Bodies. We all have them, but older people and maybe even some not-so-old people were raised in families where you were not supposed to talk, or even to think, about bodies.
In part, the taboos were there because body talk might spill over into sex, and with the taboos on talking about sex with children, we ended up not talking about bodies, either.
I was well prepared for questions on sex and sexuality, being a firm believer in tackling the issues as early as possible and with
the proper phasing. More life skills than just sex and sexuality, my talk with my kids was about respect for bodies — their own and those of others.
Some of you might remember my column many years ago, about how I explained to my son that he was not to let anyone touch his body without his permission, not even his pediatrician, not even his Dada (that’s me) or Lolo or Lola. Because my family is easy with social spaces, we do touch and hug a lot, so our discussion on “touching” went into its nuanced meanings.
Being a teacher, after the long discussion, I asked my son, “What happens if someone wants to touch you?”
He was silent for a few seconds, clearly in deep thought, then answered with all conviction, “Marry me first.”
He was 5 at that time.
Now he’s 12, and he probably knows more about sex and sexuality and bodies than I do. Sex aside, teenagers are curious about their bodies, and that should not be surprising, considering the powerful changes that happen starting in middle childhood — even before they become teenagers. Girls, especially, will begin to feel some of the changes as early as 8 or 9 years of age.
Even as we prepare for the tough questions, do anticipate the unexpected. Aged about 11 at the time, my son asked me one day if he could start shaving.
That really stumped me. I was raised believing if you start shaving early, you’d have to shave more often, and the facial hair would get rough. I googled the matter, and the consensus from the “experts” seemed unanimous in saying all that is a myth.
I actually didn’t want him to shave yet; I have to admit it was partly out of feeling, oh no, my son isn’t a little boy anymore, and soon he’ll go off and do what his Lolo said. But one day, in Mercury Drug, I figured I might as well get him a shaver, so I looked around the shelves and picked out one, while laughing out loud.
I got home, told my son I had a surprise for him, and showed the shaver. It was a bikini shaver, really tiny.
He looked at me and protested, but very quickly turned the tables on me: “It doesn’t matter. I already shaved… with your shaver.”
Not the end of the story. A few days later, I was preparing to rush to the office and realized my shaver’s blades had gone dull and I didn’t have extra ones on hand.
Then I saw the bikini shaver. A bit more work, but it did the job. Both my son and my eldest daughter, who would have gotten the teeny-weeny shaver, had the last laugh.
Piercings and tattoos
From shaving, we move to piercings. My son had his ears pierced way back, arguing that if I allowed his sisters to get earrings, why couldn’t he. Then, recently, he upped the ante and talked about other types of piercings.
“Dr. Google” again came in handy, and it’s amazing what you’ll find about piercings, even with the “old-fashioned” ears. It turns out that the ear has several anatomical sites, all with names: helix, conch, tragus, daith. The most common piercing is for the lobe. There are discussions about the ease or difficulty with piercings, and the risks involved.
Being familiar with acupuncture, I worried about piercings being done on acupuncture sites intended, for example, to curb appetites. Although with my son, who’s on the heavy side, I would not have minded if he did get a piercing that would lower his appetite.
The nose is amazing, too, with its potential sites. My son wanted to have a ring through the septum, which divides the nostrils. The very idea of piercing the septum made me cringe, but it turns out there’s a “sweet spot” below the cartridge, the columella, that’s easy to pierce with quick healing. But I still said no, because it would make him look like a cow.
It was no as well to a tongue piercing. More risks of infections and also of malnutrition, because you can’t quite eat properly with a pierced tongue. Rather a drastic way of weight reduction, don’t you think?
Besides, people with pierced tongues tend to have bad teeth. Now that was new to me; it turns out people with a stud in their tongue tend to roll the tongue and play with their teeth, which can wear down the enamel.
Do check the internet for advice, even for ordinary piercings. In the malls, you have sales clerks offering earrings free with a piercing, using a “baril.” But it turns out piercing guns are riskier when it comes to infections and botched jobs. So the old-fashioned way of using a sewing needle is actually better. If you want to be sure, go to a tattoo shop where they use sterilized hollow needles for that purpose.
Who would have known without the internet? All that stuff isn’t discussed in schools, not even in medical schools.
Then there are the tattoos. My personal library has several books on the topic, because anthropologists have long been fascinated by this body practice. It is done for many reasons, from identifying the tribe one belongs to, all the way to warding off misfortune.
But tattooing is no longer exotic, or associated with criminal gangs. At family reunions, I hear nephews and nieces comparing their “tats” or planning on new ones.
I hold my ground, though, with the kids: Tattooing is something you decide for yourself when you’re of age, and the later the better, because “tats” are pretty permanent.
So, the advice for young people: Never, never tattoo someone’s name, because love is not forever.
I do worry that, because I am so liberal talking about the body, my kids might then get “too” comfortable about bodies. The risks of sexting—sending around pictures of themselves (or of their siblings and friends) that might show them too exposed—are very real. I have to remind them about how anything posted on social media makes it public domain and can go viral.
It’s a much tougher world we have now, out there, as well as in the internet’s virtual reality. Yet it all boils down to basics:
respecting bodies, one’s own as well as those of others.
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