Sex Talk

I was listening to a podcast, and the women on it started talking about a father who left a note for his son when he discovered the son’s Internet porn stash (as it were). Toward the end of the discussion, they started talking about how they were going to talk to their children about sex (and/or porn).

The tone of the commentary was one of fear. One of the women even said, “I’m terrified about talking to my children about this stuff.” There was also some discussion about *who* would talk to kids about sex — mom, dad, both, school — and when? One of the moms said that she had already started, even when her kids were young (pre-school age), and just kept talking about it even though it felt so awkward. I admired her for that.

I was kind of curious about this among my peers. I posed the question on Twitter: “Who’s going to talk to your kids about sex? And when are you going to start?”

Now, in the interest of full disclosure: I’ve already started talking to my kids about sex (kind of). Really, it’s more about their bodies. Genitals are like any other part of the body at this point. They have no sexual context for the children yet — even though touching them feels good, that good feeling doesn’t mean “SEX”; it means something more like COMFORT. Even knowing where babies come from (and how they are made) is more about functionality at this point than sexuality.

Is it easy to talk to my kids about this? No, not really. I am (to my husband’s chagrin) much too forthcoming with basic information. My semi-coherent idea about this is that if I can answer my kids’ questions about their bodies now, and be open and honest (and refrain from giggling like a 12-year-old), as they grow in understanding and in sexuality, then they will come to trust me to deal with these issues matter-of-factly.

Responses on Twitter echoed those of the podcast. A lot of “GAH!” and “La la la, I can’t hear you.” It made me smile, because I totally understand that instinct. It’s terrifying to think about our children discovering porn and having sex (maybe this stops once they get married?). Dan has no intention of talking about sex with the girls — he’s the one who coined the term “lady business” (we also use “boy business” for M, obviously). When Flora asked him what being romantic meant, he answered, “Sitting alone and reading books.” To which I responded: *facepalm*.

I think part of the other reason I answer these questions (like I answer all my children’s questions to the best of my ability) is because I don’t want to sit down some day with my children when they are on the edge of puberty and try to give them the whole spiel at once. I don’t want to have a big, long “birds and bees” talk. I think that can be overwhelming — even when they’re on the verge of puberty. I’d rather give them discrete and age-appropriate bits of information.

I think it will become tricky when the moral component needs to be included in these discussions. The beginning and end of sex and sexuality talk in my home growing up was, “Don’t have sex until you get married.” This was radically unsatisfying to me (and I imagine it will be unsatisfying to my children as well). My Catholic school was pretty comprehensive when it came to sex education, but boiled down the message was: “Don’t have sex until you get married because you will ruin your life and/or die a horrible and awful death.” Even religion class didn’t address the WHY of the question. WHY was virginity so important to God? WHY should I wait until I get married to “do it”?

And honestly I’m still not 100 percent clear on how I’m going to express this to my own children. What I’m going to tell them is that our bodies, our sexuality, and sex are gifts from God. And like any gifts from God, we need to use them wisely and carefully — not to pleasure ourselves only, but to give glory to God. Sex is special, not something to be shared with a lot of people. Sex is to be part of the intimate bond of a committed couple, to bring them and keep them close.

Will this work? Will it keep my children virgins until they are married? I have no idea. Will I be called out for my own hypocrisy (I was not a virgin when I got married, not even close)? Possibly. I’m still working on that part of the discussion. Will I forbid discussion of birth control medication, condoms and other barrier methods, Planned Parenthood, and/or abortion? No, I will not. That seems futile. But to talk about those issues and still be able to say (without terrifying them), but this is why you still should wait until marriage — that’s what I’m aiming for. And also to do it in such a way that if they decide differently, I can deal with that with them too.

What’s your plan for teaching your kids (or the children in your life) about their bodies and sex? And what are you waiting for?

