Bodily Autonomy and Personal Hygiene

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children’s personal care choices.

Innocent Child Protected By Arms

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

More than 30% of children in the United States will be sexually abused, few of which will be reported. In most of those cases, the perpetrator will not be a stranger. It will be someone you and your child know: a trusted babysitter or neighbor, a friend, a coach or teacher, your beloved Uncle Charlie, or another person whom you thought would never do that to your child.

Knowing the warning signs of sexual abuse is important. It allows you to quickly assess possible telling behaviors and take action to prevent possible further abuse. However, as parents, our goal is to prevent the abuse before it happens. There are many ways to do this. We can be honest with our kids about sex and bodies, answering questions as they come up in age appropriate ways. We can teach our children the proper terminology of their body parts and cultivate an atmophere in which our children feel comfortable talking with us about anything. We can talk to them about tricky people and how to get help. We can also empower them by honoring their personal bodily autonomy.

Individual should be allowed to have control over what happens to their bodies. In our family, we have made it clear to our children that it is not acceptable for anyone to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or without permission. This includes well meaning relatives who expect children to give hugs and kisses on demand (check out the great discussion at Vibrant Wanderings about this). It includes other children (who pass on abuse in a large percentage of cases). It includes doctors and even my husband and myself. We believe that if there is a valid reason for touching a child, in the event that a doctor or parent must aid in personal or medical care, that reason should be able to be explained to the child and permission given.

To that end, our children own their own bodies. We don’t force diaper changes, teeth brushing, baths (although the only problem our children have ever had with baths or showers is getting out), nail cutting, hair brushing, or anything else. This doesn’t mean that we have the dirty children on the block , walking around with uncombed hair, dirty teeth and diapers sagging with excrement. It just means that we talk to our children about why we believe it is implortant to do various aspects of personal hygiene. We give choices to honor their individuality. We are open and direct. We model personal hygiene and let them do as much as they can on their own.

Forcing a child to do something to their body against their will does not only destroy the trust they have in us. It also destroys the trust they have in their own bodily autonomy.

Learn more about the sexual abuse of children and what you can do to prevent it at Stop It Now! and Safely Ever After

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)

The Whore in the Mirror

Photo by Laura Lewis

There is currently a lot of discussion about women’s rights and contraception going around our fine country, all because one man said that no company should be able to limit an employee’s health care coverage from employee health insurance due to differences in that company’s and the person’s religious beliefs: a government mandate against religious and gender discrimination. Instead, suddenly women who want the right to make their own decisions governing their bodies and those who choose to use contraceptives are whores.

Call me a whore, if you like. I want to make my own decisions about my body, not to have my coverage limited by an employer because they disagree. I want my family planning to be a decision made between myself and my husband, not somone else. More importantly, I want all women to have the opportunity to make their own choices.

As women, we haven’t always had choices. We’ve been property and slaves. Throughout history, contraception has been an important issue, one many of us have given our lives for in one way or another. Before you start slinging the accusation of whore, though, let’s examine it a bit.

Who is considered a whore?

  • The woman sold into prostitution. She had no choice in the matter. She was sold, by men, into it. Men chose her profession for their own financial gain. Men chose to have sex with her.
  • The woman, who unable to provide for herself and/or her family does what she can to get by. When women are unable to make decent wages compared with men or have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, they will do what they need to. When, born into poverty, a woman is not given opportunities to rise out of them, she grasps what she can. Society cornered her into the profession, and men chose to have sex with her.
  • The woman who has sex with multiple partners, looking for something she isn’t finding. Beaten down by others, she is looking for love or self-worth in all the wrong places. Were she a man, she would be accepted for her choices. Because she’s a woman, she is looked down upon – acceptable to have sex with but unacceptable to marry.

And now, according to some conservative fringe, if a woman embraces and owns her sexuality, she is a whore. If society chooses to call these women whores, these women who survive under impossible conditions, who have been beaten down by society and feel unloved, or who dare to own their own bodies rather than let someone else own them, then call me one, too. I stand beside these sisters and daughters, mothers and wives. It doesn’t matter if we share beliefs on contraception or childbirth. What matters is that we all, as human beings, be given that choice, free from discrimination.

