Origin story for a penis

Settle in folks, and I’ll tell you a tale of how you got your genitals.

In order to exist, there must have been an egg. Human eggs can only contribute X chromosomes, because that’s the only chromosome they have to offer. Sperm could offer an X or a Y chromosome, but that doesn’t really factor in to this conversation until later.

In the beginning, a fetus develops the precursors to “female” internal reproductive tracts. All fetuses, even ones that later turn into men utterly terrified of being perceived as feminine, started off with something called Mullerian ducts. But, PLOT TWIST!, you also had the precursor to “male” internal reproductive tracts. Wolffian ducts often later become the plumbing that rules the world. We could call these things mesonephric and paramesonephric ducts, and these terms better describe what’s going on but are harder to say.

Anyway. You had all of this chaos inside your sweet pea sized self right about the time your momma realized her period was late. Plenty of moms don’t realize they’re pregnant and NextGen already has equipment to build into any kind of human they want. With no outside intervention, ovaries will prevail and dissolve the Wolffian ducts. I’m not even kidding. If boys didn’t have outside help, they’d literally be taken apart at the seams by a six week old soon-to-be-girl.

Ok, now this is the part where I want desperately to go in to detail about an aspect of sex determination that just will not make sense without a couple years of general chemistry, organic chemistry, and biology, and still we’d need lots of diagrams and pictures. So I’ll do my best to explain the high lights and not get bogged down in the wild trenches of science we have recently become reasonably confident that we might kinda understand.

If a Y chromosome is also present, a testis will develop instead of an ovary. Probably. *but it will not change the visible presence of external genitalia* Not by itself.

In order to wash away the presence of the Mullerian ducts, the testis have to make a cell capable of producing a hormone capable of conquering a would be uterus. That takes some time and is not guaranteed to succeed.

Ok so let’s say the tiny testis does succeed in vanquishing the Mullerian ducts. Now the fetus has a testis or two, has the potential plumbing to grow a penis and no longer has a would be uterus. That is not enough to actually grow a penis. Alas, yet another force is needed. The testis has to grow another type of cell that is capable of producing another hormone. This hormone you’re familiar with so I’ll use its given christian name: testosterone. Testosterone by itself cannot complete the process of developing ejaculatory ducts and the vas deferens and seminal vesicles, but the process cannot happen without it either. (Truly, pre-infantile men need a whole lotta help) Testosterone can be converted to another thing by a different thing and then that other thing (kinda like a boiled down, super concentrated testosterone) can finally build you a penis and scrotum and prostate.

But at any point along the way, development can be thwarted. If the testosterone is not thoroughly converted to the super concentrated version, the kid is going to appear to have a vagina at birth, even with XY chromosomes. There are so many wild and fascinating ways development can change and shift. If you can’t sleep one night and are going to wander down an internet rabbit hole, look up this stuff. It’s incredible.

So, let’s stop pretending chromosomes determine sex, let alone gender. They really don’t have that kind of power. It takes a whole team to build a penis, and that can only happen if you can defeat the uterus and ovary to begin with. Humans are extraordinary creatures full of mystery and magic. If someone wants you to call her a girl and use words like ‘she’ – just do it. It’s such an easy way to recognize someone’s complex, holy and divine self. We humans want to pretend we understand the world around us, but we’re too little to see the big picture and too big to see the small pieces. We try to understand through religious lenses, but those languages have limitations too. When Jesus was asked to boil down the whole goals of life he said to love. Love God and love each other. If you master that, then move on to the details. But if you spend a whole life time trying to be good to people, you’ll keep yourself plenty busy and probably never master it. That’s ok. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Maybe some day I’ll tell you the story of how you got those feet too.

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How to make an awesome peg board

peg board

I’ve been wanting to give my kids a peg board for a long time.  But I thought the pegs would need to be bolts, which seemed like terrible toys, and I wasn’t looking forward to wandering around a hardware store looking for alternatives.  Plus, the peg boards I’d seen used rubber bands, and I was pretty sure my kids would learn how to snap each other hard enough to leave welts by the end of the first day.  As it turns out, putting this together probably took less than 30 minutes, cost like $15, is totally safe, and I think I love it more than my kids.  Plus, it stores under the couch.  Awesome.

