My daughter is going to be four years old in May. I seriously can’t believe it. It’s so funny to me because the older she gets, the more I feel like I’m having those, “I didn’t even think about that” moments. It started recently when she would put her hands down her pants for no reason, “We keep our hands on the outside of our pants,” is something I find myself saying more and more. We’ve always been very honest with our daughter when it comes to her body and appreciating her it, but when the conversations turned from keeping our hands on the outside of our pants to, to wondering what age we should start talking to her about vaginal care, I thought it would be best to talk to an expert, so I reached out to Dori Thompson, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Primary Care, to get some answers about when and how to have these conversations.
Dr. Thompson told me that girls should know about their body parts at a young age. When they start asking questions, answer them honestly. I’ve heard some people use words like “cookie” or “tee-tee” instead of the clinical terms. Dr. Thompson said it’s important to teach the parts of their body and use the appropriate terms like vagina and vulva. It takes the stigma away by talking honestly about their genitalia. She said that I should want my daughter to be comfortable with her body and all of its parts. This will help explain other changes to her body that will be happening in the future like her period. Dr. Thompson suggests that as my daughter gets older explain what a period is and make sure she knows what to expect long before it happens. This conversation should happen around age 9, no later. When we talk to our daughters about their period and what’s to come we should mention other changes that the body will have - breast development, vaginal discharge, pubic hair. For many girls, this starts around age 8-10 with small lumps in the chest called breast buds. They can be larger on one side or even tender. All of these changes are normal. Dr. Thompson also mentioned that once the breast buds appear, it usually is about two years, on average, before a girl gets her first period. But, everyone is different.
Vaginal care is another biggie when it comes to talking to our daughters about their bodies. I know my daughter doesn’t always wipe as well as she should and sometimes her vaginal area is a little red. Dr. Thompson said teaching our kids how to properly care for their vagina is key. Use warm water and mild or unscented soap during bath and teach how to properly wipe. When it comes time for her period, make sure that tampons/pads are changed often. Dr. Thompson said, “The vagina cleanses itself naturally, never douche or use any sprays in the vagina unless prescribed by a healthcare provider. Wear fresh, clean underwear each day with a cotton crotch. Every female has a natural vaginal scent that can change throughout her menstrual cycle. Every healthy vagina makes discharge. Normal discharge is usually clear, white or light yellow, and sometimes sticky. If your normal discharge changes in odor or color or you notice redness, soreness, or itchiness in your vaginal area then you should see your doctor. Not all vaginal odors are caused by an infection. Poor hygiene (not washing properly), tight-fitting clothing or underwear made of nylon can sometimes cause an unpleasant odor.”
It feels like once the period comes, the sex talk can’t be far behind but boy was I wrong. Dr. Thompson said to not delay the sex talk. Talking to our kids early and often is the best way to make sure they make good choices about puberty and sex while growing up. I remember most of my knowledge came from my 5th-grade teacher because talking about sex was embarrassing with my parents. Answering our kid’s questions as they come up is key and we shouldn’t be worried about cramming everything into one conversation. And if your kids are avoiding the conversation, as I did, we as parents should initiate some conversations once they reach their preteen years. Dr. Thompson said, “Having lots of little conversations about sex makes the experience easier to handle and gives the child time to reflect on each point.”
Oh boy, do my partner and I have our work cut out for sure when it comes to educating our daughter. I learned so much from Dr. Thompson and I think the most important thing for all of us is to be sure and have these conversations. Communication is key.
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