I am no expert in the sex department, unless you count having four kids as being an expert, then fine. I’m an expert. My parents NEVER EVER EVER had the sex talk with me. Or mentioned sex. Or said the word sex. As a matter of fact, my aging mother told a sex joke not too long ago (thanks to Parkinson’s-related Dementia) and I nearly dropped dead right there on the nursing home floor.
I never learned anything at all about sex from my parents.
I learned from public school, friends, boyfriends, and the internet (although I didn’t have internet until college, so that tells you how much I had to learn when I was older). What I did learn from my parents is how not to handle talking to your kids about sex. I grew up embarrassed about sex with no one to ask about it but my peers and I think we can all imagine how that turned out.
Something intuitively told me to be open and age-appropriate when talking with my children about sex and reproduction.
When my three-year-old asked how the baby gets out of my tummy I said, “God gave mommies a special place in her body where the baby comes out.” This, in a house filled with boys, led to the assumption that mommies “poop” the baby out, which means we had to clarify with a couple more details. Like the kid in Kindergarten Cop, I said, “Boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.”
These types of answers got us through many years of questions. Then one fine day when my oldest was 10, it happened. I’m standing in the kitchen and he walks in. As casually as can be he said to me, “Mom, I know that moms grow the baby inside their bodies, but what do dads have to do with it?”
I took a deep breath. I turned around and looked my sweet baby boy right in his eyeballs. I said, “Ok. This is a grownup question. I can give you a grownup answer, or I can give you a kid answer. Which do you prefer?”
Being the thinker in the family, this boy has asked many questions over the years that have led me to ask, “Do you want the grownup answer or the kid answer?” Depending on his mood and the topic, he’ll choose one and I’ll answer accordingly.
He thought for a moment and said, “I want the grownup answer.”
So, as delicately as I could, using proper terms like “penis” and “vagina,” I told my son what dads have to do with getting the baby into the mom’s tummy. He. Was. Mortified. I somehow kept a straight face when he asked, “You and dad did that FOUR TIMES?!?” Ahem. Yes. Four whole times.
As embarrassing as this conversation was, I was kind of glad to have the first one out of the way. I’ve since looked back and come up with a few tips to help with my next three sex-talk adventures…and hopefully yours too.
1. The conversation starts early.
This whole, awkward thing is made a little easier if you are talking to your kids already. From very early on I’ve addressed questions from my children — large or small — with care. In order to know what our children can handle in the grownup world, we have to know our children well and feel comfortable talking with them about hard things. It’s a balancing act, but answering questions frankly and on their level from the start will make the big conversations just a little easier.
2. Use proper terms.
It feels weird, at least for me, to say things like “vagina” (we talk about the penis all the time…hello, I live in a house filled with boys!), but it’s important to use these words without embarrassment. Penis, vagina, and sexual intercourse are terms our children will need to use with their doctors and with us, so they need to know them. Using these words in conversation will take away some of the discomfort over time.
3. Use books.
I’m not saying we should sit down with our kids and go over a sex book together. I actually tried that and it was super weird. There are however some great books which you can read to help you feel comfortable with the explanations. Almost 12 is a good one that is intended to be read with your children. That approach was more awkward than necessary for us, so I recommend reading it yourself and using the information to guide you. Coming from a voice that your children are used to (yours) is slightly more comfortable than reading aloud from someone else’s voice (the author’s). There are also some great books for your kids to read on their own when they’re ready, such as The Boy’s Body Book and The Girl’s Body Book. They are written on a late-elementary/middle school level and offer information that may prompt conversations with mom or dad.
4. Make your family beliefs/expectations known.
You should definitely let your child know that this is an adult topic that should only be discussed — at least initially — with mom, dad, and doctor. Other grownups should not be talking to our children about sex and our children should not be talking to each other about sex. Not only does this give our children information that will (hopefully) protect them from sexual predators, but it also lets them know that it is not their job to tell their buddies at school about sex. If you are a family that believes that there should not be sex outside of marriage, be prepared to talk about that. If you are a family that simply wants your children to practice safe sex as they get older, make sure they know to come to you if that is something they are thinking about doing. You want to be your child’s safe space, so be open and available.
5. Sometimes this conversation has to happen a little earlier than you or your child is ready for.
Whether because of school or a movie scene, the sex talk may need to occur before your child asks. In this case, tread lightly. You don’t want to make your child so uncomfortable that he or she screams “MOM!” and runs from the room. All you need to do is open the door. Let your child know there are some things he may see or hear that are grownup in nature and you are always ready to answer questions. Be sure to mention the internet and set up some parameters for what your child needs to tell you about. Unfortunately a lot of children will happen upon pornography accidentally and they need to know to talk to YOU first.