Before slinging mud at women, perhaps society needs to take a good look in the mirror. What they will see is a reflection of themselves.

Saving Them the Pain of a Later Circumcision

Photo by Aesop

When it comes to the topic of circumcision, an argument often touted is that the parent wants to save the child from the pain of a possible circumcision later on in life. They then follow this by the fact that they know someone who had to have a circumcision as an adult. They just want to save their child that pain. The logic of that makes me want to scream.

Let’s assume that they actually do know of a person (maybe even two) who did legitimately need a circumcision as an adult, despite the fact that medical evidence shows that circumcisions, except in extremely rare cases, are not done for legitimate medical reasons – i.e. a medical community pushing circumcisions due to lack of knowledge. What about the hundreds of men they know who did not need to be circumcised? Why base a decision on something that happened to such a small group?

Back to the assumption that the person’s son might actually need the procedure sometime later in life, having it done now isn’t saving your child from any pain. In fact, it is causing more pain. An adult male who makes the decision to be circumcised has access to adequate pain medication, which can be altered if he deems that it is not working well enough. An adult male’s foreskin is not still attached to the glans of his penis, unlike an infant’s, which must be ripped away from the glans. An adult male is not sitting in a diaper with urine and feces next to his open wound, increasing chances of infection and pain. And then, of course, is the fact that more children die from complications of circumcision than from either SIDS or car accidents.

Circumcising an infant child does not save him from pain. Will he remember having the procedure done as an infant? Probably not, but that doesn’t lessen the pain any. Given that logic, should we also remove our daughters’ mammary cells as infants to prevent them the memory of a possible mastectomy? Should we surgically remove all appendixes at birth?

Free Range Learning

Free Range Learning: How Home-Schooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon: Book Cover

If I could only recommend one book about homeschooling to someone, it would be Laura Grace Weldon’s Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. There is something for everyone in this book, whether a homeschooling veteran or someone who is contemplating whether or not to homeschool their children. While the book is unschooling-lite, families of all styles will find value in the book. Free Range Learning is not merely about homeschooling; it’s about the way people learn and interact with others, about what we take from life, and about what we make of life.

Weldon’s eloquent writing is backed by numerous studies and research. The book is not a fluff read. Readers will want to take their time, pondering and digesting the information, whether the information presented is new to them or something they have long believed. With numerous personal anecdotes from homeschooling families of all styles and experiences allowing glimpses into the lives of homeschoolers, the bulk of the book relies on sound research. While I would reccomend the book to anyone with even a passing interest in homeschooling, I would not reccomend it to anyone not open to homeschooling unless they are willing to challenge their current assumptions.

Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything promises to be a valuable research for new homeschoolers everywhere for many years to come.

Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided by the author.

Foreskins are Functional

Foreskins are functional. Most parents wouldn’t knowingly cut off a functional part of their infant’s body. In fact, it’s illegal to cut off the majority of infant body parts, excluding foreskins. However, most people aren’t quite aware of the function of the foreskin, assuming that it’s just a piece of skin. What they don’t realize is that piece of skin is there for a reason.

Photo by Yuri Samoilov

The male prepuce, commonly referred to as the foreskin, has a high concentration of blood vessels, nerves, nerve endings, muscle layers, and skin.

Muscle layers protect the urinary tract from contaminants, thereby decreasing urinary tract infections. At the same time, the foreskin covers the glans of the penis, protecting it from abrasion and irritation, and keeping it moist, making it more sensitive to stimulation. The foreskin also contains glands in the skin which work to keep the penis clean. Similarly, there are glands which produce antibacterial and antiviral proteins which protect against infection. The pH of the foreskin also cultivates beneficial bacteria; without beneficial bacteria, men are at a higher risk for UTIs.

The foreskin contains approximately 240 feet of nerves and 20,000 nerve endings. Logically speaking, the loss of such can have a dramatic effect on sexual pleasure later in life. Three feet of veins are included in the foreskin, along with up to 80% of the penis’s skin. Altered blood flow due to scar tissue can affect urinary tract flow and result in more UTIs.

