Meet the rural woman tackling tricky conversations for parents and tweens
When Shay Baynton realised adolescence was around the corner for her pre-teen, she wanted to somehow inoculate her from absorbing the harmful culture and language surrounding sex, bodies and consent for young people. After creating her own set of flash cards to help her open up a channel of conversation about these themes, she quickly realised this resource could help more parents. Kat Vella got chatting with Shay about her new business EVRYBODY and her mission to help parents let go of their own shame around sex, pleasure and changing bodies, to help their young people navigate puberty in a safe, shame-free environment.
What got you first thinking about body education for young people?
I think I had always been interested in bodies and anatomy due to my nursing background but I got to the stage with my 10 and half year old where she was ready to talk about it. I was more than ready for that by the way, my children really wish I would shut up about it to be honest. So around the end of last year I started looking for resources. I bought all the books and started reading them myself and then was giving them to Luna to read. I realized there was a disconnect between giving her the information and being able to talk about the information with her.
Where do you think we go wrong when it comes to talking about this subject with young people?
I think there is a lot of shame attached to talking about your genitals. There is a lot of embarrassment around how people think you SHOULD be broaching the subject, there is a lot of confusion between talking about sex and talking about healthy bodies. I think approaching this with shame is the worst thing you can do because it will very quickly stop the conversation. It stops parents talking to their kids, it stops kids asking questions but I guarantee that if you have thought about it, so have your kids.
What was the impetus for you to take this idea and do something more with it?
Last November I sat down and made flash cards just for my daughter. I made 20 points I wanted her to know about boys and girls bodies and then I tried to find pictures so she could understand what I was talking about, like what an ovary looks like, what a testicle looks like. I have kids with all the same ages, and so I showed some friends what I had made and asked if they would tell their kids this information. So it grew from there. Even parents who want to have these conversations with their kids can’t find a way to start the conversation, or they’re not sure what is the appropriate amount of conversation to have with them about it.
How did your daughter respond to you taking that approach with her?
She was pretty quiet about it and then a day or two later she would come back to it and ask questions. She asked questions that I would never have thought to tell her like for example, how many times in the year do you have to have your period? And I thought yeah, I never explained that it was once a month etc. She was processing the information on her own and coming back and asking about the things that she didn’t understand.
With the original flash cards, were there any questions that come up that really challenged you to talk about?
Yeah definitely. The parts of the cards where masturbation is talked about for example. But I kept coming back to the point that if I don't talk about this stuff with her, how will she know that it’s a normal, healthy process that she doesn’t have to feel ashamed of? I didn’t feel any more comfortable than any other mum saying that to my 10 year old but if I didn’t, there was the risk she would find misinformation somewhere. Even to mention the words clitoris and have that on the cards, doesn’t make me feel comfortable. My dad has read the cards and these were things that were never discussed in my household because of the shame associated with it and I grew up in that too. I just know that I don’t want that for my own kids, I don’t want them to start that way.
Why is it important, coming from the perspective of a mother and a health professional, that young people see pictures of what normal vaginas and penises look like?
I do urology and gynecology every week and I might see 10 vaginas on a Tuesday and 10 penises on a Wednesday and that’s just my normal day. There is no attachment around how people look or how they should look. There is no shame attached to naked bodies at all. So I know everyone looks different and that’s completely normal. However, if you try to access this information online for example, you will get images of penises and vaginas looking only a certain way and you don’t know how to process that when you are 10 or 12 years old.
What’s the plan for EVRYBODY from here?
It’s going to market! I would love to sell directly to parents who are interested in them but now that we have the prototypes, I would love to see them in every GP’s office and schools.
I think there is an obvious need for them in rural and remote areas where adequate sex education may not be available at all. There doesn’t seem to be any other resources available where I live at least. I couldn’t find any resources at the school my kids attend to point me in the right direction either.
What are you hoping these cards will help change about the way we talk to young people about their bodies?
I hope it changes the way people feel about their bodies. It truly upsets me that a 10 year old would think her vagina looks wrong or that a boy would think his penis wasn’t big enough – body image issues start that early and follow you through your entire life. It is hard enough to grow up as a woman and not collect some body image issues, but you shouldn’t be getting that message when you are so young.
I have tried to take the strengths I have as a nurse and the perspective I have after working with naked bodies for so long and combine it with Patti’s beautiful illustrations and create something that will be a helpful resource when parents need it.
To learn more about EVRYBODY and enquire about purchases, head to their Instagram page @evrybody_ and get in touch. Shay Baynton from Carroll, NSW is the founder of EVRYBODY, a mother to four young children and a theatre nurse on other days. She has contributed writing to Mona in the past with Sounding Board in July, 2022 and Decade featured on the Mona Blog in May, 2022 as part of our Mother's Day feature. She writes to calm the chaos around her.