for the safety of it. Just yesterday, she also memorized an impressively extensive list of trusted grownups to talk to if she ever feels unsafe or unsure about something.
Finally, my kiddos get to see two parents who model self-love and body acceptance right in front of them every single day. They witness us shower each other with unconditional affection and adoration and lovingly work through struggles in front of them. We constantly remind them that they will be accepted by us no matter who they feel attracted to or how they identify and express themselves. And as long as we’re able to, my husband and I will ensure that the topics of sex, body autonomy, and physical changes are discussed in a shame-free, judgment-free, and fear-free zone. My kids deserve this and so much more from both of us, and I intend to keep it that way.
More than anything else, the biggest hope I have for my children is that they’ll learn to embrace their own bodies as the wonderful and powerful instruments that they are. They will always have a mother who provides an ongoing example of what it means to make choices of any kind from a state of deep inner worth. They will always have the opportunity to be seen and heard, even if the subject matter feels uncomfortable or overwhelming. They will always have a safe harbor in me no matter what they’re going through.
And thanks to that infamous bedtime chat with my daughter, I will always laugh with cringeworthy fondness whenever I think about that second “nose” she accidentally discovered.