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May 10, 2015

Aching testicles, bodacious breasts, and other childhood lessons in anatomy

Image from here.

Image from here.

“My testicles are aching,” my daughter confessed to me the other day, which is the only problem I’ve so far encountered in my experience of having taught her the correct name for anatomical parts. That eventually, one might get mixed up when meaning to say “limbs” and start talking about her balls instead. And maybe this is the danger parents are hoping to avoid, those who pulled their children out of Ontario schools last week in protest of the new sex-ed curriculum. That there are so many body parts and the children aren’t ready, and with everything getting so mixed up, gender fluidity is surely just around the corner. It’s contagious. What else can you expect when it’s scrotums for everybody, and sexual identity is all a slippery slope.

I haven’t actually read the new sex-ed curriculum, because unlike some people, I’m not a total pervert. And I’ve got better things to do than vet school curricula for ways it’s going to warp my child’s mind, because the world is going to warp her anyway, and here is the point where my job as a parent kicks in: I send her into the world and then, when she gets home, together we try to make sense of the mixed messages it’s throwing at her. Like why, for example, in a hyper-sexualized world (ever driven down a highway and looked at a billboard lately?), we are so fearful of teaching our children there is such a thing as sex or that parts of their bodies actually have names.

I can’t do it all on my own though. As Hillary said, it takes a village. From proximity to my body, my daughter has learned about all varieties of skin rash, but that’s only the tip of the anatomical iceberg—there is so much more. And my plan for this education, which I hope will avert much future sextastrophe (the more you know!) involves extra-curricular activities.

My daughter is enrolled at swimming lessons at the university pool, and we strategically avoid the Family Change Room. After her lessons, we head to the Women’s where she has her hair washed surrounded by naked ladies. An invaluable education—how to be subtle, for one thing, and look like you’re not looking, and also how not to pee in the shower, which is mostly “at all”, but if you have to, don’t announce it while you’re doing it.

Mostly, her post-swimming showers are a lesson in the exquisiteness of womankind. Women of all shapes, sizes, and colours, gloriously naked, just having finished some activity that makes her body strong. Beautiful, all of them, stunning in their variety. Contrary to what a series of lingerie ads might have you suppose, there are so many ways to have a body. No two alike. Shockingly, almost all of them have pubic hair. And the bodies themselves are big and small, curved and slender, muscular, wiry, always amazing (because it’s ill-fitting clothing that fails to flatter the body, I find. The body itself requires no flattery at all). Bums, boobs, tummies and, yes, limbs. We’re both kind of mesmerized. What a sorority. You’re a woman, albeit a small one, and you’re part of this, a body-haver. It’s the most incredible way to put the whole thing in perspective.

Of course, it’s not all naked utopia. You’ve got the woman who’s squeezing her ass-zits in the shower, and the other who is shaving her thighs, which is kind of gross because her pubes are flowing across the tiles. But that bodies are disgusting is an important lesson too. And that they’ve got functions, beyond their ability to be stuffed into a bikini and be beholden to the male gaze. We’re getting all of this in the Woman’s Locker Room and I’ve got to shut up about this, or swimming lessons are going to up their fees. And even if they did, I’d probably pay the difference. There is awkwardness, yes, and the pain of aching testicles, but it’s the best basis for sex education that I can imagine—the knowledge our bodies are gorgeous and amazing—and knowing this we’re better prepared to handle whatever this curious world hands us next.

14 thoughts on “Aching testicles, bodacious breasts, and other childhood lessons in anatomy”

  1. kate says:

    not only will the fees go up, but you’ll have a whole new audience here! 🙂 Rah Rah! to the locker rooms… and while we don’t have the ‘testicle’ confusion, we’ve got the much more mundane ankle, wrist, elbow confusions… forever and ever. amen.

    1. Kerry says:

      Bodies are confusing, right?

    1. Kerry says:


  2. This is pretty much the only reasonable thing I’ve read on the sex-ed curriculum. I suppose it also redeems my unhappy times in communal showers–it wasn’t only awkward, it was also educational–and that’s cheering.

    1. Kerry says:

      I am sorry about your unhappiness, but no doubt it made you the excellent person you are today. xo

  3. Jules says:

    Love it! Next it will be the whole “Mummy, I can see your penis” in the swimming pool changing room…

    1. Kerry says:

      Good gracious, who hasn’t seen my penis?

  4. theresa says:

    This is so good, Kerry. I agree — the world increasingly wants kids to be hypersexualized as consumers (Miss Senza?) but as comfortable inhabitants of their bodies, with some sense of pride and casual affection? Whoah. Once when my kids were about 6, 4, and 2, we were on our favourite island in the nearby lake for a picnic. We’d gone by boat. They were swimming, then drying off, without bathing suits. A boat was passing about half a mile away and older son cried out, “A boat! Hide your dicks.” (I never called them dicks but playschool maybe?) So daughter, the 2 year old, immediately put her hands over her genitals to conceal them. Her brothers were her most trusted teachers, I think.

  5. A big thumbs up on this post! ☺

  6. Wendy says:

    fabulous – bodies are super gross and amazing. and i’ve always felt that way about communal showers!

  7. Zsuzsi says:

    Thanks Kerry — love the illustration as well! The scariest thing about communal showers/change rooms, at least at my favourite outdoor pool here in Vancouver, is that none of the women appear to have any hair anywhere at all except on their heads. Makes me feel like a Neanderthal or at least Lucy, the missing link.

    Elizabeth Renzetti’s Sat G&M column on this issue was pretty awesome, too. My son, now 15, has known all about body parts since very young. My mom used to flinch when he mentioned his penis (she’s 75 and still calls them “dinkies” — very sad).

    1. Kerry says:

      Perhaps UofT is where all the hairy people hang out? I find it so reassuring about the future of humanity, actually.

  8. Kristin says:

    I laughed out loud throughout your first two paragraphs–brilliant writing. And I couldn’t agree more. I have also always used the correct terms for body parts with my young children and it’s so strange to me how many people are disconcerted by that. When my daughter was three she asked me when her penis was going to grow…she was horrified and so, so sad when I told her that it wasn’t…she was a girl and unlike her older brother, she would not have a penis. I think she is over it now, but I’ll never forget how shocked she was when I explained it to her.

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