My Daughter Has a Hand Mirror, and Other Signs that the Sky is Falling

Be Very Afraid: the root of all sexual deviancy is laying next to your bathroom sink.

I know that this is way too easy. But all the same, when I ran across this “opinion piece” in the RH Reality Check news aggregator, I laughed so hard that I nearly sprayed orange juice across the computer screen. It just screams satire, and yet is absolutely, frighteningly serious. From Robert H. Knight, Sex Education Veers the Wrong Way:

What is it with “advice” experts? Are they all drinking the decades-old Kool-Aid from sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey?

A case in point: In her “Family Almanac” column in the Feb. 15 Washington Post, Marguerite Kelly advises a mother to steer her curious 11-year-old boy away from the Internet and toward the kiddie sex book, “It’s Perfectly Normal.”

An illustrated, over-sized hardback by Robie H. Harris, “It’s Perfectly Normal” has sold more than 1 million copies. It’s full of colorful drawings of nude people, sexual activities including masturbation by both sexes, and even a girl leaning over and holding a mirror between her legs, so she and the reader can examine her nether regions.

If you felt violated just reading this description, imagine how kids feel when looking at the pictures. The book title sums up the author’s agenda, which is to promote all varieties of sex as “perfectly normal.”

That’s right: “even a girl leaning over and holding a mirror between her legs.” I can’t get over the hilarious and telling nature of the fact that among those who think the worst possible human action anyone could commit is to experience any form of pleasure without asking God pretty please first and promising to think of Him the whole time, a girl having a peek at her vulva is the most outlandish offense in a book all about sex. Not the dirty, sinful nudity. Or the shockingly anti-Biblical depictions of sexual activities by presumably unmarried people, including spilling one’s seed. The worst part is a girl foolishly thinking that she has a right to know what her genitals look like. Crazy liberals, don’t they know that God put a girl’s “down there” down there for a reason??? It wasn’t to sell hand mirrors, that’s for sure!

Of course, telling girls and young women to use a mirror to become familiar with their vulvas is some of the oldest, sanest, simplest and most valuable advice around. It’s something that we should all be encouraged to do, no matter what our age. Despite the moralist wailing — and really, who the hell opposes this anymore? — it’s a lot less likely to encourage girls to flash their genitals indiscriminately than to simply result in a lack of fear over one’s own body. But to the wingnuts, this is indeed precisely the problem. Not fearing your body almost by definition causes you to realize that there’s nothing wrong with your body. This leads one to question the idea that what you do with it by yourself or consensually with other people for your own personal pleasure is anyone else’s business. And when you become familiar with looking at and touching your body, it’s also possible to realize that what you’re told is supposed to please you doesn’t, and that any church, conservative columnist or sexual partner who wants to chastise and shame you for that ought to go fuck themselves. Once that happens, a whole lot of hard-won patriarchal control goes flying right out the window.

Knight’s moralist huffing and puffing at totally sensible advice is just beginning, though:

Dear Abby, the most well-read adviser, regularly offers Kinseyesque libertine sexual advice, as documented in the new Special Report from the Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute, “Down a Dark Abby,” by Colleen Raezler.

Abby is hardly alone. Other advice experts have promoted libertinism for years, and many have applauded It’s Perfectly Normal. I don’t recall seeing any prominent experts criticize the book, including Abby’s late sister Ann Landers, who even gave it a cover blurb. Penelope Leach, author of “Your Baby & Child,” says “It’s Perfectly Normal” is “reassuring and responsible; warm and charming.” Best-selling author and columnist T. Berry Brazelton says kids coming into adolescence “will love it.”

In addition to premarital sex, Normal promotes homosexuality, even going so far as to claim that the Greeks were better soldiers because of gay relationships.

Kelly says the book, “written for 10-to14-year-olds, will explain sex to your son beautifully. You can be sure that he’ll read it again and again. And again.”

Well, he’ll probably look at the pictures again. And again. Before moving on to Penthouse, and then back to the Internet. The advice experts pushing this stuff on kids are either hopelessly naïve about how males think about sex or they are flat-out malicious.

Marriage is irrelevant to Harris, as it is in Kelly’s column, which is entitled “Open Lines of Communication for a Sexually Curious 11-Year-Old.” The son had gotten into sex on the Internet, so the mom asks Kelly what to do. Kelly starts by recommending that the mother teach her son that “sex — not pornography — is the ultimate intimacy.” So far, so good. But then: “but only if it’s based on friendship and respect and on a relationship that is private, honest, consensual and a pleasure to both.” That’s it?

A lot of 11-year -olds (and 35-year-olds) would go along with that. Who needs marriage?

Indeed: who does need marriage? At least, in the context of it being a requirement to obtain the right to touch and be touched. While Knight is working himself into a frenzy to show how “It’s Perfectly Normal” promotes anything but normal behavior, he completely misses the fact that he’s, um, wrong. I’m pretty positive that just about anyone’s definition of the word “normal” — a word that I hate, by the way, but I digress — would indeed include an activity that 95% of the population enjoys. So premarital sex? Yeah, it’s perfectly normal. Other than his desire to completely obscure and ignore that fact, Knight is using the word “normal” in a way that is common if improper. To Knight, “normal” doesn’t mean common, standard or average; it means “right.”

