We know a lot about puberty.
A 12-year-old patient, Lucy, recently visited Lisa’s office. Her mother explained that Lucy had gotten her period, just in time for an upcoming state swim meet — the next day. Thankfully, we’re both specialists in coaching girls on first-time tampon insertion. Lucy talked through the nervousness (will it hurt?) and the fear (will I break something by putting it in?). She mastered putting in a tampon in time to participate in the competition. Then she left with a copy of our book to use as a reference on her own.
A book — “Celebrate Your Body 2” — that was recently banned from public school libraries in parts of Florida.
The research about the need for comprehensive sexual education is clear. Limiting children’s exposure to information about sexual health, including puberty — an approach unfortunately adopted widely in the United States — only puts kids at risk. Comprehensive sexual education overseas has been shown to lead to increased safety and delayed initiation of sexual activity. Teaching children the proper names for their body parts at early ages also leads to a lower incidence of sexual abuse.
In the United States, at a time when the very institutions that are supposed to be educating our children are becoming more politicized, it’s especially important for children and parents to have comprehensive resources about sexual education.
So why was our book banned?
Maybe because we write very honestly about sex and the human body. Biologically, the purpose of sex is reproduction. However, widening our definition of sex helps children understand that people have sex for a variety of reasons. Sex can be for pleasure and is a way to show affection — both important parts of our sexual (not to mention mental) health.
Some parents believe that telling children the truth about sex and our bodies will spoil their innocence. But innocence and ignorance are not the same. As physicians, we help parents understand that children, starting from an early age, should know the scientific facts about their bodies as well as the truth about sex.
Or maybe our book was banned because the discussion about gender made the people of Walton County uncomfortable. Most of our patients’ genders match with their biological sex. However, gender dysphoria is a clinical diagnosis that affects some of our patients.
We understand that some parents are reluctant to offer information about the fluidity of gender to their children — because of their political beliefs, their religious beliefs, or sometimes their fear or confusion. But we are pediatricians who take care of the whole child, not just the parts that make everyone else comfortable. We are advocates for our patients — the children in front of us — and believe in addressing the concerns they bring us.
Or maybe our book was banned because of the information normalizing masturbation. Masturbation can start in utero and continues throughout childhood — not because it is sexual, but because it is comforting. Though this might be awkward for some people to discuss, we are asked about this in the office every day, by parents who have children as young as toddlers. Some parents object to their children’s masturbation because instead of viewing it as a purely soothing act, adults project their own emotions and ideas about sexuality onto it. They were taught it was bad. We try to explain gently why it is not.
If books about bodies and puberty are going to be banned, and parents don’t step in to share accurate, healthy information with their kids about sex, children will go to their most utilized resource — the internet — where the information is likely to be anything but accurate and healthy. For kids searching online, sex education often comes in the form of pornography, which is easily accessible, explicitly graphic and overwhelmingly, overtly misogynistic. The internet is not the place for self-education on all topics.
Banning books that help parents be better parents is absurd. Limiting resources to educate children about puberty — a process they will go through whether they want to or not — is like taking away math books in math class.
wait Florida is doing that, too.
But back to our real job: practicing pediatrics. Another day, Ruby, a 10-year-old with a toothless smile, visited Lisa for her annual checkup. Lisa quickly recognized Ruby’s mom and sister, Lucy, from a few weeks back. They shared that Lucy’s swim meet had gone great. Meanwhile, Ruby waited with a pen and her own copy of our book. She wanted Lisa to autograph it. After all, the doctor had helped her big sister win a first-place trophy.
Lisa Klein and Carrie Leff, the authors of “Celebrate Your Body 2: The Ultimate Puberty Book for Preteen and Teen Girls,” are pediatricians, mothers and founders of Turning Teen, a platform to educate parents and children about adolescence.