God is a Salt-N-Pepa Fan. After all, He created them in his divine image, gave them their amazing musical talents and the drive to go out and share them with the world. For the last four days, the Salt-N-Pepa song, “Let’s talk about Sex” has been a mind-worm for me, coupled with this video I was linked to yesterday and a tweet a saw earlier in the week that essentially questioned if people would have fewer “oops” pregnancies if they understood how their bodies worked, means that God is just about beating me over the head saying it’s time to write about Sex Ed. Alright. Message received.
Before I was mom I was a “highly-qualified” science teacher. I taught, in no particular order: Biology, Forensic Science, Anatomy and Physiology, and Environmental Science. As I began thinking back, both in my classroom and when I was a student in high school, the human reproduction unit did not appear on the calendar until late in the Spring and when it did, we had about 2 days to get through it. Depending on your career choice, this might have been the only exposure to human reproduction that one might have had… other than the classroom of our friends.
I loved Biology and couldn’t get enough of it, so I took advanced and AP Biology in high school, earned my Bachelor’s of Science in Bacteriology and my Master’s in Human Pathology. No, I am not a doctor, but I could play one on TV. So, in my life, I have logged many hours of study in on the human system. I feel confident and comfortable about teaching my children about human reproduction and sex, but if you went to work right out of high school, or you became an engineer or you are an English major, you might not have gone past the basics that were taught to you in high school or even in an intro college level Bio class (if you had to take one.) This might make you uneasy about talking to your kids about sex because maybe you are not quite sure how it all works yourself. If mean, the basics are easy enough to understand but what about all the rest? If I may be so bold, here’s a little tutorial for your reading pleasure!
First, Body Parts:
Penis, Testicles, Vas Deferens, Scrotum, Epididymis, Prostate, Seminal Vesicles, Labia majora/ minora, Vagina, Urethra, Cervix, Clitoris, Anus, Ovaries, Fallopian Tubes, Uterus. These are all names for body parts. Learn them and use them as easily as you use “arm” or “toes.” “Va-jay-jay” is fun to say among friends, but if you are teaching your three year-old daughter how babies exit the body (and yes it can be that early, I got that question last week) do you really want to tell her that babies come out of mommy’s Va-Jay-Jay, or Hoo-Ha? Or do you really want explain to your son that his “Weiner” or “Pee-Pee” or “Lil Soldier” is used to help make babies? Yes, there may be some discomfort as you begin to use the proper terms, or when you hear your children use the terms (my husband had a hard time when our daughter announced to the men’s locker room that “Daddy has a penis!” when she was 2) but it does get easier.
The male reproductive systems has both internal and external parts. The most well-known are the penis and the testicles. The penis is the external male sex organ that ejaculates semen and moves urine outside of the body through the urethra. Sperm is produced in the two testicles located in the scrotum. Sperm needs to be kept cooler than the “normal” body temperature, hence their being stored outside of the body cavity. Attached to each testicle is the epididymis which stores the sperm after their production in the testicle. Upon ejaculation, sperm are transported through the vas deferens to the seminal vesicles (The vas deferens is what is cut during a vasectomy.) The seminal vesicles and prostate help the sperm by producing some of the fluids that make up seminal fluid. Once a male hits puberty, he will constantly produce sperm (provided he himself is healthy.) When a man ejaculates, his seminal fluid will contain approximately 200-500 million sperm… but it only takes one to make a new life.
The reproductive organs in the female, in contrast to the male, are all internal. In each of a woman’s two almond sized ovaries, there are thousands of immature eggs (ova,) each stored in a follicle. At birth, a female has all of the eggs that she will ever have. Once the female reaches puberty, the ovaries begin to release the eggs from the follicles, usually one egg per menstrual cycle. The ability of the woman to conceive a child is linked to her release of the egg. Attached to the upper end of the uterus are two Fallopian tubes. The Fallopian Tube transports the egg from the ovary after it is released. Fertilization occurs when the sperm and egg meet in the Fallopian tube and the fertilized egg (zygote) travels the rest of the way through the tube to the pear-shaped uterus where it implants into the nutrient-rich inner lining, called the endometrium, for development into the child. (FYI, the an average sized uterus is about 3 inches long, 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick. Not very big for what it does!) In the event that fertilization does not occur, there is no conception of a life, there is no implantation, and the endometrial layer sheds off, resulting in the woman’s monthly menstruation. At the bottom of the uterus is the cervix which is the opening to the uterus. The cervix extends into the vagina which is open to the exterior body.
A talk about sex wouldn’t be complete without a chat about hormones!
For the male, there is one key hormone at play: testosterone. This steroid hormone from the androgen group is key in developing the testis and prostate as well as the development of secondary sex characteristics like increased muscle tone, increased body hair, body odor and deepening of the voice. It is the presence of testosterone in the gestating infant (from the Y chromosome supplied by the father) that makes the child male rather than female.
For females, we have four (four hormones to contend with: Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Estrogen, Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Progesterone.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone is released by the Pituitary Gland in the brain. This hormone stimulated the immature eggs in the follicles to develop into mature eggs. While a few eggs begin to develop, usually only one is released. In the case of fraternal twins, a second egg developed, matured and was released, most likely within 24 hours of the first. As the follicle grows, it begins to produce estrogen. (FSH is also present in men, aiding in the role in sperm maturation.)
Estrogen causes various changes in the woman’s body. It causes mucus production from glands in the cervix (leading to slippery, egg-white like mucus which is great for sperm transport.) It causes the opening of the cervix to soften and open slightly, for sperm to enter. It causes the lining of the uterus to build up with blood and tissue and it sends a message back to the brain to release Luteinizing Hormone.
Luteinizing Hormone travels from the brain to the ovary telling the ovary it’s time to release the mature egg that’s been sending the estrogen messages. Once the egg is released from the follicle, the follicle is now called the “corpus luteum.” The Corpus Luteum continues to produce estrogen and now produces progesterone. (In males, LH is involved in the secretion of testosterone.)
Progesterone causes the cervix to close and harden, continues to enrich the endometrial layer, causes the mucus produced by the cervical glands to thicken, dry up or disappear all together, changes the basal body temperature of the woman and sends messages to the pituitary gland to hold off on further ovulations for that cycle. If there is NO pregnancy, progesterone remains high until the beginning of the next fertile cycle (day one of a woman’s menstrual period.)
And all the rest:
That in a nutshell is what a teacher can teach your child about sex. The actual physical act is rarely discussed in schools. But do you want to know what a teacher cannot teach your child? A teacher cannot teach your child about the values that your individual family has. A teacher cannot teach your child that people are not to be used for pleasure. A teacher cannot fully explain to a boy why, after sleeping with a girl, she becomes “all clingy” and won’t leave him alone even though he made it clear it was “just for fun.” (Here’s a hint, it has to do with oxytocin… the same bonding hormone that is secreted during breastfeeding.) A teacher cannot ease the pain of a girl when she finds out that he only said “I love you,” to get into her pants and dropped her as soon as he did. A teacher cannot explain to a boy that sleeping with girls doesn’t “make him a man.” A teacher cannot tell a girl that a bad reputation IS worse than no reputation. Parents can. Parents can set the standard where they want and hold their children to that standard.
A teacher can teach the how, a parent can teach the why.
Thoughts? Additions? Let me remind you, discussion is always encouraged, but in the words of Delores Umbridge, “I will have order!”