Review by Jørgen Nancke
Have you learned about children’s penises and vulvas?
I met author, psychologist and associate professor at the UCL, Denmark, Frida Nøddebo Nyrup at a Book Meeting, where she presented me with her book “Elba’s Little ABC of Sex Education”. I even got a smile and a signed copy. As a student teacher, and driving on my last year, I have a keen interest, preparing for my future life of teaching in primary school. The book was tossed in the bag and stayed there until recently, when I cleaned up my little office, and found it again.
I am really quite open-minded and in favor of a natural development, curiosity and the fact that children must have space to accommodate life, each other and not least themselves – or so I thought at least… In reality, I probably felt more like those who just looked at the headline of this review…“Dad, won’t you rub my vulva – I think that would be lovely”, the little girl Elba asks her father while they are sitting on the couch – nicely illustrated with a dress pulled up. I felt completely wrong. The red light flashed in my head and I had a “put the book away before anyone sees you with that” reaction, while I was tempted to hold both hands over my head, waiting for a “Freeeze!” from a heavily armed swat team leader dressed in black, while a small bright red spot danced on my forehead.
My wife, however, reminded me, that one of our daughters rubbed herself against our coffee table legs, when she was about a year old, lying on the play rug. As the father of six children, I have seen those kind of things quite a few times, and fortunately I do not remember that we have scolded – at most we have ignored it. “It’s okay for you to do that kind of thing, but do it in your room,” this was what we said to them when they grew up – around the same age as Elba. We did it that way, so we wouldn’t have to go further into it – into the dangerous area of vulgar/ugly words lurking. The media has clearly influenced us, I can sense.
Later, my eldest daughter found a boyfriend. We were out driving, and inspired by the radio, discussing young people’s online sex movies, sex addiction, etc., I mentioned that she should be able to say no, and that she should remember, that no one is allowed to force her into something. “Don’t worry dad, I take care, but it’s nice and I’m getting an orgasm too.” I was wildly shocked, even though I consider myself as a modern, moderately trendy and hip dad.
Here I would like to point out that the book helps children in terms of learning to say no, and not least listening and making sure that one’s counterpart also likes to participate. A learning that our society really needs.
My own teenage years were different, no movies, no internet… I had a discreet ring binder lying under my bed, the one with clear plastic pockets containing girls from the slightly daring colored magazines – only wearing panties. “Laila likes to go for long walks on the beach, and would like to be a veterinary secretary on a little island…” after all, it was quite exotic. There were some nice moments below the orange architect lamp, while my parents played “President” with their card club in the living room, to the sound of the cassette tape with sad sailor songs. I’m sure my vacuuming mom knew about it – but no one said anything – it was not forbidden…
Frida Nøddebo Nyrup’s book is beautifully illustrated, beautiful drawings that show everything with text that matches. It was hard for me to get through it, but I managed it, despite my inner conflicts with the topic of children’s sexuality. However, the second part of the book solved it all.
Frida Nøddebo Nyrup uses fx the image, that if you as a parent are anxious in a thunderstorm, well then the children will probably also be anxious in those situations. From this it can be deduced that if children get the experience that things with their bodies are forbidden or dirty, then there will be a risk that it can be passed on to adulthood. If we were only donors and birth machines, then this might not matter, but we are not, sex is associated with pleasure, for yourself and for others. Sexuality in children is not something, we can avoid. The question is just: “How can we talk about it?”
With this book Frida Nøddebo Nyrup touches upon the ignorance, the conflict shyness and the touch anxiety that I and so many other people experience dealing with this topic. “Someone must take the lead” when something needs to change, and Frida Nøddebo Nyrup does.
Jørgen Nancke – Teacher
UCL, University College Lillebaelt, Niels Bohrs Alle 1, 5230 Odense M, Denmark