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25 thoughts on “Sex Talk

  1. As you know, mine are older. I tell them that sex is powerful stuff and it’s something best waited to have until they are old enough to deal with it — and are sure they want to. So far, they’ve accepted that. Give me five or so years, though…

    • That’s another good point I’ll have to work into the speech. Sex feels good (when you’re doing it right), and it is powerful, and there can be consequences (physical and emotional) that you have to be mature enough to handle. So, yeah, making notes. 😉

  2. Right now my biggest challenge is discouraging the boy from playing with his penis in public without imbuing the act of playing with his penis with any shame. We talk about doing that in the bathroom or his bedroom, but it didn’t stop him from whipping out an erect preschooler penis on the WDW Monorail.

    • Oh, @observacious, that made me laugh my butt off. Thank you.

      Yes, Kate can’t keep her hands away from her bits. I tell her: “Wash your hands before and after, and do it in your bedroom. It’s fine, just keep it clean and private.” Mileage varies.

      And the boy! At not-quite-2, he’s already discovered his penis. Diaper changes are challenging. And… look, penises are weird. He stretches it like taffy. I’m like, woah, boy, you’re going to want that later; quite yanking it so hard. But it doesn’t seem to bother him, so: have at it, son.

      • Boys are a whole different world, aren’t they?

        My kids both found their bits long before two. They’d get out of their clothes for bath and immediately the hands went to the penis. Every single time. The taffy pulling is a fantastic analogy because that’s really what they do.

        The one and only time I get irritated by their fascination with their boy parts is when they sit on MY LAP and play with it. Jamie did that once and we had to have A Talk.

  3. My mom did a very good job at preparing us for sex. I don’t really remember what or how she talked about it, but it kept me from wanting to until I was at least 18. She kept it open, honest and if I ever had a question, she’d answer it to the best of her ability, which was usually TMI. Over knowledge, in my opinion, helped me from not wanting to have sex with my boyfriend of 2 years in high school because I wasn’t curious. I knew what it took, what it was about and I honestly didn’t feel as if I was missing anything. Especially when my mom would say that girls in high school rarely have an orgasm but still can end up pregnant.

    If I was going to do it, it needed to be good and worth my time. And with the right guy. Thus the fact that I’ve only had three partners. I hope that the knowledge my mom gave me and the way she raised me helps me do the same for my kids. I’ll never withhold information, because guess what? They’ll find out one way or another.

  4. Like I said on Twitter, my parents didn’t do a great job with the whole “Talk” thing. They definitely outsourced that to first Catholic school and then public school.

    Catholic school (7th, 8th grade) did the basic anatomy, explanation of periods and such. Their handling of actual SEX was some footage of a 1980’s wedding (think giant puffed sleeves, puffy veil, and one of those veil headpieces that came to a point in the middle of her forehead. VERY hot look.) The couple kissed, and then a cartoon explosion came out of their kiss, enveloped the whole screen in red and orange, and a cartoon baby came out of the explosion. That was it. It was mystifying. I’d BEEN to weddings, and there were no explosions or babies flying out of heads, so I knew they were hiding something.

    Public school health class (11th grade) covered it in much greater detail (thank God, or I might not have known how to get pregnant!), with about 10 extremely graphic birth videos. That was enough to scare me away from doing anything stupid for a long time.

    I don’t know what to tell my kids. I suspect that part of the reason my mom shied away from talking about sex at all was that she didn’t have anything to say when it came to the Catholic view point on premarital sex. What they DID do a good job of was instilling a respect for myself and my body, and a fear of doing damage to my future. I didn’t want to have a baby in high school because I knew it would screw up the rest of my life. That’s the same reason I didn’t want to do drugs. I wanted good things; I knew that drugs and sex and alcohol in high school put those good things in jeopardy.

    Related: during one of the Catholic school sex talks, a priest told my class that having sex during a non fertile time in a woman’s cycle was a sin akin to abortion. So, that didn’t help my confusion AT ALL.

    • Way to confuse the kids, Catholic church! I don’t know whether to laugh (babies flying out of heads!) or cry (sex when you can’t get pregnant is abortion? WTF).

