Working in Women’s Health has made me realize just how important education about this is-especially starting off on the right foot. I’ve spoken with too many adult women who have been mis-educated or uneducated about even the simplest parts of female anatomy and it’s very concerning! I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 questions and topics that I get asked about from the 11-year-olds I’ve taught (and their mothers too).
1. Why is this so embarrassing?
This is a great question that I’ve been asked each time I’ve taught. I live in a very conservative area and many of the girls and their mothers are very uncomfortable discussing their lady parts. It is so important to talk about menstruating, breasts and everything that comes with them just like you would talk about brushing your teeth or combing your hair. Setting the tone for discussing these things in this way leads to your daughters being comfortable discussing health concerns with you later, speaking confidently to their doctors and respecting themselves and their bodies. Creating embarrassment around these topics can lead to awkwardness, shame and ultimately confusion and that can continue for the rest of your daughters life-perpetuating possible illness and even affecting her sex life later. We as women have vaginas and it’s ok to talk about them!
2. Emphasize The Positive
When boys go through maturation and learn about puberty it’s all exciting: You’re going to get taller! Yay! You’re going to grow hair on your balls! Yay! You’re going to become a man! Yay! When girls go through puberty, often the feelings are negative: You’re going to randomly start bleeding all over! Ew. You’re going to get boobs and need to wear a bra and you’re going to be treated differently! Uh? You’re going to grow hair in places that are socially unacceptable in our country! Ew. It’s rough. I think it’s important to accentuate the good things that come out of this and how amazing womanhood really can be. These changes are occurring so that one day you can create life! Without this our species would die out. I like to paint a picture of curvy being a good thing (we don’t want to continue to look like children for the rest of our life?) and that periods are merely a maintenance thing, easily taken care of with experience. Make puberty exciting and celebrated for our girls, just like we do for our boys.
3. It’s Called A Uterus, And There Are 3 Holes.
We had to tell my roommate in college there were 3 holes. That’s not ok. She was 21, had never taken a mirror down there, never used a tampon and was completely floored by this information. What followed was an in-depth conversation about what intercourse was…that her parents should have given her 10+ years prior.
Please call anatomy by it’s proper names. It is not a “princess palace,” it’s a uterus. The vagina and the urethra are separate holes with separate functions. There is absolutely no harm in girls understanding what all of these parts are and what their functions are-if anything they will then ask anatomically correct questions at the dinner table like my 7-year-old daughter: “Mom, how did Dad’s sperm get into your uterus?” (I’m pregnant) This also means that they will have the correct words to use when they need to-at the doctors office, when describing something to you and if anything inappropriate did ever happen to them.
4. PMS Is Real, But Not An Excuse
I don’t like over-explaining PMS as these young girls are just starting into all of this. I always think it’s worth mentioning because it is 100% a real thing…I just hate how our society has over-played it. It has become such a scapegoat and excuse-and believe me, I’m often grateful for this excuse because when you have cramps and are bleeding like you’re dying and cannot stop crying…you need to give yourself a break. I just don’t want them to start their menstruating journey thinking it’s going to kill them because not everyone suffers from it! I always explain it matter-of-fact (like everything else) and go from there.
This was new information to many of the mothers in attendance. Personally, when my daughters hit that age, I’m not even going to mess with any of that stuff. They’re getting THINX panties and we’re calling it good until they want to try a menstrual cup. It’s been shown over and over that tampons aren’t super good for your vagina, pads are filling landfills and no matter what-they’re still so much like a diaper. If you’ve never heard of menstrual cups, I highly recommend softcups-they’re a little more user friendly than a diva cup.
If you are considering tampon use for a young teen, please be sure to discuss toxic shock. I was amazed at how many mothers had never heard of this (it’s on the side of the box!!) and were alarmed that this was even a real thing. Basically it’s a very rare infection that can happen because of extended tampon use-typically when a tampon that is too big for the flow is worn for too long. Tampons scratch the very sensitive mucous membrane that makes up the vagina and these small cuts can lead to infection that is more likely in preteens. Not everyone is sensitive to the damage that tampons create and toxic shock is very rare but it is still worth mentioning. I’ve known 2 women personally with it and it’s landed them in the hospital, so be sure to discuss it and be aware.
7. Deodorant – A Principal’s Plea
I asked the principle at the last school what her biggest concern was for her students (in terms of maturation) and she said “Please just tell them to shower and wear deodorant!” Apparently the 11-year-olds are stinky. It doesn’t help that I live in the sweaty desert. Maturation is the perfect excuse to discuss good shower habits with your girls-are we scrubbing out our armpits, crotch and feet? Are we changing our underwear every day? And socks? And when we wash our hair we shampoo roots and condition ends? (failure to do this can aggravate pubescent greasy hair!) Talking about and reassessing good hygiene habits is a good idea.
8. When To Shave?
I’ve been asked this by Mother’s every time I’ve taught and it surprised me. Shaving is so personal! I always explain that it sucks that our country adopted the practice and in Germany you get to do whatever you want and it’s not fair! With that being said…I’m pretty American and at this point I can’t imagine having hairy armpits so I tell everyone while there is absolutely nothing wrong with body hair, if you want to remove it just do so safely. I think teaching safe shaving practices is so important-especially for more sensitive areas. There is a huge difference between sharp blades and dull blades and all of my most bloody shaving accidents have happened with dull ones!
I struggled with acne as a youth. It was horrible. As I reflect on what I did personally for treatment, it horrifies me a little. I used acid after acid to try and get rid of it! I was constantly using all sorts of product that dries out the skin and my poor skin suffered greatly because of it. I never gave it anything nourishing and it had nothing to heal with because of it. A few things that have proven tried and true:
- Change your pillowcase nightly. I would sleep on it, flip it over for the next night and then turn it inside-out and then flip it over, getting 4 uses out of one pillow case.
- Drink more water. Upping your fluid intake always helps keep skin more clear.
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet. You have to give your skin what it needs to heal!
- Wash and moisturize your face daily! Find a good cleanser that works and a good acne safe moisturizer.
10. Go Get a Bra Fitting
I worked at Victoria’s Secret and Motherhood Maternity fitting bras back in my day. It broke my heart seeing so many women in ill-fitting bras and I LOVED sizing them and getting them into something more comfortable. To this day I struggle not to say things when I see bulging or gaps that could be easily fixed by proper sizing. It’s not that your preteen needs a proper fitting bra yet-it’s the idea that having her sized now will ideally make her comfortable and show her that this is the best way to go about buying bras, especially through the growing years. Our breasts change so much through our lives and getting measured every time you bra shop is never a bad idea-set up that habit right from the start.
What questions did your preteen have about maturation?