Warning: This is a LONG article, kind of a doozy, but full of resources for Talking to Kids About Sex.
Recently a dear friend posted a humorous story on Instagram about the birds and the bees. She gave me permission to share it:
Her 5th grade son had brought home his maturation permission slip, and said,
“I think I’ll be sick that day” and went on to say he already knew about the birds and the bees.
His mom said, “Oh really? Tell me.”
His response: “Yeah, ya got the honey bee, the killer bee, the mining bee, the bumble bee, and don’t even get me started on wasps.”
Clearly I just died reading this, so funny.
Then, a few weeks later, our dear own Vanessa posted this image with this caption (although she did not intend to make the picture phallic): “My sweet 5 year old keeps asking me how babies are made. I told him I’d explain it to him when he got married. There’s obviously no need for him to know sooner right?”
I could share twenty more stories just like these two. And while these are humorous, this is a very serious subject. At some point every parent should talk to his or her kids about sex. But if you are like me, you probably find yourself wondering: When should I start? What age? What topics should I discuss? What resources are there to help me?
Dr. Phil did a story about a girl who got pregnant at age 11 by her 13 year old boyfriend. In the interview she said she didn’t even know she could get pregnant. This alarmed me. Why aren’t parents having these talks with their kids? Most of us do not like the idea of talking to our kids about sex. It is a “hard” and “uncomfortable” conversation to have. And it seems like it happens earlier and earlier. But this story just illustrates how very important it is to have these conversations.
We had the “talk” with our daughter a couple years ago when our cat had babies. Unfortunately for us, the neighbor girl had already explained in full (and incorrect) graphic detail how babies are made.
Damage control was not fun. But to be honest, she was only 5, it had not even crossed my mind to have that conversation with her. So for parents who have yet to cross that bridge, here’s what my experience taught me:
1. It is too important of a conversation to let someone else handle.
If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, someone else will. Probably another kid on the playground at school, or in our case, the neighbor. And they will explain their version of it. It is best to have some control over how, when, and what information is disbursed.
If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, kids will not instinctively know the values you have tied to it. In fact, chances are friends, media, and pop culture (where they will be learning about it whether you like it or not) will teach them something way different than what you would have taught.
2. There is no perfect age to talk about sex.
We had the specific sex talk with our daughter at age 5, with plenty of follow-up conversations. We had the talk with our son at age 8. He hadn’t asked before that, and was not ready for the conversation. The truth is, it depends on your child, their maturity, their friends, and what they are exposed to.
When is too young? My pediatrician told me that if I haven’t naturally had the sex talk by age 8, that is a good time to address it. He said that he sees a lot of young kids with pornography problems and with questions that aren’t being answered, and so kids are looking in the wrong places to find those answers. He is right. I encourage you to have those “hard” conversations, because they make future conversations a lot easier.
Parents should start talking to their kids about their bodies, vaginas, penises, and privacy from an early age. In fact, as soon as toddlers start noticing the difference between bodies, parents should talk to them about parts (using the real names), and about privacy.
3. It shouldn’t be all at once, and it should be age-appropriate.
I had not talked to my daughter about sex because she was 5, and when I did, I did not give her details. Instead, my husband and I allowed her natural curiosity to guide to conversation, establishing a healthy dialogue about sex, but keeping it age appropriate.
She was very curious, so we used leading questions to find out what she already “knew” and helped her fill in some gaps, and correct the misguided info she had been given.
The rule of thumb: Keep it simple, clear, and at their level. But keep talking.
The “sex talk” should not be just one conversation, rather a series of several short conversations, reminders, and Q&A’s.
Start with talking about their own body, how it works, then about the opposite gender’s body and how that works, talk about how the two come together for reproduction, and about your morals and values concerning sex.
When researching this, I found this list from Mommy of a Monster of sex related topics parents should address at some point:
- Explanation of anatomy and reproduction in males and females
- Sexual intercourse and pregnancy
- Fertility and birth control
- Other forms of sexual behavior, including oral sex, masturbation and petting
- Sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality
- The physical & emotional aspects of sex, including the differences between males/ females
- Self-image and peer pressure
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Rape and date rape, including how being intoxicated (drunk or high), or accepting rides or going to private places with strangers or acquaintances puts a person at risk
This list was a little overwhelming to me. I don’t really love the idea of talking to my kids about masturbation, for example, but I thought this article was helpful for figuring out how much info to give at specific ages.
4. Look for Resources to Help.
When my daughter told us she knew what sex was, I was floored. Luckily for me, she first told her dad, and he prepped me so I wouldn’t overreact. And fortunately a good friend and neighbor who had children older than mine shared some advice from her experience, part of which was using a book to help explain. The book she recommended was: Where Did I Come From?
I ordered that book and Changing You!: A Guide to Body Changes and Sexuality. Then my hubby and I planned a one-on-one to talk to our oldest about sex and planned to use the book as a guide. (Funny side note: Where Did I Come From? comes in different versions, such as African-American and Caucasian, and varies slightly based on race, I ordered the wrong version, so I ended up returning it and we didn’t use that particular book. But having it helped me feel like I knew where to start).
Here are a few books I found that other bloggers recommend for using with kids to talk about sex. I haven’t used any of these, but the reviews seem really positive.
Here are a few books for parents to learn about and prepare for these conversations, and know how to keep a positive, open, and healthy dialogue about sex.
Talking to Your Kids About Sex: turning the talk into a conversation for life
5. Have an open dialogue.
Make sure kids know they can ask questions. Leaving the door open for more questions and an open dialogue is very important. Sex is not something you should be embarrassed about, and as long as you keep it at an age appropriate level, it won’t be.
Kids understand love and affection, so look for teaching opportunities, and don’t be afraid to start the conversation early. Have the conversation without shame. Sex is natural, wonderful, and something every kid is curious about. If you make it “bad”, “secretive” or shameful in any way, it can damage a child’s views about intimacy, and often leads to improper sexual behavior.
Have you had that talk? What would you add to this post? We want to know what you think, books you recommend, and hear your experiences with this parenting milestone. Tell us here in the comments or on Facebook.