I don’t know that anyone particularly relishes talking to his or her kids about sex. I’m pretty open about sex, but even I still get a little skittish sometimes. Plus, with children and sex talk, you never know what’s going to come at you.
My 13-year-old daughter came home from seventh-grade sex-ed the other day asking, “Why would you eat sperm?” It seems there was a handout featuring a little cartoon sperm boy who informed the kids that they couldn’t get pregnant from “eating sperm.” However, little sperm boy (the coward!) bailed before telling them why they might be eating sperm, so my confused kid was envisioning someone sitting down to a big ol’ bowl of you-know-what, as one might enjoy a bowl of oatmeal on a cold morning.
I wasn’t planning on getting into a discussion of oral sex with my daughter that particular afternoon, but we did, and it was fine and she learned a little bit more about sex.
The thing is, whether you talk to your kids about sex or not, they are learning things – at school, online, from friends – and are often confused or misunderstanding what they hear. It’s important to keep a conversation going so misconceptions can be fixed.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that works to advance reproductive health, 71 percent of teens have had sex by age 19. Sex can be an exhilarating, treacherous, confusing journey, and our kids need accurate information to guide their way. You are one of your child’s most trusted sources of wisdom. For now. Take advantage while you can.
Some tips to smooth your way
You don’t need to have The Talk …
… but you will have a bunch of little talks. Talking with children about sexuality is a lifelong conversation, advises Planned Parenthood. Good sex talks tend to be short and impromptu, providing a little bit more information each time before anyone gets too embarrassed.
Let your child lead
Let your child’s questions guide the discussion. “You won’t need to make a speech. Find out what your child already knows. Let your child guide the talk with her questions,” recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recommends teaching your kids at a very young age about inappropriate touching from strangers. Explain that privates are private and your body belongs to you. Also encourage your child to talk about secrets that upset him or her and to always speak up, because someone can help. The idea is that simple conservations can really help keep children safe, and you don’t even need to bring up the words “sex” or “sexual abuse” until they’re older.
Find teachable moments
If you’re at the zoo with a 5-year-old, seeing animals doing “it” can lead to a discussion of how animals and people make babies. If your preteen sees a movie involving someone being pressured into something, talk about how to say no. If your teen is studying ancient Greece, talk about how ideas of “normal” sexual relationships change through time and culture. Other good teachable moments include bath time or talking about music lyrics with an older child, according to the book “Straight Talk With Your Kids About Sex” by Josh and Dottie McDowell of the McDowell Ministries.
Don’t forget about technology
Keep an open discussion going about sexting, online safety and posting iffy pics. “Explain that sex in porn is often different from how people have sex in real life. People are acting and putting on a performance so things are exaggerated and the lines between consent, pleasure and violence are often blurred,” suggests the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Take the pressure off with outside resources. Try “It’s Not the Stork: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends” for young kids and “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives” for teens. Older teens can find sex and relationship information at the cheeky British website Bish (bishuk.com) or Scarleteen (scarleteen.com).
Kids of both genders need to learn how to say – and recognize – “no.” For an excellent video that simplifies consent using tea as a metaphor for sex, e.g., “Unconscious People Don’t Want Tea,” look online for “Tea and Consent.” (Here’s the non-cussing version: vimeo.com/128105683)
Use the power of the car ride
The car is a nice place for a quick talk. No eye contact and no escape – for either of you.