One other point before I finish wasting my time on this moron. You have to love this line: “The advice experts pushing this stuff on kids are either hopelessly naïve about how males think about sex or they are flat-out malicious.”

It just so happens that yesterday, Jill covered this one brilliantly. It’s perpetually amazing how the myth persists that feminists are the ones who think that all men are over-sexed, intellectually deficient potential rapists. We’re not. That role would belong to the guy up above. In his world view, boys must be kept away from sex, or they will otherwise become immoral zombies who spend all of their time in brothels. We don’t have to worry so much about girls, because they hate sex — unless you give them one of those miniature, family-wrecking mirrors. But the boys, they can’t be trusted. One might argue that keeping boys who are so very sex-obsessed away from any kind of healthy sexual discussion or expression isn’t exactly going to prepare them very well for later on in life when it comes to both setting and respecting sexual boundaries. Arguments like that, though, would make the fatal mistake of presuming that health, pleasure and consent are absolutely anywhere on the fear-mongers’ list of values.

Here’s the disconnect. People like me, we think that knowing one’s own body and experiencing it as a source of healthy pleasure is a fundamental human right. People like them, they think that the only right you have to your own body is doing exactly what they say is allowed (and it’s not very much). It’s bizarre, it’s dangerous, and it’s downright sad.

But here’s a silver lining: I now know all about Ronald Reagan’s favorite newspaper, and that for only a little over a dollar an issue, I too can read all about how people who support immigrant rights hate America, drilling for oil is good, environmental protection is bad, and bombing the shit out of any nation where the majority of the population isn’t Caucasian is good for women. Where has this treasure trove been all my life?

Incidentally, has anyone here read “It’s Perfectly Normal”? As someone who doesn’t have kids, spends very little time around kids and knows few people with kids in the right age group, I haven’t. But it does sound like something that would have been very useful to me when I was growing up, and has the potential to save girls and boys alike a hell of a lot of pain, fear, guilt and confusion.

0 thoughts on “My Daughter Has a Hand Mirror, and Other Signs that the Sky is Falling

  1. Kristen

    Ugh. I’ve read it and I liked it, but it didn’t help me much. A dear friend of mine asked me and my husband to discuss sex to my godson (now 12), because she was too uncomfortable and her husband passed away 3 years ago. We don’t have kids and had absolutely no idea where to begin. The book was great, but he had so many questions that were complicated by his religious beliefs (his mom is an abstinence only person). In the end my husband and I decided to stick to our truth even when it contradicted his upbringing…but it was still…very arduous Why his mom asked us to get involved when we so clearly disagree with her on this point, I’ll never know…but I digress. The reality is books are not good training for this subject.

  2. Cara Post author

    See, by contrast, I was to terrified and embarrassed to ask anyone anything about sex pretty until I was about 17. I definitely did not want to talk about sex with my mom or really anyone else between the ages of 10 and 14, but there were things that I wanted to know. In that light, in addition to the fact that I was a total bookworm, I think that this book (or another like it) would have been a great alternative, and probably a lot better than my girly teen magazines. Maybe it has more to do with the kid’s personality?

  3. Kristen

    Probably. I’m still reeling from “what do breasts feel like” and “[his Sunday school teacher] says not to touch my peter” in the same conversation.

  4. Cara Post author

    Well that sounds like a fairly outgoing and self-confident kid to me. Or maybe a kid who has been indoctrinated but is smart enough to figure out that a lot of the indoctrination doesn’t make a lot of sense.

  5. brandann

    i have glanced through it, and it was good…but my daughter is only five, so i bought “It’s Not the Stork” by the same authors(for ages 4+)…and it is wonderful. I plan to use “It’s Perfectly Normal” when she is older, and there is another one, but I can’t remember the title.

    The books are very good, in the sense that while it teaches that anatomically boys and girls are different, it stresses the concept that we are not limited in what we can do by out gender. It starts w/ basic anatomy, and right out of the gates uses the correct terminology…it might be the first book I have seen that actually uses “vulva” and “clitoris”…

    There is also an in depth section about “good touches” and “bad touches”, stressing that it is OK to masturbate, but to do so privately and at appropriate times, and that no one should touch you like that when you are a child. Then, it repeats that no one should touch you like that when you are older, w/o your permission.

    I don’t understand why everyone is so afraid of teaching children the truth. I received a nasty email from my Kid’s father b/c he was outraged that I would allow a five year old girl (yes, he was that specific) to have knowledge of how babies are made. But silly me, I guess I am crazy b/c I think it’s best to tell children the truth when they ask questions, such as “mommy, where do babies come from?” and “why can’t I pee standing up?” I am proud, however, that my Kid knows what to call genitals other than “pee pee” and “hoo hoo”.

