By Ellen Hagan
It just feels good to my vagina, my three-year-old daughter announces before bed. We are huddled close next to one another reading her new book about the body. While it is true she has been confusing the flow of oxygen through the windpipe with the flow of the sperm to the egg, it is also true that she knows exactly where her vagina is—and she knows what to do to make it feel good.
Awkward? Embarrassing? Amazing? Radical? Revolutionary? I think you could argue yes to any of the above.
It was my mother who first told me the specifics about sex. It was 1986 and I was an eight-year-old second grader in Bardstown, Kentucky—not really the place or time of the sexual revolution, but it felt revolutionary just the same. I remember the night exactly. I had been playing truth or dare with Claire Mitchell in the playground after school and having lost at least a dozen rounds I had quickly mooned Claire and said the word shit as loud as my voice could travel.
Already I was a brave/stupid kid, and although I left that afternoon feeling bold by the time I got home I was mortified. I finally told my mom in bed that night—I divulged everything—the wild behavior on the playground, the fact that Chloe had told me all about the facts of life and then, finally, I told my mother I had been doing something that was worse than all of the above—I had been touching myself sometimes (a lot actually).
My mom didn’t skip a beat. She clarified the facts, told me about sex straight away, and said it’s your vagina, you’re allowed to love it all you want. She also told me to stop pulling my pants down on the playground (understandable), and that loving my vagina was something I should do in private, but that it was perfectly acceptable and totally normal.
That night made a forever imprint on my existence as a woman. I went forward knowing that a body wasn’t something to be ashamed of, but something to be celebrated. And most importantly, that you didn’t have to rely on anyone else for your own pleasure—it is yours all the time.
I took that memory through high school and college and by the time I met my husband I understood not only what I wanted for myself, but what I wanted for our children if we had any. I wanted them to love their bodies—to not be afraid to ask questions and feel comfortable talking to us from the time they could speak and ask questions. My husband felt the same way. We were able to speak about sex in clear ways. Masturbation wasn’t a crude word (weird, sure), but a normal one and would be a word that we would introduce one day.
We did not realize we would have a very early talker. Our first daughter said her first word at nine months and by 18 months could speak in full sentences. She was and is an inquisitive child, so around the time she was two she began not only asking about her body, but also finding comfort in its pleasure. This love of pleasure and exploration is present at birth. I have seen it in both of our daughters and have had countless friends talk about their children exploring themselves.
Our daughter was no different. We’d notice that she would use her blankets as props and eventually began referring to it as puffing. As in: What are you doing? Oh, I’m just puffing. Friends have referred to it as hunching or rubbing up against, but I like puffing the most—as in riding the wave, or floating along.
It is now our common language in the house. We have informed her that puffing is perfectly acceptable, but that it is something we do in private (as in: not in the living room when guests are present). If she wants to puff she can puff all she wants—in the privacy of her room. We use the correct language for her body. She knows that puffing makes her feel good and that it’s a perfectly acceptable act and one that cause supreme pleasure.
It’s a healthy act too—one that shows she is already getting to know her body, that she is already in control of her own body. She has a vagina and she knows where it is and she knows how to use it.
Yes! I think and have a quiet celebration in my mind—for all the girls who have been told it was wrong, dirty, unladylike, and on and on.
Yes for her and her sister and for their friends when they share this prized information.
Yes for this new sexual revolution—to learning how to navigate the body. To knowing it and, most of all, to loving it.
Ellen Hagan was born in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, and now calls Washington Heights, New York City home. She is raising two children to love their bodies and who they are in the world – and to love the communities that help raise them. You can find more of her work at ellen hagan.
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