peg flowers

The peg board was hard to find with the directions from the guy at the door of the store, but the people who work in the lumber side of the store knew exactly what it was, where it was, and how to connect me with it.  Then, someone showed me these awesome wooden pegs.  They’re the 1/4″ size, and they are easy enough to slide in and out that both my little ones can put the pegs anywhere they want.  (Peg board was $6.48 and the pegs were $2-something I think)

Then I ran to JoAnn’s and got the fabric loops that we all used to make pot holders on a plastic loom.  Remember that?  We all did that weird craft, even though no one on earth has ever actually needed MORE potholders, and the weird fabric would probably have melted if used.  But they’re perfect for this because they don’t snap like rubber bands, and can’t possibly leave a welt on someone.  The box does identify them as a choking hazard though, so maybe feed your kid before hand and limit how many you let your kid shove down her throat.  Okay?  Good.  (These were about $6)
So when we get the board out, the girls spend the first 5 minutes methodically putting each peg in the perfect spot.  Then they look everywhere to be sure they haven’t missed any pegs, and eventually I show them the fabric bands.  Which are bracelets and grass and trees and flowers and playgrounds and homes and sharks and monsters.  (So far.)  Guys, my kids even like putting all this away.  This activity is THE BEST!  The tactile sensations and fine motor skills are enthralling and getting to stuff it all under the couch just makes their little days.

Getting time to sip my coffee on the couch while the kids play peacefully on the floor?  That makes MY day.  I hope this activity makes your day too.

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Dulce de leche: The Beatitudes for Parents

Dulce de leche: The Beatitudes for Parents.


This is what I’m talking about.  All that stuff Jesus said about mercy and love and anger HAVE to apply to our relationships with our kids.  I am going to keel over with absolute shock if I get to heaven and God is chastising parents for not being mean enough to their kids.  Let’s take the same mercy and love and forgiveness that we show to others around us and let’s show it to our kids.  If God believes these traits are important to human interaction, let’s not let our fear of Him being wrong (and therefore our kids turning in to monsters) stand between us and following God.  Amen?


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Let’s Flesh This Out – Breastfeeding and the Bible

Aliza nursing in her early days 

There is a line of thought common to Christians that breastfeeding is sexual.  Or, breastfeeding might not be sexual per se, but it’s still something that should be done out of sight and possibly/preferably out of the room.

I disagree.

In my effort to double check my theories against the bible and God’s theories, I did some research.  The bible has a LOT of references to breasts.  A lot.  They’re all over the place.  Most often, the word breast is an anatomical reference.  The right breast for a sacrifice or the growth of breasts to symbolize puberty.  Then, there are the sexual references.  All seven of them.  Four in Song of Solomon, one in Proverbs, two in Ezekiel.  How many times does the bible reference breasts in the context of breastfeeding?  14.  Plus 10 other references to nursing and drinking mother’s milk.  Twenty-four times the bible references breastfeeding without shame.   Without hesitation.  Without hiding it under a blanket or in another room.

Breasts are used for feeding and comforting babies twice as often as they are used for the ‘comforting’ of a man.  And the authors of the bible (talking about the penholders here) referenced breastfeeding in a way that is so tender.  There’s almost a longing or reminiscing about the days of being comforted at their mothers’ breasts.  Because breastfeeding is so much more than food.  So much more than simple calories.

God designed women (and men!) to have a biochemical response to babies, particularly to breastfeeding babies.  Not only do women let down their milk as a result of an oxytocin release (a hormone that provides feelings of bonding and love) by men are physiologically impacted by the continued presence of a lactating woman.  A man’s estrogen level increases as his primary female partner (aka wife) nears the end of her pregnancy and this hormone level remains high for a period of time after the baby is born, suppressing his libido.  This isn’t an accident.  God didn’t let this slide as a side-effect of our design.  Breastfeeding stimulates feelings of love and attachment, and those feelings are recalled throughout life by members of both sexes.

But love does not have to include sex.  A man is perfectly capable of loving a lactating woman without being either turned on or turned off by her milk.  Just because a man sees a woman breastfeeding a baby/child does not mean he is enticed to lust.

Breastfeeding is not enticement.  Even though breasts may or may not be visible during breastfeeding (even without a nursing cover, there usually isn’t much to see), the simple presence of a breast is not enough to encourage a man to lust.  Each person’s lust is wholly within themselves; as Christ put it: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed lust with her in his heart.”  The man doesn’t need the woman at all.  He can lust without her knowledge or consent. And his lust is fully within himself.

