Abby and I were doing Science homework and had reproduction, in all its sexual and asexual glory, spread across the kitchen table. We had reached puberty. Abby’s assignment was to list the associated physical changes (for boys and for girls) and the psychological changes (for both hormone-addled sexes). Turning to her workbook, we found the answers on the before-and-after illustrations of males and females, tastefully drawn and quite accurate.
“That’s not pretty,” said Abby, looking at the page.
“Well,” I said, “that’s what we all look like.” More or less.
Abby began jotting down the physical changes of puberty. “Hairy chest,” she wrote.
“Well, no, not necessarily,” I said.
“There’s hair on the man in the picture,” she pointed out.
“Yes, but not every man has a hairy chest. Under the arms and the groin for sure. Boys get kind of hairy all over, actually. But not necessarily chest hair. And hair on the face, but that might not be until later, because everyone develops at different rates.”
Abby looked up and thought for a second. “Cool,” she said.
It was cool, really. We were talking about sexual reproduction – the biology of it, not the, you know, “act”; just the cold, hard facts, thank goodness – and neither of us was blushing or looking through our fingers.
We were certainly a long way from the sex ed inflicted on me in junior high back in my very Catholic hometown. In Grade 7, the boys and girls were split up and sent to separate rooms, and each group learned only about his or her own reproductive organs. It felt like a firearms course, especially all the references to lubricants.
I have no way of proving this, but my experience over subsequent high school years convinces me that the girls’ teacher must have pointed out how the female reproductive organs sort of resemble a cross, and that if any boy were to touch anything even close to down there, Jesus would be very, very disappointed.
I do know that there was a grade-wide crisis that year when one of the boys got hold of a girl-parts instruction manual, complete with illustrations. There were outraged teachers, girls in tears, possibly a call to the Vatican. And in the end, none of the boys were any wiser about how to holster their pistol.
I’m glad, then, that boys and girls are learning about reproduction and puberty together. Times have changed. Sex, sexuality, homosexuality – we’re far more open about it now, sometimes too open, but surely too much is better than being ashamed that the opposite sex has glimpsed a schematic drawing of your reproductive parts. Isn’t it good that, with my own daughter, it didn’t feel weird at all talking about testicles at the table?
“Next: the psychological changes associated with puberty,” I prompted, “changes in thinking or behaviour. What about those?”
We got through rebelliousness and mood swings. “What else? What do teenagers become interested in?” I asked.
“Porn,” said Abby.
“Well, no. Yes, maybe, but no. How about just the opposite sex? They develop sexual feelings…”
Yes, porn is available in ways we couldn’t have imagined when we were young (though we certainly did imagine), and who knows what long-term effect that exposure will have on sexual behaviour and expectations. After all, there’s a lot of bad information out there. At the same time, there’s tons of good information as well. Confused teens wondering whether they’re normal, how things are supposed to work, why they don’t have chest hair – a discreet search query offers all the answers. Why, instead of having “the talk,” parents can simply point their kids to a website and run away. That’s a win-win for both parties, I say.
To wrap up her homework, Abby had to pick a reproductive part and research it. She picked the scrotum.
“Really? That’s probably the least interesting of all the reproductive parts,” I said. But then I got to thinking about how the scrotum is the thermostat of the testicles. Really, the scrotum is quite remarkable. In fact, when you take away the “ick” factor, the “I can’t believe I’m talking about this with my daughter/father” component, the biology of reproduction is astoundingly complex and beautiful. Not that I’m recommending that as a pickup line or anything…
“Where are you going?” I asked Abby.
“I’m going to look up ‘scrotum’ online.”
“Hang on! Make sure you search ‘scrotum anatomy.’”
Because it’s not that beautiful.