I'm a Mom and a Viral TikTok Doctor: Here's How I Keep It Real With My Kids on Delicate Topics
As an OB-GYN, I have seen plenty of patients who feel vulnerable, afraid, and uncomfortable when it comes to discussing the myriad of topics related to vaginal health and sex. I always keep it real with my patients and that's encouraged me to start using social media to educate and discuss sexual health concerns and other topics that people tend to be shy talking about. I'm proud to say one of my safe sex TikToks about herpes went viral with over 14 million views, but it also made me realize just how many people are in need of this important information in a digestible way.
I've been making it my mission to destigmatize issues that really shouldn't be stigmatized to begin with. That includes bladder leaks or urinary incontinence, which 1 in 3 women experience, but is rarely talked about—that's why I'm working with Poise, a brand dedicated to solutions for bladder leakage.
Addressing these taboo topics is also something I make sure to do at home too. My comfort in the uncomfortable comes through when addressing sensitive topics with my two boys, ages 7 and 4. I want them and all children to grow up knowing about their bodies and how to best care for themselves and others. I want to give them the foundation to feel more comfortable speaking to their doctors one day.
Here are ways I have found work well to connect, minimize embarrassment, and trigger important, natural dialogues as they grow.
Use Their Interests To Start Conversations
My TikToks have resonated with a younger audience as they share safe sex information at a level and in a medium of interest to them. My kids are too young for social media now, but they have plenty of other interests and activities which can work as a springboard for an important conversation. For example, from watching Sesame Street and Arthur, we have discussed different types of love between friends, family, and partners.
Choose Correct Language
I have been sure to use the correct anatomic terms for body parts right from the start with my kids. Kids are inherently silly and find humor in online and streaming TV references to body functions, but it's important for them to be able to communicate about their bodies correctly with me, their dad, and their pediatrician.
Normalize Conversations About Sex
When friends ask me how they can broach sensitive topics with their children, including sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and how bodies change, I always emphasize how important it is to normalize these discussions. If your child asks a sexual health-related question, don't avoid it, or change the subject. Answer directly, factually, and with a normal tone. Acknowledge and affirm their curiosity and ask them what they think or what they have heard to get their perspective. The more we can normalize questions and answers, the more comfortable they will be coming to you in the future with more serious questions.
Find the Right Place
If you'd like to start the conversation, I suggest keeping it casual and use natural moments together to your advantage. Kids and pre-teens will likely squirm and find the nearest exit if you sit face to face with them when bringing up topics that might embarrass them. But having these conversations when you are driving and they are in the back seat, or when you are taking a walk together, leads to better communication because it's no-pressure alone time.
Some of my kids' best questions have come in the car. My 7-year-old recently asked me why girls bleed from their butts. While he was referring to periods, it was clear he didn't have it quite right. He already knew that people without penises have different private parts and knew appropriate terms like vulva and vagina, so I took three minutes to expand on our previous foundation. We discussed what a uterus is, what it does and can do, and how it recycles every month in the form of a period, which looks like blood that actually comes out of the connected vagina. His response: "That's so cool!"
Don't Overdo It
While you—and certainly I—could talk on and on about the things we know our kids should keep in mind, it's best to keep it short and simple. The goal is that you want to create a comfortable, normalized environment in which your kids can always come to you to discuss delicate topics at their discretion. Too much lecturing, especially about the last thing they want to discuss with their parent, will lead to shutdowns and avoidance. Unless you have an interested audience that is actively participating and comfortable talking, keep it concise and let them know you are available to revisit and talk anytime, even by text. You can also ask if they'd like to read more on their own and take that opportunity to get reliable sources in their hands with good books, articles, or websites. Again, don't overdo that route or they'll treat it as spam!
Dr. Staci Tanouye, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN and Poise partner, is a physician in private practice in Jacksonville, Florida, and an expert in adolescent, sexual, reproductive, and menopausal health. She has become one of the leading gynecologists on social media with the mission to educate women to love their bodies through knowledge and empowerment. Dr. Tanouye and her husband, Amit, are the parents of two boys who are 4 and 7 years old.