Years ago I was holding a new born baby in my arms, and now, today, I have a daughter on the cusp of the teenage years. I think they are officially called “the tween” years. And right behind Tween Daughter are my other two: Boy Child and Little Bits, and if I’ve learned anything from my 10 years of motherhood it’s that time does not stand still. I’ll blink and they’ll all be teenagers.
In talking with my mom friends, we all are facing the S-E-X talk with our children, and most of my friends are terrified by that rite of parenthood. Well, I hope my experience and thoughts on the subject help you.
As Salt-n-Pepa once said, “Let’s Talk About Sex, baby.”
In the last year or so, I’ve regretted not having the conversation earlier. Last summer, I did talk about the body changes of puberty with my oldest daughter, but we didn’t tackle actual sex. A good book for female puberty changes, in case you are looking, is The Care and Keeping of You #1 by American Girl. I read it with Tween Daughter chapter by chapter. There were a few areas I wanted to explain a bit more, so I did, but it did a good job of demystifying body hair, boobs, zits, emotional changes, and periods.
However, I wasn’t sure I was ready to approach the subject of Sex, so I tabled that discussion. I read some blogs, rehearsed the speech in my head several times, talked with a fellow open-minded friend (you wouldn’t believe how many parents are freaked out by this subject) and decided I would tackle the subject with all three of my kids, on an age-appropriate level of course. Believe it or not, sex is often easier to explain to younger children because all of those raging hormones that puberty brings along aren’t there to cloud the discussion. You can discuss it in a reproductive-type way. Don’t all kids ask, “Where do babies come from?”
So, I kept telling myself I would certainly bring it up when conversation led to a natural segue into the topic.
Sure, my kids know that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina, and we always use the real words (that’s a child safety issue, by the way. Creeps who molest kids don’t use real names for body parts, so if your kids are used to real names and start using funny words for body parts, you might want to gently ask questions where they heard those new words. Don’t freak though, sometimes they pick up things from friends, too).
Now, a good friend of mine who’s in the teaching profession and I had a talk about this last summer and she said, “Mandi, both of our oldest are going into 5th grade, and if we don’t have the sex talk by the day they enter Middle School next year, they’ll learn everything from friends, and you and I both know that isn’t the most accurate way to learn about sex.” I was in agreement. I would tackle this sometime soon.
Now, if you know me, I’m a procrastinator. I live my life by the motto, why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?!
However, that natural segue into the conversation I was hoping for a year ago? Well, it happened… in the car… on the way to swim team practice. My youngest was at home, no practice that day, so it was just me and Tween Daughter and Boy Child. Fortunately, it was rather early into the drive, so I had all of 12-15 minutes (depending on traffic) to tackle such a daunting subject before they ran out the car, put on their caps and goggles and started swimming laps and the moment would be lost.
It’s a good thing I had rehearsed this in my head.
Turns out a neighborhood boy who’s a year older than my Tween Daughter had taken it upon himself to explain what sex was to my son and a couple other kids on the street. Tween Daughter was absent from this discussion, but Boy Child had been there. I asked him what the neighbor boy had told him, and he said, “Mom, you tell me what sex is, and I’ll tell you if that’s what he said.”
Crap. Let’s concentrate on driving the car and explaining sex in a simple, meaningful, yet scientific way with my car-captive audience.
My kids are science freaks. They love watching animal shows. They’ve seen every Wild Kratts, NatGeo special, and wildlife show you can find on Kids Netflix. So, I started there. I was going to approach this from more of a reproduction talk for our first foray into the topic. It went something like this:
“Well, sex is how all mammals, well, all animals, reproduce.” Quiz them: Name some mammals… Okay. Continue. “All animals have a desire to mate, and mating helps our species reproduce, you know, have babies. Male animals and female animals both have half of what it takes to make a baby. You know how a chicken lays eggs? Well, female mammals have eggs, too. Except that the eggs for female animals stay in the female’s body in something called an ovary. That’s what holds all our eggs.”
So far, so good. My heart-rate at this point was noticeably higher. I could hear it beating in my ears. I may have had a bead or two of sweat on my upper lip, despite the air conditioned van keeping me from the 99 degree heat outside. I took a deep breath and continued.
“Well, the male, or daddy’s part of the baby, come from something called sperm. And the sperm has to find the egg. The sperm and the egg combine to make a baby.”
