Exposing the “Privates”: Teaching Preteens about Vaginal Health

Preadolescent girls experience many changes during sexual maturity. Puberty alters how we think of our peers and how we care for our bodies. Information from guardians, interactions with friends, and developmental factors all have an effect on how one will care for their body. However, not all advice is proper and misinformation becomes a normality. The classroom is the perfect environment to use these known factors to our advantage and properly educate preadolescent girls about the proper way to exercise good vaginal health.

It is typical for a child to seek advice from a parent but, is this information always accurate? With 20 to 40 percent of women regularly douching in hopes of cleansing the vagina (WomensHealth, 2012), it is likely that these women will encourage the same regimens to their children along with other misinformation. Today, most girls experience significant changes in the body during pre-adolescence (KidsHealth, 2102). Preadolescence age ranges from 9 to 12, which places them in the industry vs. inferiority stage. This stage states that children look for praise for accomplishments, have a great desire to do things correctly, and are eager to learn (Woolfolk, 1987). It would be very beneficial to use where the students are mentally to help educate them in the classroom. Presenting the students with information followed by various assignments to gage their competency, would be a good way to educate them. Because the children want to learn and be praised, they will do their best to learn the new information and prove their knowledge. Learning the information would then give them the tools necessary to practice good vaginal health, as well as debunk all of the myths and misinformation previously taught by parents and peers.

According to Wormeli (2006), preadolescents seek structure and clear limits. Due to the nature of the topic, it would be very beneficial to use their needs in order to ensure that the lesson is being taught in a manner that the students can learn with little distraction. Using a teaching style that is instructor-focused would allow the students to learn in an environment that was heavily controlled by the instructor. An appropriate teaching philosophy would be essentialism. Essentialism promotes the teaching of information in a disciplined manner and is to “help keep students non-productive instincts in check” (Cohen, 1999). The instructor should also be prepared, confident, and comfortable with the material. “An uncomfortable teacher will have a dysfunctional class, with students giggling together behind cupped hands” (AVERT, 2014). Showing any type of discomfort or uncertainty could lead the students lose focus but this can be decreased by being unflappable and having instructor be the facilitator of all information. An instructors demeanor can help ensure that students are getting appropriate information, as well as reduce the likelihood of inappropriate or disruptive behavior in class.

Children within this age range yearn for different facets of creativity and expression (Wormeli, 2006). Although informational handouts can be effective in teaching vaginal health to aid in optimal comprehension, visual stimuli should be utilized. Presentation of age appropriate images of anatomy and vaginal products will grasp attention and provide a link to the instructor’s verbal and literary methods. With technology being a staple in youth lives, visual aids can create a comfortable and relatable learning environment. A survey showed that 9 out of 10 children have access to a computer (Madden et al., 2013). This statistic shows that computers are arguably a norm and could be used to reach the preadolescent audience. Computers allow access to power point presentations, online worksheets, and imagery projection, creating a tech savvy learning experience. With 83 percent of learning occurring visually (Osha, 1996), it would be helpful to use technology to create a one of kind sensory experience. An uncomfortable and embarrassing subject can be combatted with the use techonology to provide learners successful student outcomes.

Allowing the students to observe images, hear lectures, and read information will help educate but, how can we be certain that students can actually practice the material in an effective manner? Some students require self-involvement to stay interested and to truly grasp concepts. A study was conducted on middle school students that tested hands on learning. The results showed that the students who were permitted to engage in hands on learning retained the information and showed a better overall understanding of the material (Ash, 2009). Bringing in materials that the students could touch and examine would be very beneficial. For example, bringing in tampons and sanitary napkins that the students could open and feel while watching a demonstration would provide them with a clear idea of where they go and how to use them.

Teaching adolescents about vaginal health would be best if taught in a single-sex environment initially. Although concerns of inclusivity may arise, it is imperative to cater to the needs and comfort of the students. Initially teaching the children separately would allow the students to feel more comfortable to ask questions. Studies have shown that when the sexes are separated, they are more focused, and open with their peers and instructor (Herron, 2014). There will be nervousness and giggles by both sexes. Separating them and then coming back to the larger group will allow the students to get comfortable with the information and lose the initial shock of the language and images.

The students are expected to be shy and embarrassed with the new information. One way to decrease this is to open with an icebreaker. Icebreakers create a more relaxed environment as well as encourage participation (West, 1999). An icebreaker that could be used would be separating the single sex class into two groups and request that each group draws a female body before and after puberty. Once the drawings are complete, have each group present their drawings. Having them say terms such as “vagina” and “pubic hair” aloud will allow them to get comfortable with the terminology and using it in a larger group (Perretta, 2000). Wormeli (2006) states that preadolescents seek positive social interactions with peers and adults. Using this icebreaker would be entertaining, educational, and a positive, light hearted way to prepare them for the lesson.

The best way to practice and maintain good vaginal health for preadolescents is to be taught accurate information, utilize technology, and learned in a single sex environment. Preadolescent girls are at the age where this information is essential. Their age also allows them to have the capability to comprehend, retain, and possibly spread the information to parents and peers. Proper learning conditions combined with age groups strengths can maximize good health knowledge amongst students. Educators can create the support and information needed to aid youth through a new phase in their lives with the proper techniques.


Ash, K. (2009, January 30). Hands-On Learning vs. Lecturing. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2009/01/engaging_students_in_stem.html

Cohen, L. M. (1999). PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES IN EDUCATION. Retrieved from http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ed416/PP4.html

Dowshen, S. (2012, October 1). All About Puberty. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://kidshealth.org/kid/grow/body_stuff/puberty.html

Herron, A. (2014). Single-Sex Classrooms. Education Digest, 79(9), 49-50.

Madden, M., Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Cortesi, S., & Gasser, U. (2013, March 12). Teens and Technology 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/03/13/teens-and-technology-2013/

Osha. (1996). Retrieved from http://www.osha.gov/doc/outreachtraining/htmlfiles/traintec.html

Perretta, T. (2000, April 12). Lesson Plan #1662. Puberty. Retrieved April 5, 2015, from http://teachers.net/lessons/posts/1662.html

Sex Education That Works. (n.d.). Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://www.avert.org/sex-education-works.htm

[Untitled illustration of Vaginas]. (2009).Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.soulartstudio.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/vagina4.jpg

West, E. (1999). The Big Book of Icebreakers: Quick, Fun Activities for Energizing Meetings and Workshops. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Woolfolk, A.E. (1987). Educational Psychology, (3rded.). New Jersey: Simon and Schuster

WomensHealth (2014, January 3). Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/vaginal-yeast-infections.html#j

Wormeli, R. (2006). Differentiating for Tweens. Educational Leadership, 63(7), 14-19.

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