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Book Reviews

More Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It

by Meg Hickling

History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction

by Jacalyn Duffin

Those looking to expand the health and science sections of their home libraries this fall should take a closer look at these two books, which are chock-full of useful information and interesting facts delivered in an engaging and often entertaining manner.

In the updated and expanded edition of her 1996 bestseller, registered nurse and sexual health educator Meg Hickling offers sensible, practical, and life-saving information about everything from sexually transmitted diseases (there are more than 50 – eight are potentially fatal) to television, dating, and spirituality.

Over the 20 years she spent conducting sexual health workshops for children and adults, Hickling has amassed hundreds of anecdotes. Some are frightening, such as the story of the 15-year-old new mother, three weeks postpartum, whose boyfriend wants her to take Viagra to stimulate her libido. Others are funny: There’s the grandma who, upon being asked by her three-year-old granddaughter, “Do you have a vulva?” replied, “No, dear, I have a Toyota,” and the fourth-grader whose scientific name for when the penis gets hard is “resurrection.”

Hickling has no patience for parents who don’t talk to their children about sexual health and make up names for body parts such as ding-dong for penis and dickey bird for vagina. And while those who do might resent Hickling’s calling them immature, it’s hard to argue when she points out that avoiding the topic leaves children ignorant, and therefore more vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Hickling offers non-threatening ways to approach often taboo subjects such as menstruation and wet dreams, even with children as young as two. Even parents who disagree with her liberal views on homosexuality and teen sexual activity will find it hard to ignore her advice on the importance of teaching basic health – sexual and otherwise – to children.

While Hickling’s book is aimed at families, Jacalyn Duffin, a professor of medical history at Queen’s University, wrote her book partly in response to her students’ persistent requests for an introductory text.

Although she throws in the occasional confusing medical term such as lymph lacteal, external fistula, and teratogenic, the facts she’s unearthed are often fascinating and her prose is lively and accessible, guaranteeing interesting reading even for those on the receiving end of the stethoscope.

Nine of the 15 chapters focus on specialties, including pathology, pharmacology, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and family medicine. Duffin has also included chapters on the history of health care delivery and epidemic diseases. Doctors frustrated with rising malpractice fees might want to look at the former chapter, where Duffin shows that the code of Hammurabi (1700 B.C.) ordered amputating the hands of practitioners who failed to meet patient expectations.

Not all of Duffin’s information is graphic. She also looks at medical history through a political and social lens, and pokes holes in age-old myths. One example: though the surgery is called Cesarean section, Caesar himself was likely the product of a vaginal birth. Why? His mother was alive many years later. In antiquity, Cesareans were only performed on dead or dying women.

Some of Duffin’s most interesting facts, however, have to do with the origins of disease and anatomical names: the Fallopian tubes were named for Gabriele Fallopio (or Fallopius), who described that body part – along with the inner ear and cranial nerves – in the 16th century.