Skepticism

Sex Ed with James Dobson: In which Embryos are planted, Boys are Butterflies, and the Vagina is for Menstrual Blood and Babies

This next chapter, “Something Crazy is Happening to my Body,” is full of reassurances that nothing is wrong with you and everything is normal and you shouldn’t be afraid.  Wading through that with as little mention as possible, because it’s boring, we start to get some actual information, though highly anthopomorphized.

The growing up process is a wonderful and interesting event. It’s all controlled by a tiny organ near the center of your brain called the pituitary gland. This little organ is only the size of a small bean, yet it’s called the master gland [citation needed] because it tells the rest of your glands what to do.  It’s the “big boss upstairs,” and when it screams, your glandular system jumps.  Somewhere within your pituitary gland is a plan for your body.

We continue with exhortations not to worry about the process of growing up.  Frankly, being told constantly not to worry starts to make me worry.  Is that normal?  Back to information:

What can you expect to happen during early adolescence and how will it all take place?  The most important change that you will notice is that your body will begin to prepare itself for parenthood.  Now I didn’t say that you are about to become a parent (that should be years away), but that your body is about to equip itself with the ability to produce a child.  That’s one of the major changes that occurs during this period.  The correct name for this time of sexual awakening is puberty.

We are now going to learn about the changes that happen to boys, which seems more like an ode to manliness than anything that could be considered a practical guide to being an adolescent.

During puberty, a boy begins to grow very rapidly, faster than ever before in his life. His muscles will become much more like those of a man, and he’ll get much stronger and better coordinated. That’s why a junior high boy is usually a much better athlete than a fifth- or sixth-grader, and why a high school boy is a better athlete than a junior high boy. A dramatic increase occurs in his overall body size, strength, and coordination during this period.

Secondly, the hair on a boy’s body will begin to look more like the hair of a man. He’ll notice the beginnings of a beard on his face, and he’ll have to start shaving it every now and then. Hair will also grow under his arms for the first time, and also on what is called the pubic region (or what you may have called the private area), around his sex organs. The sex organs themselves will become larger and more like those of an adult male. These are evidences that the little boy is disappearing forever, and in his place will come a man, capable of taking care of his wife and family.  This fantastic transformation reminds me in some ways of a caterpillar, which spins a cocoon around itself and then after a while comes out as a totally different creature–a butterfly.

Beautiful, manly, athletic butterflies who will take care of women and children in their manly way!  But wait!  There’s more! We also learn that a boy’s voice will become deep and gruff, but there are a few months of wobbles that are nothing to worry about, that skin problems are common, so keep your face clean, don’t eat greasy foods, and maybe see a dermatologist.  We are also told about adolescents need for sleep, our parents are advised to let us sleep late on Saturday mornings, and we are told to have a balanced diet.  What a balanced diet looks like, Dobson leaves as an exercise to the reader. We are moving on to the beauty of womanhood, which does not involve butterflies.

A girl’s body goes through even more complex changes than those of a boy, because it has to prepare itself for the very complicated task of motherhood. The way a woman’s body functions to produce human life is one of the most beautiful mechanisms in all of God’s universe.  Let’s look at that process for a moment.

All human life begins as one tiny cell, so small that you couldn’t see it without a microscope.  This first cell of life is called a zygote, which begins to divide and grow inside the mother’s uterus.

The uterus is a special place inside the mother’s lower abdomen, or what you may have called the stomach.  Actually, it’s not in the stomach at all, but below it.  The uterus is a special little pouch that serves as the perfect environment for a growing and developing embryo.

Did we mention that the organs involved in making babies are special?

When a woman becomes pregnant–that is, when the one-celled zygote is planted in her uterus after having a sexual relationship with a man, her body begins to protect this embryo and help it grow.  It has to have oxygen and food and many chemicals which are necessary for life. The substances are delivered to the uterus automatically, through the mother’s blood. But since the uterus has no way of knowing when a new life is going to be planted there, the it must be ready to receive an embryo each month, just in case it happens. Therefore, blood accumulates on the walls of the uterus in order to nourish an embryo if the woman becomes pregnant.  But if she doesn’t become pregnant that month, then the uterine blood is not needed. It is released from the walls of the uterus and flows out through the vagina–that special opening through which babies are also born.

Every 28 days (this number varies a bit from person to person), a woman’s body will get rid of this unnecessary blood which would have been used to nourish a baby if she had become pregnant.  It usually takes about three to five days for the flow to stop, and during this time she wears a kind of cloth pad to absorb the blood.  This process if called menstruation.

I am cringing at the description of a zygote as something planted, and Dobson clearly has never concerned himself with the varying strategies and products women have for dealing with menstruation, but I guess this section isn’t really technically wrong.  We then go back to being assured that we are perfectly normal, and if we’re worried or if there is “some pain” we should just talk to our mother or doctor.

Personally, since I have cramps so bad I have been sometimes known to throw up out of pain, I find Dobson’s information woefully inadequate.  Dear Dr. Dobson, you know what is great for dealing with menstruation?  Hormonal birth control.  He is too busy talking about god to hear me, though:

So you see, menstruation is not an awful event for girls to dread.  It is a signal that the body is preparing itself to cooperate with God in creating a new life, if that proves to be His will for a particular woman. Menstruation is the body’s way of telling a girl that she is growing up…that she is not a child anymore…and that something exciting is happening inside.

Ellipses preserved from the text.  Notice that in all this talk about how butterfly-like it is be able to parent, we have yet to learn about how zygotes happen.  Because this is getting long, we will learn about sex next week.  In exactly one paragraph.

Featured Image Credit: Carsten Pescht via Flickr

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Elizabeth

Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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