      I think that “respect for self and body” is THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect of talking about this stuff. And, granted, probably the trickiest. When people argue about comprehensive sex ed, they don’t talk about the idea that YOU HAVE VALUE without having to have sex. And when others talk about abstinence, there’s this weird “you are a precious, precious snowflake” about it, and “we are protecting you from nasty, nasty sex”. Oh, but then sex is okay once you get married! Yay!

  5. okay so I just CRACKED UP at “Sitting alone and reading books”. That’s the best reply ever. haaaa

    I really like your attitude about this, especially what you said about not wanting to have to sit down and just DUMP on the kids all at once when they’re At That Age. We’ve answered any questions Maggie has had so far, but thankfully (!!) there haven’t been many. BUT. She was only three when I was pregnant with Audrey. I have a feeling this time, more questions are coming. EEK. I’m trying to be prepared.

    We call it ‘Girl Parts’ in our house and my Dan came up with that as well. So clever, they are! ha

    • I did laugh the first time he said that. But after he had repeated it (in various settings to various people) I was like, “You didn’t really tell her that did you?”

      And thanks. Waiting is counterproductive (IMO) because by the time you have to have The Talk, they absolutely, completely do not want to have that talk with their parents, ew ick! Trying to avoid that. 🙂

  6. I liked the comment on Twitter also. My wife and I have an active role in discussing sex (age appropriate). I have 2 girls 8 & 10, we have been talking about it for some time and each time it is a little more involved. First they have to know about their “parts” and that they are NOT to be touched by others with exceptions of doctors. Coming from a history of sexual abuse we are very protective of our girls.

    Our oldest is learning more and more, I don’t want the school to teach it to my kids. I don’t mind if they offer more education on what I have already taught. But do not feel it is the schools responsibility to teach my kids about sex.

    You brought up a good point, birth control, pre-marital sex, and abortion. As you know I am a conservative Christian, I was raised Catholic. But my child was born before I was married, she actually knows that already and has seen the pictures of her in our wedding. I have no problem with birth control, I think is is important as part of planning your family. I do not agree with abortion, but have had to take a family member to go through an abortion. Did I judge her, absolutely NOT it is not my business to judge someone for what they do. I was willing to accept the child as mine if I had to. I feel abortion is deeply personal and may be against it but HATE the people who hang around clinics with signs and pictures! That is just wrong in my opinion.

    So, I guess from this and from the other tweets you have seen I am NOT 100% strict conservative, I don’t like branding my self to much.

    Well, enough of my rambling…

    • You are an interesting person, Lou.

      Ah, yes, the red light/yellow light/green light conversation. We’ve had that with our girls about their bodies and about their brother’s (and cousins’) bodies. My 5yo thinks M’s penis is hilarious; my 7yo is starting to become more modest, which I think is totally appropriate. For example, she prefers to shower by herself, and yells at the baby when he wanders into the bathroom.

      I am curious about what you mean by you don’t want the schools teaching your daughters. Do you mean comprehensive sex education? Or health education, religion? While I think the most important teaching has to come at home, I have no problems with the idea that my children will learn health and biology, and ever to some extent morality (Catholic schooling) from school. One reason I talk to them about it now is so that when they hear about something in school, whether in the classroom or from their peers, they feel they can come and ask me about it. I don’t shy away from their curiosity.

      As to other issues: I don’t think anyone is 100% anything (aside from human). We are our backgrounds and experiences. The fact that you compassionately could help a family member through probably one of the most difficult things she had to face speaks a lot more to your loving nature than, for example, touting your religion absent of context. Good for you.

      Peace!

  7. As you can see from all of these comments, your tone and delivery of these talks will forever shape their views on sex, etc. My mom got pregnant, by accident, followed by a “you WILL marry her, or else” ultimatum from my grandfather to my dad. My mom was in her first semester in community college. I formally “ruined” her life, from that moment on. I was getting the sex talks right about the time their marriage couldn’t take any more.

    So my sex talk was all about consequences. Life alerting consequences that were beyond a 12 yr olds comprehension. Oh I could do all the drugs I wanted, but I was NOT to get pregnant. It took me years to actually find the enjoyment in it, rather than the fear.

