'We Need To Talk About Vaginas' Is The Inclusive, Diverse Guide Every Family Needs
“I wanted to make sure that any person who has a vagina could read this book and feel like I was talking to them, not just the skinny white girls.”
I have three young daughters, which means I have said the word “vagina” roughly 10 million times since becoming a mom (and about 75% of those times, it was said to correct a toddler saying “bagina”). But my oldest is 8, and while I’ve definitely had conversations with her about consent (“You don’t have to kiss your great-grandma!”) and bodily autonomy (“It’s OK for the doctor to see your body because Mommy is right here and it’s a checkup”), we haven’t talked about much more. I know that puberty isn’t far away, but beyond explaining to her what that box of Tampons is under Mommy’s sink, I’m not sure where to start.
That’s where OB-GYN, TikTok star, and now author Dr. Allison Rodgers comes in — along with her 16-year-old daughter, Lily. Dr. Rodgers has 1.2 million followers on TikTok where she, often with Lily, creates videos battling misinformation about sex, reproductive health, consent, and more. Her feed is educational but also comforting in a way a lot of talk about puberty and periods and sex isn’t. Chalk it up to combination of Dr. Rodgers and Lily talking through these big issues together and the “judgment-free zone” vibe that pervades all of the videos. As an OB-GYN and fertility doctor, Rodgers sees and deals with these things every day; she talks to people about what’s happening with their bodies as a literal job. And that expertise, and the need for someone to speak openly and safely about what’s happening with bodies, is where We Need to Talk About Vaginas: An Important Book About Vulvas, Periods, Puberty and Sex comes in.
The book, out today from Macmillan, is an illustrated guide to vaginas, vulvas, and everything that comes along with that anatomy. Delightfully diverse, the illustrations by illustrator Annika Le Large feature bodies of all shapes, sizes, and colors. There is also an incredibly inclusive theme of honoring anyone and everyone who has a vagina. The sex talks include same-sex conversations, and there’s even an entire two-page illustration of how everyone’s vulva and labia can look a little different.
It might seem strange to describe a book about puberty, periods, and sex as lovely, but it is — and that feeling of strangeness is exactly what Dr. Rodgers is trying to combat. This book is just as much for young people who have questions about their body as it is for the parents who aren’t sure how to start talking to their children about all of it.
“The goal of this book is to really empower kids with information and also be a conversation starter. And maybe you don't have to have a conversation about every single thing in this book, right?” Dr. Rodgers tells me over a Zoom with Lily. “I want parents to know that it’s OK to feel uncomfortable having these conversations. The fact that you feel uncomfortable means that there is stigma around it; there is discomfort from your own growing up, feelings, whatever. And you have to kind of push through some of the discomfort and have the conversations — because if you don't, somebody else will.”
Lily, I think you should know, sagely nods and agrees with her mother.
Below, Dr. Rodgers, Lily, and I discuss how We Need to Talk About Vaginas can break down harmful stereotypes and stigmas while also empowering young people and their parents to have open, honest discussions.
This book reminds me so much of the book I grew up with all about puberty — The Care and Keeping of You.
Dr. Rodgers: Same.
Lily: Wait, the American Girl one?
Dr. Rodgers: I certainly got it for Lily, and she’s 16-and-a-half. I think that book has a lot in it, but I think it was really well suited for kids 20 years ago.
Lily: It’s not as diverse.
Dr. Rodgers: And it’s not very well suited for people who are going through puberty today and have a lot of different pressures and challenges and things that they’re facing that are not really addressed in that book.
The diversity is definitely huge in your book. And it seems to cover everything from puberty to sex.
Dr. Rodgers: I think that that’s really the goal — to be able to have parents introduce this to their child, either to read on their own and explore or as a conversation starter. I think a lot of these topics are really, really difficult.
Lily: Or parents just don’t talk to their kids at all about it.
Dr. Rodgers: Right! A lot don’t. And I think that stems from the discomfort they have with talking about it in general. And they talk about it in school, but I don’t think they do the greatest job, certainly. When you have the fourth or fifth graders learn about things, it’s mainly about puberty.
Lily: And for people who are, I don’t know, LGBTQI+, there’s not really a lot of education, I would say.
I’ve told my kids, “If there’s something you can’t talk to me about you, I have three sisters you can talk to. There’s other people in your life.”
I love how the start of the book basically says that it’s also a guide for those who don’t have a trusted adult or person to talk to. Were you thinking of that person when you were writing it?
Dr. Rodgers: Not anyone specifically.
Lily: My friends!
Dr. Rodgers: Yeah, a lot of the kids’ friends will come and be like, “Can I ask you, is this normal?” And I am so happy that I’m able to be a trusted resource, but for kids asking their friends, while probably really well-intentioned, their friends might not have reliable info or the ability to help you. There is a page in the book about if you can’t talk to your parents, who might be another trusted adult in your life that could help you if there was something you needed help with? [That] could be someone at school, a school nurse, a special teacher, an aunt, a cousin. So I think that it’s important for all young people to be able to identify. I’ve told my kids, “If there’s something you can’t talk to me about you, I have three sisters you can talk to. There’s other people in your life.”
Lily: I would say it was surprising how many of my friends didn’t know about this stuff. I would just be so open, and they would be like, “What are you talking about?”
Dr. Rodgers: I wanted to make sure that any person who has a vagina could read this book and feel like I was talking to them, not just the skinny white girls.
Lily, was there anything you told your mom to make sure she added to the book?
Lily: Well … I don’t know, I was just really proud of her. It’s a really big thing for … someone older to be so inclusive because it feels like a lot of adults just aren’t.
Dr. Rodgers: Like some of the newer period products that weren’t around when I was a teen, illustrations of the period underwear and the menstrual cups.
I can guarantee you there are going to be parts of this country that do not allow this book to be sold.
Were there any parts that surprised you about the book?
Lily: The picture of sex. I was like, “I didn’t know about this picture. It’s kind of scary.”
Dr. Rodgers: At first, I was like, “I don’t know why we need to add that; we’re describing what it is,” but one of my friends who’s in her mid-40s describes reading one of the books, It's Not the Stork.
Lily: They have the picture of the two people in bed...
Dr. Rodgers: Right. Under the covers with their feet and hands out...
Lily: And that’s kind of confusing!
Dr. Rodgers: And my friend thought people just laid in bed together and the sperm kind of just walked over. And I do think that it’s helpful to see how male and female parts fit together. I can guarantee you there are going to be parts of this country that do not allow this book to be sold.
All of this is something every parent I know struggles to discuss in some capacity. Like, we’ve spoken about consent and where babies generally come from, but not much else.
Dr. Rodgers: We’ve got to teach our kids about this stuff and also use proper anatomical terms.
Lily: Some people have really weird terms for it. I feel like, why can’t you just say the word? It’s such a stigma. So annoying.
That’s the thing, right? Even as open as I feel I am about all of this, I still feel like I’m struggling to talk to my daughters about it.
Dr. Rodgers: I agree, obviously. I wrote this for the kids, but I also wrote this for the parents of the kids.