Kickin’ it old school today. Salt-N-Pepa said it best with “Let’s Talk About Sex.”
Children grow up quickly. Adults worry talking about sex makes kids do it. (It doesn’t.) They’re afraid they’ll give kids too much, too soon. (They won’t.) The reality? They’ll be fine. Kids tune out excess and take what they need in the moment. Trust me: there’s more harm by NOT talking about it.
Keep it real and jump in! Take your time. Like Nike says, Just Do It.
There are no hard and fast rules (no puns intended) for talking with your kids about sex. However, there are some things to remember.
Don’t limit discussion to birds and bees, general plumbing, or the science of it all. Humans are sexual. We’re also emotional, relational, intellectual, and physical. We’re affected by our environment and experiences. These all influence our sexuality and entirety.
Whether or not you’ve discussed penises, sperm, vaginas (sorry, Felicia), and eggs, you’ve been talking, maybe even wordlessly, about sexuality for a long time. You’ve modeled roles and attitudes while sending messages of acceptance, tolerance, judgement, and morals. And, trust me, they’re being received.
Children observe our relationships all. the. time. They learn early how to treat others by watching us. They see what’s acceptable and unacceptable without words. This, indeed, is part of sex ed and more.
They watch relationship and personal boundaries, as we close doors, keep personal space, speak up for ourselves, etc. Really listening and helping them realize you value their voice goes hand-in-hand with setting boundaries of self-respect and respect for others. And, yes, this has a LOT to do with sexuality.
Check yourself. As mentioned above, our experiences influence us. If you or your partner have encountered unhealthy sexual attitudes, abuse, assault, or inappropriate behaviors, take care yourself/yourselves first.
If you’ve been hurt or suffered bad/inappropriate experiences, it’s often overwhelming and scary to think about your child’s sexuality. If you haven’t already, seek counseling. Heal yourself. It’s normal to feel overly anxious, scared, and over-protective of your children. Being open and honest with a good counselor (and your partner) can help your family navigate this. Care for yourself first, and be the best woman, partner, and mom you can be so your child doesn’t carry the effects of your experiences.
How to begin: Start at the end and work your way back. Imagine your children as teens, young adults, and finally, honest-to-goodness grownups. What will their lives be like? How will they treat others? How will they feel about themselves? How does sexuality look in these stages? Are your children emotionally and physically matured, satisfied, and safe? Healthy and happy? Now consider the best road to getting there. It involves a solid communicative relationship now.
Can you picture your teen approaching you with relationship or sexuality questions? Or, your daughter confiding in you about birth control? These relationships don’t happen overnight. They begin at birth, with loving and respectful responsiveness, security, honesty, approachable-ness, and authenticity. These building blocks for trust form that later relationship. Keep the end goal in mind while parenting your toddler, elementary student, or teenager today.
Think of your BFF. Remember meeting her/him? Your intimate friendship likely began with small talks and grew with lengthy sharing over coffee, wine, or girls’ nights out. The ease of your friendship didn’t happen all at once. You built a solid foundation of friendship brick by brick. Now you talk openly without judgment, willing to mention the spinach in her teeth, the booger in your nose, or those jeans that don’t do her butt justice. (Now my friends probably wonder which jeans I’m talking about.) Parents shouldn’t always be their child’s BFF; however, when it comes to sexuality, openness comes through balancing the roles of parent, mentor, partner, and friend. Your kids need to talk to you as comfortably as they would a friend, while trusting your advice because it’s solid, frank, and coming from someone they trust and respect. You can begin laying the bricks of trust and ease now.
Call it what it is, puhleeze. Get real.
My last nerve frays when adults use cutesy names for genitals. Euphemisms may be OK, after learning the correct terms. C’mon, you’re a grownup! You can say “vagina,” “vulva,” “penis,” and “testicles.” Besides, it’s funny to hear preschoolers attempt correct pronunciation of “pa-china” and “pesti-icicles.”
Calling a penis a “wee-wee,” “noodle,” or “ding-dong” or a vagina a “cupcake,” “jay-jay,” or “coochie,” sends this message: “The real name is so bad, we mustn’t use it.” It’s a message of shame and secrets.
Newsflash: We don’t have Voldemort vaginas. Harry Potter didn’t fall for that, and you shouldn’t either. The first step to understanding something is knowing what to call it. Call it what it is. Call it by its name. #KnowledgeIsPower.
Those who won’t name “it”—whatever “it” is—travel a dangerous road. Saying, “Oh honey, don’t touch down there,” can create shame and secrets. Pleasurable feelings become shameful and unmentionable things. They become guilt and dirty secrets—the opposite of our end goal. Few teenagers easily confide at the end of this road.
Here’s my personal peeve: “Mommy has a baby in her tummy.” No, Mommy has food in her tummy. There’s acid in her stomach and maybe some chyme. Babies can’t grow in this digestive organ. If you can’t introduce “uterus,” use “womb.” It’s accurate and not a corny euphemism.
Once, Sis mentioned there was a baby in my womb. Misunderstanding “womb” for “room,” an ever-helpful adult corrected her: “No, not yet. Mommy has a baby in her tummy.” Sis, then three, informed the unsuspecting friend that tummies were for food, not babies. From the mouths of babes…
Take the mystery and unknown away. Call it what it is and carry on. Start building your child’s healthy sexuality today.
Never pass an opportunity to talk about it. Like Salt-N-Pepa said, “Don’t decoy, avoid, or make void the topic.”
Children are not known for their timing (except comedic). They ask questions at wrong moments, and they never whisper. We visited an animal sanctuary where visitors toured in small, huddled groups because of the close proximity to the animals. A pair of lions nonchalantly, somewhat quietly, and very matter-of-factly attempted sex. The male stepped away. That’s when a squeaky-pitched, knee-high voice said, “Mama, Simba has a BIIIIIIIG penis.” Like a choreographed flash mob, 15 people turned and looked at me, because I held the hand of that little voice. Turning toward the spindly blonde at the end of my hand, I looked her straight in the eye and just as loudly and clearly said, “You’re right! He certainly does.” With appropriate language, four-year-old Felicia said what everyone was thinking: Simba, indeed, had a big penis.
In the check-out line your preschooler might say, “Look! That lady has a baby in her womb. How did that get in there again?” Not the best time to reiterate last night’s discussion, but don’t ignore or embarrass her for asking. Acknowledge her: “Great question! Let’s check out and talk about it in the car, OK?” Quick, simple, and oh-so-powerful. When her voice and questions are valued, she will continue to ask and talk. Remember, you’re building a teen who’ll feel comfortable approaching you later.
In the end, you’ll do good thinking about the role model you are and confidently and candidly approaching all things. Your children depend on you to be forthright, honest, and true. You’ve got this!
Attachment parenting principles can help build the foundation to the relationships we’ve discussed. You can find more info and resources about it here.
Many resources can help build trusting and communicative relationships with your children. A few my favorites are listed below, with some references for dealing with adult past experiences. What are your faves?
In San Antonio, you can find support and resources for yourself and your family here, or by calling the United Way 2-1-1 Helpline.
Later, we’ll look at raising sexually healthy kids at specific ages and stages.