No kid looks forward to getting the sex talk. It often comes with a big "ewwww" on the kid's part. You can imagine, then, how mortifying it was when my parents sat me down to give me the talk — at age 18.
Yep, Eight-freaking-teen. I hadn’t had sex yet, but you better believe I knew what it was. In fact, I remember how I found out: not from school gossip or the internet (which was not really a thing when I was a wee one) but from a book about getting your period.
And giving me that book was pretty much the extent of the sex education my parents provided for me — that is, until they sat me down a week before college. I guess the goal was to prep me for frat boys I’d encounter? I have no idea. They did ask me if I “understood how it all worked.” Uh, yeah. But beyond that, I don’t even remember what was said, because I buried my head in my hands and tried really hard not to listen.
(For the record, my sister, who’s 10 years younger than me, never got “the talk” at all. Lucky her.)
I may be jumping to conclusions, but I can only assume the reason for the lack of sex ed in my household was that my parents were uncomfortable with the topic. I did know they didn’t want me to have it. Presumably so I wouldn’t get pregnant. (We are Catholic, after all.)
But pretending like sex isn’t a reality of adult human life is weird, and a huge disservice. Age 18 is, quite frankly, too late to open up the discussion and make any lasting impact.
Now that I’m a mom, I’m even more concerned about the potential fallout from “the talk” (or lack thereof). I plan to have it with my own kids early, and often. Honestly, matter-of-factly, and without embarrassment. There will not be one looming day when my husband and I sit them down formally to chat about “the birds and the bees,” because that builds it up way too much. Little talks here and there will, I hope, make it less of a big deal.
Okay, so my little guy is 11 months old, and baby number two is just a figment of my imagination at the moment, so I’m looking into the future here. But not that far, because kids are curious and they ask questions. So many questions. I’m determined to answer them — not to talk about “storks” or any nonsense. In fact, Essential Access Health (EAH) gives tips on communicating about these issues when your kid is under age 2. Yep, sex convos are going to happen in this household just about 16 years earlier than they did when I was growing up. At that young age, it’s about using correct body-part terms and telling kids that exploring their own bodies is best done in private.
I’m sure it’s not easy — or joyful — to answer your three-year-old when he asks, “Mom, why is my penis hard?” But I hope I don’t answer with “Go ask your dad” or ignore him completely. It’s my hope that talking to my kids about sex — in age-appropriate ways, of course — as they grow up will take away any shame and stigma associated with sexuality, something I really struggled with (and sometimes, to this day, still do). Also, I want them to know what healthy sexuality means. That they’re the owners of their bodies and get to choose what happens to them. (This means if we have a girl, there’s not going to be any talk about Daddy “protecting” her “purity,” thank you very much.) Plus: actual sexual health. There is no way in hell they’re growing up not knowing about their contraceptive options. Or thinking that using contraception is evil.
In short: My kids’ sex ed at home will be everything I didn’t get growing up.
While a big motivator for me to be open is my past experience, it’s also exactly what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. The AAP suggests talking about sex accurately, honestly, simply, and at a level that matches where kids are developmentally.
Don’t get me wrong: When my kids are older, I don’t want to be their best friend or the person to whom they spill all the details. But I want to be available as a sounding board, for questions as well as problems.
There’s a recurring theme with parents (including mine) who are shy about the fact that sex exists: that only people in love have sex. That’s clearly not the case at all, and pretending otherwise is bizarre. Love helps, clearly, and there’s a difference between a healthy and an unhealthy sexual relationship. But as they become teens, I mostly want my kids to know that their sexuality is normal, that they own their bodies, and if they engage in sexual activity, they have to be mature enough to be prepared for what could come next. That includes pregnancy or STIs, if they’re not safe about it, as well as how it has the sometimes-sucky effect of making your feelings for another person even stronger — and that person may not reciprocate them.
And no, I don’t think that opening up the convo or acknowledging sex encourages it to happen — even the AAP says so.
Don’t get me wrong: I know some of these “talks” will be uncomfortable, and I’ll have to recover with a big glass of Malbec. But I also know that the less I shy away from it, the easier it will be. Actually, that’s what EAH assures me, so I’m banking on it. And, hopefully, my kiddos will be healthier and happier for it.
After all, I’m looking forward to mortifying my kids in many ways; sex talks hopefully won’t be one of them.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more, here.