In the rational, reality-based version of my brain, I know that birth is awesome. When I think about the fact that I am a person who is capable of growing a human and then shoving it out of me, I am even more convinced that I am basically a magical creature who can’t be stopped.
However, when I was about 14 years old, I was less convinced that birth was an incredible, even beautiful process. I thought that birth was disgusting, that babies were gross, and that my own body was dirty and worthless. It’s pretty easy to internalize ideas about your body when you’re 14 (or literally any age) and have friends who say things like “I would never make a guy go down on me.” Vaginas were disgusting, and anything in, around, or coming out of them was equally terrifying. As a 14-year-old, I didn’t have the language or ability to fight back against that mindset. I didn’t understand the mechanics of birth or even reciprocal sexual attitudes, and thought of everything below the belt as shameful and filthy. I was so lucky that I went to an all girls school where I could be hidden away from boys, who would certainly sense my menses and have to be revived with smelling salts.
If you’re already a person who thinks vaginas are horrifying (as I did, circa 2003), then adding in a slippery baby, the idea of tearing, placenta, amniotic fluid, and the possibility of public defecation creates a clusterfuck of shame, anxiety, and disgust. I would imagine that a series of conversations about how vaginas are not, in fact, shameful and gross, would have been particularly helpful for me at that time, but my ninth grade health class took a different approach entirely. One afternoon, they sprung a live birth video on us with little preamble, and the results were less that optimal.
In terms of surprising a 14-year-old with a live birth as a means of sexual education, I’ve presented a list of pros and cons, so you can decide if it’ll be helpful for you as you explain sex to your kids.
Pro: It’s Educational
I was exceptionally lucky to go to a high school that offered very, very detailed sex ed. In my semester long Health course, we learned about substance abuse, STIs, intercourse, mental illness, eating disorders, and body image. I could identify the entire workings of my reproductive system, had an encyclopedic knowledge of STIs, and by the end of the semester, a full understanding of what birth looked like in 1993. Don’t say I wasn’t well-informed.
Con: Aversion to birth. Forever
The sex and STI portion of my health class (which was a tad too linked, for my taste, and focused mostly on the consequences of irresponsible sex with no attention to positive sexual experiences or something like consent) featured grotesque, grainy images of genitalia “ravaged” by STIs, which we would probably get if we kissed a boy. In the list of sex consequences, the live birth video followed gonorrhea. The woman appeared to be dying while horrible things burst forth from her vagina, which had reached a size we weren’t aware was possible. Maybe it would have been better to talk us through what we were clearly not prepared to see a bit first, so that we all wouldn’t have left swearing off childbirth and our own sex organs forever.
Pro: This Functions As Excellent Birth Control (For A While)
You could see the aversion that I just listed as a con as a pro, since it shut down the idea of sex for while. I was certain that I would never want to find myself in the situation of pushing a human through my vagina with a room full of doctors, nurses, and the man who did this to me. The graphic nature of the movie made me zip my legs closed with amazing force, only to be pried open two years later by wild lust for my friend’s friend from Hebrew School. So it goes.
Con: There’s A Risk Of Passing Out
I am a somewhat squeamish person prone to fits of dizziness and passing out, and when I started to get queasy watching this woman who appeared to be getting attacked by her own vagina, I knew I had to get myself out of the room and get some air. I didn’t make it to the bathroom, and a PE teacher in one of her many tracksuits saw me slumped against a wall in the hallway. Swishing her way over to me and flailing wildly, she for some reason attempted to pick me up and move me, even though I was saying “I just need to sit down for a second.” She ran and got a water bottle which I assumed was for me to to drink, but instead she squirted some into her hand and then patted my face with it. It wasn’t unpleasant. We sat in silence for a few minutes–me trying to focus on breathing normally and her dabbing my earlobes with her hands. I told her I was ready to get up, and she made a big show of walking me the four feet back to the Health classroom, where I spent the rest of the class, staring at my notes and drawing floral doodles every time the handout said “vagina.”
The final verdict here is a wash. Sure, your kid might pass out, but she’ll probably take birth control pretty seriously from that point forward–just show it to him or her in a padded room. Or, you could respect your kid, skip showing the movie entirely and have a conversation that doesn’t involve scare tactics and smelling salts. Your call.