“The first time I had a talk about sex with my oldest child I probably gave him information overload. It started when I attended a parent screening of the movie they show fourth grade girls about menstruation. The nurse who introduced the movie said a lot of things, but what really stuck with me was this: kids trust the source they hear it from first. If I doubted this at first, I was a believer by the end of her talk. She pointed out the comical way kids can be completely convinced of something simply because a friend has told them it is so or because in their limited experience, that’s the way things are.
My son was six years old and I remember thinking, ‘Dear God what if I’m too late?’ That very night, I went home and printed up an anatomical diagram of a boy, prepared notes… to talk to my six year old. The next night, I showed him the diagram and asked him if he knew what sex was. He looked at me and proudly said, ‘I’m six Mom!’ Okay… maybe start with vocab? I named the body parts, the differences between boys and girls, what words like ‘sex,’ ‘sperm,’ and ‘egg’ mean, and good and bad touching. His response was a furrowed brow and some squirming. I nervously moved on to the mechanics of sex. After about ten minutes, he asked if he could go play. So the ‘big talk’ was finished, right? Not even close.
I’ve heard that talking with a child at six years old is too young to even broach the topic of sex. But I believe these talks should start as soon as a child is able to communicate. When I bathed him, we taught him the correct term for his penis and other body parts. When I was pregnant with his sister and he wondered how I became that way. When his sister came home from the hospital with different ‘private parts’ than his own.
These are all great opportunities we used to teach healthy attitudes about sex and body image. Parents should never shy away from a teaching opportunity; it’s a great time to answer questions and have age-appropriate, honest communication with kids.
About a year after the ‘big talk,’ my son asked about sex after he heard a kid at school mention the word ‘sex.’ I’d been patting myself on the back thinking my son was well-informed up to this point. My instinct was to stall for time. I asked him if he could wait until Dad got home so we could all chat together. He didn’t mind.
That night, we all sat down together. My husband and I explained intercourse to him using correct terminology and never saying ‘Mom and Dad do this…’ because we felt like we should keep it more abstract: ‘the penis goes inside the vagina,’ etc. (We also didn’t want to put any images in his head of Mommy and Daddy, yikes!)
After that night, I decided I wanted to be more prepared for future talks. I got a book for kids about sex and sexuality. Now, when it’s time to talk to my kids or they ask questions, I get out ‘the book.’ It’s nice to have a visual aid and it’s much more on their level than my original anatomical diagram! We’ve had countless conversations (brief and lengthy) since that night and we always take the opportunity to review and make sure our kids understand things we’ve gone over in the past, such as appropriate ways to show affection, good touching and bad touching, proper hygiene, what is okay to talk about with friends, etc.
As they get older, we address new subjects like the way their bodies are changing, eating and grooming habits, the way they feel about themselves and others, pornography and privacy issues. At all times we try to show respect for the topic and for our children’s feelings. If you want your child to know that you respect his opinion, ask for it! It will make him or her feel empowered and independent.
The fact is, there is no one source that is going to tell you exactly what to say or how to respond perfectly to every question your child might have. But I can tell you this: the more we talk about sex, the more comfortable we are talking about sex and sexuality with our kids. Some kids are much more open to talking about it than others. A few, you may have to force feed whatever information you feel is necessary before they run away screaming with their hands over their ears.
But don’t stop trying! You won’t say all the right things every time, guaranteed. But nurture the curiosity they do have and let them know that sex and sexuality are natural, beautiful, normal parts of life and are to be treated with respect.
So, yeah. Don’t have ‘the sex talk’ with your child. Have many!”
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