• Jena Martin MD

Body Positive

Things heard around my house:

  • Axilla (not armpit)

  • Groin (not crotch or ‘down there’)

  • Clavicle (not collarbone)

My kids even use little finger (not pinkie) and umbilicus (not belly button), which might give them a leg up on some doctors and most medical students.

Sorry, I mean a lower extremity up.

I can’t help talking frankly about body parts with my kids because I am a pathologist.

Or, am I a pathologist because I naturally talk about body parts very frankly?

However I got here, either by nature or nurture, my daughters are stuck with my perspective. My kids might be the only ones in the neighborhood to yell from the bathroom “I’m urinating!” I’m sure it's this way with other doctors and their kids, but there’s something... extra gross about pathology.

After all, that’s what our work is built on - the physical examination of organs and tissues, which is called grossing (meaning the gross anatomical level). Have you had something removed from your body? A pathologist has looked at it. Tongue resections, hemorrhoid removals, appendectomies and vulvectomies - they all come into the laboratory where pathologists weigh, measure and select parts to look at further, under the microscope. We diagnose every disease that happens to human beings.

My work is interesting. While I never share information about particular patients, I come home from my job and talk about examining a tonsil invaded by an HPV-driven cancer … which can lead to a discussion of oral sex. I go into the hospital during my weekend call to diagnose a brain tumor. When I come home, I talk about what I saw under the microscope and how life is fleeting.

Pathologists don’t see patients. So that leaves my family to be the recipient of my advice for healthy living. And while in general I reject simple affirmations, the way I see it, it's pretty simple.

Nutritional advice:

  • Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.

  • Eat at least 5 servings of fruits & vegetables each day.

  • (I’ve found that these two recommendations, implemented together, take care of most questions around eating and health).


  • No electronic devices in your bedrooms.

  • Wipe from front to back.

  • Wear your bike helmets, even on a trail.

Now that my kids are both teens, my advice tends towards what they consider ... extra gross. We’ve already been using the correct descriptions and words for genitals (there are 3 holes and the vagina is the hole in the vulva, not the whole thing). But now my safety talk veers towards advice around what is called teen “health”, said with lots of air quotes. We all know what that means - sex ed.

As you might imagine, I have a low tolerance for obfuscation around sex ed. One of my preteen memories is hearing Prince’s song Little Red Corvette on the radio and my dad pointing out the Trojans lyric with glee to my mom: “Will you get a load of this!” My mom’s face, divorce imminent, was grim. And I was left wondering - What does that mean, Trojans? Used?

I knew enough to know something was being said between the lines.

I don’t want to leave my kids confused, feeling like everyone knows what the punchline is. So I’ve come up with the most direct advice I can give them when it comes to sexual health.

(Before you read any further, I must tell you - anyone I’ve ever shared this with is shocked, and left in awkward giggles. But if it wasn’t so shocking I think it could be a universal recommendation, like something you’d put up as an affirmation on the wall - my version of the Successories mottos in business).

Someone else's erection is not your problem.

It is an affirmation in the sense that it's not a reality for many people - but that is sad. It should be the norm. An erection might be something you welcome or recoil from, but either way, what happens to it is not your responsibility. It's not something you have to ‘do something about’ or feel bad about neglecting.

I came up (no pun intended) with this advice the hard way (yikes, I can’t stop myself). It might be an aspirational affirmation, but it's the truth - you aren’t responsible for other people’s bodies or behavior.

What do you think?

[This was a label I thought of anonymously putting on items, some sort of art project, and I never did. What would you think if you found this on a label?]

I was very much inspired to speak my mind on these matters by the writings of Gabrielle Blair - aka Design Mom. Do you follow her? Her pieces on abortion, police and general forthrightness about life as it is lived, are all a breath of fresh, honest air. https://designmom.com/

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