a photo of a sliced grapefruit


Clitoris, Clitoris, Clitoris: It’s Not a Dirty Word and I Think Kids Should Know What It Is

Jan 7, 2020

It may seem shocking and vulgar to some, but teaching appropriately aged children of all genders about a body part existing only for a woman's sexual pleasure isn’t just about a woman's pleasure.

Almost all Canadian school sex-ed curricula avoid discussions on pleasure and focus on reproduction or risks, in either clinical information or warnings to our kids against all the “bad” things that can happen from having sex.

Even naming body parts often excludes the clitoris — it’s labelled in only a few suggested curricula. Yet sexuality educator Nadine Thornhill, PhD., emphasizes, “A child's knowledge of all sexual body parts — including the clitoris — and understanding what feels good physically versus what doesn't, are vital components of ensuring children truly comprehend what consent is all about.”

How one mother discusses the idea of "pleasure" with her kids. Check it out here.

It’s a concept that can be difficult to grasp if you belong to the school of thought that heterosexual sex is about a man “doing” something to a woman; it’s not, and never should be classified as such.

A man asking if he can “do” those things is only one facet of consent.

If a woman doesn’t understand what feels good to her, is her agreement truly consent? Does she actually care or even know she’s not obligated to participate in any kind of sexual interaction that is not pleasurable for her as well? These concepts apply to men, too.

In the age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, men need to comprehend that a woman’s body does not exist simply for their pleasure or reproduction.

A few years ago, the creation of three-dimensional models of both the inner and outer clitoris taught me — at the ripe old age of 46 — what this integral part of my anatomy looked like inside.

I was born in the sexual liberation decade of the '70s, yet didn’t even know the correct name or function of a clitoris until my early twenties. Interestingly, I had full comprehension of what my reproductive system looked like, as well as the inner and outer anatomy of mens' sexual parts, when I was a teenager.

For those unaware, the clitoris actually is formed during gestation from the same tissues that becomes a penis in men. In fact, studies have confirmed that the penis and clitoris have many similarities; enough to have some refer to the clitoris as the “female penis.”

One mom writes about how her children will benefit from the #MeToo movement. Read it here

Sadly, the penis and the clitoris are treated very differently by society. Modern culture still blushes at the mention of the clitoris and is generally lacking in even the most basic information about it. I consider myself a feminist, yet I too failed to name and describe this integral part of a woman's sexuality with both my kids during every one of our open and honest discussions of sexuality. 

Only a few Canadian provinces list the clitoris in the curriculum for naming genitalia, and it seems only Quebec discusses the concept of sexual pleasure with high school teens, at the interpretation and comfort level of the teacher leading the classes. My own daughter had a teacher in Grade 4 who only discussed girls having vaginas and didn’t even name the vulva, let alone the clitoris.

Contrary to what I believe to be the erroneous fear that teaching kids about the clitoris will somehow push them towards premature sexual activity, studies have shown honest discussions about sex actually have the opposite effect.

Curiosity is often what motivates youth to experiment sexually, and coupled with a lack of knowledge, can lead to unsatisfying, unpleasurable or even painful or negative sexual experiences for both genders. In the Netherlands, the sex-ed curriculum includes topics like sexual communication and differences between porn sex and real sex. Pleasure is discussed in the context of comfort with one’s own body and communicating personal sexual desires to a partner. The outcome? The Netherlands reports three times less sexual violence than America and has a lower teen pregnancy and STI rate.

At the bare minimum, those with a clitoris should know its name in the event of clitoral health issues. Like any other part of the body, the clitoris can require medical attention. Sadly, bodily shame about problems “down there” prevents some women from discussing issues of concern with even their own doctors.

One dad writes about why he thinks turning back the clock on a 'sex-ed' curriculum is unhelpful. Read about it here.

The idea that only men are sexual and women are reproductive is incorrect. Both genders are reproductive and both are sexual. The taboos around sexual enjoyment only perpetuate a disservice to both — women grow up feeling shame for bodily agency and sexual enjoyment, while men grow up not fully understanding the sexuality of their partners or how to satisfy them sexually.

We can’t possibly continue to uphold a secretive cover to women’s bodies and their pleasures. Our kids shouldn’t grow up believing anatomy like the clitoris and its functions are dirty, gross or simply a mystery. Or they may go looking to potentially dangerous sources like the internet to have it explained.

As parents, it’s our job to ensure we instill in our families a healthy sexual education based on gender equality and fact.

Are you a parent? Are you a writer? Do you have a different opinion on this subject? Please reach out to us with a pitch here.

Article Author Jackie Gillard
Jackie Gillard

Read more from Jackie here.

Jackie Gillard is a freelance writer who lives on the suburban fringe of Toronto. Between writing the thousands of stories she has in her mind, she is busy as the second wife to her second husband (no, she's not a sister-wife) and mom to an elementary school-aged daughter and a teen stepson. Coffee fuels her days and she used to enjoy wine occasionally in the evenings but now generally falls asleep tucking her daughter into bed. You'll find links to Jackie's published work on her neglected blog MyPapayaJambalaya or you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see what shenanigans she's up to each day.

Add New Comment

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.