First, here’ s ten year old Max’s review: What’s going on down there ? That is the question. Two ways to answer that question: A) you could go order this book for $9.99 or, B) take a shower. A lot of the book is just reviewing, just to be safe that you don’t forget, what your penis looks like. I’m guessing that this may be interesting to people that have never changed their clothes, but most people have.
Now, Jessica’s review: I bought this 150 page paperback (1998, Walker Publishing Company) for Max to read because, unlike his older brother, he tends not to ask many questions about sexual health. Max’s older brother started going through puberty at eleven, and although every child is different, we wanted to make sure *some* sexual education was happening. Whenever I or my spouse saw an opportunity to do some educating around these issues, Max would shut the conversation down. I figured I’d get a book and see if maybe he felt more comfortable learning that way. It worked! Despite his protests, he read the whole ten chapters in about a week. For comparison’s sake, I never did get him to finish The Hunger Games.
Max again: First of all, The Hunger Games was just Katniss yelling about water even though there was a lake right next to her, and second there was was a slight bribe to read this, which I’m not sure was worth it. And it was just 150 pages of the world’s weirdest penises with terribly boring words around them.
Jessica: The book features illustrations by Robert Leighton, which are, in my opinion, quite good and not weird at all. The font (typeface?) is also casual, without descending into comic sans. Here’s a typical informative yet humorous illustration:
The chapters include: Your Body (anatomy), Body Changes (puberty), What’s Going on Down There? (erections, orgasms, wet dreams, masturbation etc.), Girls are Changing, too, Having Sex, Making (and Not Making) a Baby, Staying Healthy (STIs including HIV/AIDS), “Is this normal?”, “What if…?” (random worries and concerns, like erections in class, meeting someone on the internet, etc.) , “If I’d Known Then What I Know Now!” (reflections from older boys who have been through puberty). Although this is aimed at boys, there is a chapter on girls’ sexual development, and, throughout the book, attention is paid to female anatomy and sexuality.
The book tends be be fairly simple and matter of fact, and pitched at boys who are not yet fully experiencing most of the things the book addresses. Max was able to read and understand it all, but it definitely tackles difficult subjects, so talking through it with him was important. For example, there is a section on rape, and, as I mentioned, one on HIV/AIDS. For a nanosecond, I thought “I hate to introduce the subject of rape with this innocent kid”, and then I remembered how many movies he has watched where sexual violence is explicit or threatened, including the Star Wars movies. My own views about rape are more political than “it is wrong to have sex with someone without their consent”, and when he’s older, I may come back to this, asking him why the section is all about why the reader, a boy, should not commit rape, rather than about say, how the reader, a boy, can avoid being raped, but, with this particular child, at this particular juncture, I will wait a bit longer to tackle gender injustice.
The book promotes an egalitarian secular humanist approach to sex which we found mostly satisfactory. So many of the books I looked at had conservative approaches which did not mesh with our own teachings. For example, after discussing some of the pitfalls of sexual activity, the author writes:
About this time, you may be feeling that having sex is a very dangerous activity that should be avoided at all costs. Or at the very least, it may seem as if there is so much to worry about that it couldn’t be very enjoyable.
But that’s certainly not the case. Sex is a perfectly natural and wonderful part of life. And having to take care of yourself doesn’t spoil it. After all, you buckle your seat belt when getting in a car, wear a helmet when riding a motorcycle, and put on a life jacket when going out on a speedboat — and none of these things takes the fun out of the ride.
That said, the book does associate sex closely with affection, trust and love, something we liked, but other parents might feel is either too restrictive or not restrictive enough. Homosexuality is defined and discussed in a value neutral way (albeit focused strongly on sexuality to the exclusion of any other aspects of identity), but the default orientation is heterosexual, and there is no mention of bisexuality, transgender experience, or asexuality. So, it’s a good start but not exactly complete.
Overall, What’s Going on Down There? did exactly what I hoped: kept my son’s attention, covered the issues in a matter of fact and easy to understand way, and provided a good basis for our discussions. Although Gravelle explores feelings around puberty, it might have been nice if a bit more of the emotional and psychological aspects of puberty that are not directly related to sex were addressed.
Have you shared a book on puberty with your children? Any recs?