Removal of skin and veins affects erections. When a penis becomes erect, it grows in size due to blood flow. Removal of the foreskin does not allow the erect penis to become fully erect outside the body, effectively shortening the penis and at times causing pain or discomfort for the man. During intercourse, a man’s foreskin allows the penis to move in and out without abrasion, making intercourse much more comfortable and pleasant for his partner.

Foreskins serve many roles. Say no to circumcision and protect a healthy body part.

The Care of Newborn Babies

Newborn babies are wonderful. They are snuggly and tiny, elliciting kisses and cuddles from their parents. Surprisingly enough for such tiny little people, they also are capable of making remarkable messes. Parents gingerly hand over these new little bundles to eagerly awaiting relatives with the warning to watch out for spit up. Many is the person who has had to go change shirts after holding  a baby.

Photo by Nina Matthews

The there are the diaper changes. If you are a parent, you’ve been there. All of my children have managed to pee on me at least once during the early days of changing diapers. The dirty diapers are even worse. Those first few days of meconium diapers have the consistency of tar. My husband once referred to it as toxic sludge. Good luck getting it off your hands without copious amounts of soap and water. Once that is past, those early breastmilk poos begin. The only times we have ever dealt with diaper blow-outs have been in those first few months, when the poo just tends to go everywhere. My husband only changes boy poo diapers. He’ll quietly whisper that “The poo goes everywhere. You’re a girl. You know how to deal with it.”

 The poo does seem to find it’s way everywhere. It’s manageable. You just have to keep wiping and hope that another round isn’t on it’s way in the mean time. Extra towels underneath help. However, for those parents that have chosen to have their male infants circumcised, they also have to deal with bleeding and open wounds. Just as poo goes everywhere, it will also end up on the circumcision wounds.
 
Any open wound is a possible infection site. Because circumcision wounds are located in a diaper which is continually being soiled, infections are quite common, including staph infections with the ever rising rates of staph in hospital settings, where most babies in the States are born. The new immune systems of newborn infants are less equipped to deal with infections. Antibiotics which are often used to treat infections have their own issues, killing good bacteria along the way and often resulting in thrush for the baby and nursing mother.
 
The truth is that any body part can become infected. However, choosing to cause an open wound in an area which is routinely in contact with feces doesn’t seem a prudent decision, especially when the alternative is to not do anything except wipe the area, intact penis included, with a wet wipe.

The Locker Room Argument

One argument often given for routine infant circumcision is the locker room argument. Parents are worried that their child might be teased. After all, everyone else in the locker room will be circumcised, they think. What if their decision is the reason for their son’s teasing?

Photo by Jenni C

There are a few problems with this argument. The first is that the majority of men are intact. Over 80% of the human male population on Earth is intact. While the US’s rates are a bit depressing in comparison, having once dipped as low as 15%, the percentage of intact males in the States is on the rise. As of 2009, US circumcision rates were down to 32.5%, leaving 67.5% of males born in the US intact. That number continues to climb, as more parents learn that there are no medical reasons for the procedure. While the actual distribution of percentages which make up that average vary across the country, chances are very good that your son will not be the only intact male in the locker room.

Secondly, is that the enormity of teasing going on in locker rooms is a myth. How do I, a woman, know this? Well, I have brothers, a husband, brothers-in-law, and friends and I asked them. They all laughed when I asked, claiming that any teasing because of intact status is proposterous. While some guys may check out the competition, so to speak, it’s taboo to be caught doing so and even more so to comment on it. Any attempt to make fun of one for their intact status would immediately be shot down with a quickly asked, “Dude! Why are you checking out my penis?”

Thirdly, and on a lighter note, it’s cosmetic surgery. If you are agreeable to cosmetic surgery for your child to avoid any teasing, where do you stop? What if your daughter is teased for having smaller breasts? Do you rush her off to the plastic surgeon? Later, when she develops more and is teased for having larger breasts, do you go again? When your son inherits Uncle Billy’s ears that stick out, do you help him deal with that until he grows into them or run out and have them tucked? Cosmetic surgery for infants? What’s next? What is that teaching our children?