Oh boy, here it comes. I could see the question on Boy Child’s face as he contemplated my words. Well, I could see it in the rear view mirror as I was driving.
“So, I know you are wondering, how does the sperm get from the daddy to find the egg that’s in the mommy?”
I’m not sure how I was actually driving. I was so focused on this conversation, I don’t remember the traffic.
“It’s pretty simple. The male puts his penis in the female’s vagina, and then the sperm leave the penis and find their way to the egg. There are only certain times during the month that the egg can be reached, so if the sperm is lucky, it’ll combine with the egg and a baby will start to form. Remember I told you that you are part mommy and part daddy? Well, that’s how.”
There was a moment of silence. Boy Child says, “That’s gross.”
I just said, “Yeah, you are 8, that’s what most 8 year old boys think, buddy.”
I then asked my Tween Daughter if she thought it was gross. She just shrugged and said, “Not really. I guess not.”
“Anyone have questions?” I waited. I was hoping that the reproduction aspect was enough right now. I wasn’t ready to get into the pleasure aspect. “Other times, sex is just fun and awesome and that’s why mommy and daddy have a special lock on our door.” No, No. Wasn’t ready for that, and we didn’t have time in the car to discuss how sex is a way to bring people closer together.
Another moment of awkward silence. “So, bud, is that what Neighbor Boy Who Runs His Mouth Too Much told you?” (Okay, I may have used the boys actual name, but the Neighbor Boy is still on my bad side after this and previously showing a scary video to Boy Child that kept him from sleeping well for a month).
My son just looked and said, “Yeah, he said it was when a penis goes in a vagina.”
I asked Tween Daughter if she had heard of this and no, she hadn’t. The look on her face confirmed to me she wasn’t lying. This was the first she had heard about reproduction. I did tie this into why women have periods (which she already knew about). When the egg is not fertilized by the sperm, you have a period and the egg leaves the body that way. But when you are pregnant, the fertilized egg is protected in the uterus. I could see the dots connecting in her head from our period talk.
We were almost to the pool and I asked Boy Child, “Why didn’t you tell me Neighbor Boy had told you about this and how long have you known?”
“He told me a few months ago. I was afraid you’d get mad, so I didn’t want to say anything.” He was so quiet when he said this.
My heart broke. I started wondering what I’ve done to make him think this. I started wondering what Neighbor Boy said to him. I was sad, and I had literally 2 minutes by this point before we arrived at the pool.
If I could have I would have pulled him into my arms into a huge hug and assured him that I wasn’t upset. But I was driving. So I just told him, and Tween Daughter, in my calmest and most sincere voice that I would NEVER get upset by anything related to sex. I’m here to help them through all these confusing parts of growing up. I tried to explain that other kids don’t always know all the right things about more grown-up subjects like this and that parents are here to help them learn the right things and answer questions. I repeated my often-said mantra (when we talk about good touch/bad touch and personal boundaries) that if anyone ever tells them not to tell me something, it’s usually a good sign that they should tell me.
By this point, we arrived at the pool. Their attention shifted to gathering up their swim bags, getting their goggles out, and running into practice. I sat there shell-shocked in my car, sending a text to my husband saying, “I just had to explain sex to the kids.” I’m relieved I was prepared for the conversation, despite the conversation taking place in the car. I’m glad I had thought through the points I wanted to make to introduce the subject. We’d have time later to get into the deeper topics regarding the entire spectrum of human sexuality, as I want them to have the entire picture, and they will. I just have to start out with basics in terms they understand.
I know, just because they are homeschooled, they aren’t sheltered. We go to church with other children, play with neighborhood children, compete on sports teams with other children. We are quite socialized for homeschool kids and I quietly kicked myself for not having the talk sooner like I had planned. Yes, I’m careful about what media (songs, shows, commercials, movies) they consume because childhood is so short and I want it to be as simple as possible for them.
Yet, as they get older, I want to be very sex-positive with them. I don’t want any shame-based conversation infecting our future discussions of human sexuality. I want them to feel as comfortable as they can getting factual information from me, their parent, as opposed to friends or the internet.
Ah, the internet… next up: how we as parents without meaning to, set up the Internet as the go-to place for all their burgeoning questions, and then we are surprised when we find out they have googled sex. I’ve some ideas for a simple conversation all parents need to have with their children about the internet, and I’m excited to share it with you.