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When My Daughter Learned the Word “Sex” — But Not The Way You Think

Jump Child Play Trampoline Activity Girl Fun

Jump Child Play Trampoline Activity Girl Fun

So. It turns out that my oldest knows all about reproduction, but she doesn’t actually know the word sex.

Or, at least, she knows one meaning of the word. Not the one you might expect.

About a month ago, when the Vancouver parents who didn’t give their child a sex designation on the birth certificate had the media in an uproar, I was reading a newspaper article about Storm, the Toronto child whose parents chose not to let anyone know their baby’s sex so that the child could make that choice (they had the media in an uproar too).

The piece was a follow-up on Storm five years later. Update: Storm’s fine. Storm’s a happy little girl in a happy family, no worse for the wear for getting to make that decision herself. Basically, nbd.

My almost-8-year-old, who (note to self) reads every damn thing out there, was reading the article over my shoulder. I wasn’t worried: In my experience, kids take issues of gender fluidity and non-conformity with much greater equanimity than do grownups. She’s got some trans people in her life, and we’ve talked about what gender means and how it may or may not match up with the bodies people have.

So she knows all about that too. But as it turned out, my budding gender theorist still didn’t know the word sex.

The article includes an interview with one of Storm’s siblings, who explains that “sex is what is between your legs, and gender is what you think of yourself as a person.”

That made a lot of sense to my daughter, fitting in with what she already understood and giving her a nice clear way to explain gender choice and gender fluidity. It also–but we didn’t know this yet–gave her some new language. Because while we’d talked in terms of men and women, boys and girls, we hadn’t yet introduced the term gender.

We hadn’t yet introduced the term sex. Not for any deliberate reason, simply because we wanted to use words she already knew, that were rooted in things she already saw, experienced, and understood.

I hadn’t totally realized that these were new words for her. So if I’d thought about it, I’d probably have said that she now had another framework for the word sex, in addition to the reproductive one. Except, again, it turns out that she didn’t have that framework for it.

Until I did. Until we all did.

It was early in the morning, and the kids were all up and getting ready for school. We had just gotten a backyard trampoline (and yes, I know, I know, death trap danger yada yada, I know, I KNOW) and while we had a strict list of safety rules, there were still some issues to be worked out.

Things we didn’t quite anticipate in advance, like my middle daughter wanting to jump on the trampoline. In a nightgown.

It was one of those moments: Their dad decided that, as a general rule, underwear or bottoms of some sort must be worn on the trampoline Middle daughter asked (asked, whined, shouted, whatever) why. Father answered that no one wants uncovered privates on the trampoline. Oldest daughter pipes up: “Yeah! No one wants your sex on the trampoline.”

Made perfect sense to her: Sex is what’s between your legs, right? Which, she rightly pointed out, no one wants on the trampoline.

She is absolutely right. We definitely don’t want any of their sex on the trampoline. But that’s a conversation that (hopefully) we won’t have to have for a good, long time yet.

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