  6. Chris

    When I was 11 or 12, my mom gave me a copy of that book and basically told me to come back if I had any questions. At this point, I don’t remember any specifics, but I’m pretty sure it was a large reason why I’m so comfortable with my sexuality and willing to honestly discuss it with my partners.

    My sister read that same book a few years later and she’s very comfortable with herself as well. As far as anecdotal evidence is concerned, this book is a winner! 🙂

  7. Paul

    brandann, a lot of parents, both male and female, are like that father – for what it’s worth i think that the hyper-protective parents that are terrified of things such as their kids knowing words like “vagina” and “penis” are just as dangerous to children as the child abusers and molesters.

  8. Rachel

    Brandann, I am currently dealing with some similar issues – my son’s father (and his girlfriend) are horrified that I am choosing to teach my son the appropriate terms for his gentials, such as “testicles” and “penis,” and they are equally horrified that I have asked him to refer to breasts as “breasts” and not “boobies.”

    I haven’t read It’s Perfectly Normal, but you can bet your ass that now I’m going to get it!

  9. Paul


    Several women i’ve known do use “boobs” though i think that’s just reclaiming an objectifying term

    A lot of older Australian feminists despise the Americanism “panties” but most younger people use it because of the influence of American TV – the same way we lost the pronunciations “darnce” and “charnce” that we had inherited from Merry Old England.

  10. Cara Post author

    I use “boobs” casually, but I do think that it’s far more appropriate and useful to teach children the proper words. The nicknames will come later without any parental reinforcement, I’m sure. My mom did teach me “boobs” at a really young age, but I think that was before I could pronounce words longer than one syllable with any effectiveness. She taught me words like “vagina” and “penis” as soon as I could say them, too, but used nicknames before that so I could refer to those body parts if I needed to and so that they weren’t mysterious and nameless.

  11. Feminist Avatar

    This must be a culture difference, but we wouldn’t let kids in Scotland (unless they were very small) say boobs or boobies as it borders on ‘naughty’ territory, that is slang words that are not really appropriate, but not ridiculously offensive either.

  12. Moody

    That article screams satire, but alas it’s not. I do love the satirical site Landover Baptist. It’s a riot.

    Thanks for talking about “It’s Perfectly Normal”, I had never heard about it and I now plan on buying it asap. (My daughter just turned nine.)

  13. konstanze

    ugh. I hope he doesn’t have any daughters. i grew up regarding my “nether regions” with disgust, and i’m still getting over it. who knew a magic hand mirror would have turned me into a libertine?

    anyways, i love how one of his commenters describes liberal values as “gratification, intertainment[sic] and paying taxes”!

  14. Cara Post author

    Here’s the scary thing, Konstanze: I saw that quote and was wholly unconvinced that “intertainment” was a typo and not some kind of crazy fundie speak for “intercourse as entertainment.”

    But maybe I’ve just been mocking these folks for so long that I can no longer tell the ridiculous from the simply stupid.

  15. brandann


    “for what it’s worth i think that the hyper-protective parents that are terrified of things such as their kids knowing words like “vagina” and “penis” are just as dangerous to children as the child abusers and molesters.”

    i couldn’t agree w/ you more!


    depending on how old your kid is, I would possibly recommend the other book i mentioned…I plan to use them in tandem…the Kid’s father and his girlfriend don’t believe that i am doing the right thing in this (and several) area(s)…but they got particularly heated about the “birds and the bees” topic…

  16. Sakura Passion

    Ack! Did you read some of those comments? Goodness, it’s attitudes like that is why Americans are still the most uptight people about sex.

  17. Michele

    It’s Perfectly Normal is the main sex-ed book I’ve used with my daughter. I think she started reading it shortly after she turned 8. I think the book is very good and would recommend it to anyone who asks.

  18. MissKate

    Oh my god! I have yet to have kids, but I think I’m either going to get this books and pack them away for the day they are needed, or make a list of them for that future time.
    When I was little, I didn’t have the slightest idea what was going on down there. I didn’t have much more of a clue until a boyfriend in college succeeded in convincing me that a) female orgasms a1) are normal a2) not abhorrent to males and b) my having an interest in sex was not a sign of mental illness on my part (thanks for that one, mom).
    If only I’d happened upon a lovely hand mirror in middle school, I would have been such a happier person so much sooner…

  19. Katie

    Ah, I remember the first time I looked at my vagina. I must’ve been about eight, so young, so innocent. The instant I saw it, I knew what I had to do. Become a prostitute. And do drugs. This horrid life of sex and other vices continued for years until finally, I was saved! I saw the light of Jesus. Now I am happily– well, I’m married, anyway, to a man, and every month or so we do the dirty the only way God intended: in the missionary position, followed by an acid bath to scald away the evil.

  20. sophiefair

    brandann — i’m just a little confused. why on earth does girlfriend-of-dad believe that she has any right to express an opinion on how YOU are raising YOUR child? in YOUR home?
    i’m not trying to be obnoxious. i just know that there would be nasty words said if my ex’s girlfriend tried anything like that. though that’s not likely — she and my ex keep trying to send HER kids to me to sort them out!

  21. Pingback: The Importance of Real Sex Education : The Curvature

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