  8. My boys are now 16 and 17 so I’ve had a lot of serious grownup talks over the years. One thing we have always done is model healthy relationships as much as possible. They were so young they don’t remember their dad and original mom together but were around during her very bad relationships. We kiss each other in public and tell each other “I love you.” Ive answered their questions because Kurt would rather chew through his Camaro. When they started having girlfriends I talked to them about sex being literally closer than you will ever be to another person since you are literally inside their body. That appeared to make some sense to them; that’s not something to do with just anybody. You wouldn’t let just anybody pick your nose, so why would you let just anyone do that, as my very practical older son pointed out. And tell D to stop being a weenie about embodied sexuality; his training was at least partially developmental/analytic and we talked about everything including toilet training. He’s entirely too regressive and should re-read Merleau-Ponte.

  9. Yesterday while the nine-year-old and I were at the pool, she announced from out of my line of sight, “I am a virgin!” I asked her what she meant as I walked towards her. Then I saw that she had a towel on her head, rather Virgin Mary-esque. I then asked her if she meant Mary, and she said it could be another saint. I debated if I should use this as a teachable moment, but I chickened out.

    She understands puberty and childbirth on a basic level, but I still think nine is a little young to learn about sex, particularly considering where she is developmentally physically and even a little emotionally. At her Catholic school (probably all in the diocese), they have the Vision of Love series (or something like that) where sex is covered, but I need to find out how. I believe that starts next year (fifth grade). Regardless, I do want to be able to talk with her about sex, and I will probably do so sometime this school year; I just need to figure out what to say and how to say it, beyond that it is an emotional experience as well as physical, it is not something you should take lightly, you can get pregnant and really screw up your life, etc. I will also tell her about BC, which will be tricky since the church is against it, but I personally am not.

  10. Its funny what kids know, and what they think about what they know. My youngest, about 8 at the time asked his brother why his dad and I showered together. The older one looked at him with the look only an older brother can give (they are 14 months apart) and said “duh, to save water.”

  11. Looks like you are getting some great advice here. None from me other than several young women at our church have been reading a book called Sex and the Soul of a Woman: The Reality of Love and Romance in an Age of Casual Sex. I believe it’s by Paula Rinehart. It might be something you could read with your girls when they are old enough. It gets past the physical and talks about how different sex is for boys and girls. For boys, it’s just an act, an achievement, something that feels good. For girls, it is much more connected to their souls and inner beings. That isn’t talked about much: that many girls feel pressured into “giving it up” and how that can damage their souls.

    • Here is the feminist/women’s studies minor coming at you here, ‘bagger: A lot of boys likewise feel pressured into sex, usually by their peers. The perception that “everybody is doing it” hurts both sexes. For boys, it NOT just an achievement — or if it is, if that is the message we are sending our sons, then we have to change the message. I plan to give my daughters and my son the same message regarding sex. If that message is that it’s damaging to their souls, then it’s just as damaging to a boy’s as a girl’s. I am suspect of a book that preaches to girls (that they have to remain pure) but not boys, because it puts the onus on the girls to “be better”. It’s the old “women are more moral” trope, repackaged for the 21st century (I suspect). Whereas there’s still the “boys will be boys” trope. Do Not Like.

      • Of course, I wasn’t suggesting that it IS an achievement for boys. That’s sorta society’s thing. There are messages that preach to boys about purity and character. Messages that reject the “boys will be boys” meme. I just think it would be hard to write a book that would speak effectively to both genders at the same time. But I’m sort of old fashioned. I’ll butt out now.

      • Oh, I understand that you weren’t suggesting that! I’m just parsing your comment (without having read the book). I agree about writing a book for both genders would be tough. But probably is necessary. 🙂

  12. I would have loved to have been given a book in my teen years called Sex and the Body of a Woman: The Reality of Casual Sex in an Age of Love and Romance. Or, perhaps, “Oxycotin and the Soul of a Woman: How To Make Informed Choices While Under Hormonal Influence.” These would have been instructional.

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