Hiding breastfeeding does not help a man to avoid lust, either.  Hiding breastfeeding (in another room or under a nursing cover) only furthers the separation of that man’s experience with breasts and the true function and purpose of breasts.  Further entrenching him on an inescapable island of helplessness.  If/when men only see breasts in a sexualized way, the sexuality is reinforced with each exposure.  When you start to temper that extreme view, you desensitize him to his incorrect notion that breasts are only for him.  Only for his own selfish pleasure.  Breasts are first and foremost for the nourishment and care of small children.  Only as an addition can we consider the sexual qualities of breasts.  And if men were seeing breastfeeding twice as often as breasts as sexual toys, we wouldn’t have to have this discussion at all.  Breastfeeding, uncovered, in the presence of men is the only way that I can help a man gain control of his lust.  Not because I expose him to something sexual and give him the opportunity to control himself, but because I expose him to something decidedly asexual and give him the opportunity to understand that.


I wonder if that’s why breastfeeding is a more common biblical context for breasts than sex.


Filed under Christian Parenting


[This is a story I’ve been telling Adelaide at bedtime.  I’m hoping that if I tell myself stories about a patient, calm mother who handles an unruly young one with grace, I might start to be just like that mama.]

Gertie was a giraffe who lived with her mother in the jungle.  They liked to take long walks and use their very long tongues to eat leaves off trees.

One day,  Gertie was thirsty.  So her mother decided to take her to the water hole.

Gertie was excited, and was running very fast.

“Slow down Gertie, or you might slip and get hurt,” her mother reminded her.

But Gertie was excited, and she ran fast, and she slipped, and she hurt her knee.

Gertie’s momma checked her leg, and then asked, “Gertie, would you like me to sit with you until you feel better?”

“Yes mama,” said Gertie.

So Gertie’s mama sat with her until she felt better.  And they used their very long tongues to eat leaves off the trees while they sat.

When Gertie was ready, she and her mama started walking toward the water hole again.  But Gertie was still thirsty, and now she was tired too.  She was walking slowly.

“Keep going, Gertie.  We need to keep moving if we’re going to get some water,” Gertie’s mama reminded her.

But Gertie was thirsty and tired and stopped to cry.

Gertie’s mother said, “Gertie, would you like me to sit with you until you’re ready to walk again?”

“Yes, mama,” said Gertie.

So Gertie’s mama sat down next to Gertie.  While they rested, Gertie and her mother used their very long tongues to eat leaves off trees.  After they had rested a few minutes, it was time to start walking again.  Gertie was still tired, so Gertie’s mother helped her to the water hole.  [In my head I have this great picture of a little giraffe laying limp over her mother’s back, legs dangling down, head dangling down, tongue hanging out, etc]

When they got to the water hole, Gertie and her mother took long drinks of the cool water.  Gertie felt much better.  When they’d had enough, Gertie and her mother used their very long tongues to eat leaves off trees.

Then, Gertie found a ball to play with.

Gertie was having fun with the ball when Gertie’s friend Karen came over.

Karen was in a bad mood and took the ball away!

Gertie was sad!  She cried!  Gertie’s mother came over and said, “Gertie, I’m sorry the ball is gone.  Would you like me to sit with you until you feel better?”

“Yes, mama,” said Gertie.

So Gertie’s mother sat with her while she calmed down.  When Gertie was ready, she walked over to Karen and said, “Karen, could I have the ball back please?”

But Karen was still not feeling very nice.  Instead of giving the ball back to Gertie, Karen kicked the ball as hard as she could.  Karen kicked the ball so hard that she fell down on her bottom.  Karen was hurt.  Karen started to cry!

Gertie looked at the ball and looked at Karen.  Then she said, “Karen, do you want me to sit with you until you fell better?”

“Yes Gertie,” said Karen.

[If you were writing a story to reinforce a parenting concept or practice using a line like “Would you like me to sit with you” what would your story be about?]


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Day 2

My NIV doesn’t have John 5:4.  But the story doesn’t make the same sense without it.  There’s a whole new level when you add in WHY the people came to this pool.  I don’t know why some manuscripts have this verse and others don’t.  But, I keep this index card tucked in my bible to remind me that there is some human element in the bible.  God is big enough to protect His Word.  But somehow, we play a role too.  I don’t understand it.  Not fully.  Not yet.  Because there is also 1 Corinthians 13:12.


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