Friday, February 22, 2008

The Sex Talk

A recent trip to visit our folks resulted in my three-year-old wondering where babies come from. Something had to spawn it sooner or later, and it is probably fortuitous considering all the talk there's been around here lately about a third baby. All the same, it was somewhat unexpected and really, there was no real strategy in place. Here's how it went:

Solstice (that's daughter number one) was looking at pictures of me when I was her age. This is something that grandparents love to thrill grandkids with. This information, about me being her age at one time in the universe, got her to thinking. Finally, while in the car, she quizzed her mother on the situation. "Mommy," she said, "do you remember when Daddy was a little boy?"

She answered truthfully that she didn't, but that she met me much later. This led to a series of questions getting at the heart of the whole issue. Finally, my wife told her that we had met, fallen in love, and gotten married. "Was I there?" she asked.

My wife did her best to explain that, no, she wasn't there, that it was before she was born, before she was a baby. But that we decided to have a baby. "You went to the store?" Well, no, we didn't go to the store. She explained to Solstice that Daddy put her in Mommy's stomach so that she could grow in there.

And now, Solstice had fully grasped the situation. "Oh," she said conclusively, "He used his magic wand."

Hmm. Not exactly. But the resultant laughing was enough to end the conversation without any of the more explicit details.

So what do we do about the whole "sex talk" thing? I've read a few things lately by people in the field who say that around age 8 is the right time. But by the time my 3 year old is 8, will it be too late? And if she's this curious right now, how do we put things off further? We can't really have her telling people in public that her new sibling was put into her mommy's tummy by daddy's magic wand! That would be considerable more disturbing for those listening to this astonishing fact than the gory truth of the thing.

As for me, I cannot remember not knowing. It's not due to any lack of memory as I remember my 2nd birthday. But I'm sure at that age I didn't have a lot of wonder about the subject. I imagine that it has more to due with the fact that my mom was a childbirth teacher and somewhat of a hippie. I don't remember a single time that "the talk" was delivered to me, but many instances of simple explanation that I mainly shied away from.

Conversely, there are many friends of mine who say that their parents never told them. They had to find out friends and their varying sources of reliability. I think this is mainly a selfish point of view in parenting, where the parent hopes to avoid a conversation that will feel awkward.

I wonder how our generation will handle this one. There are lots of books that explain this with illustrations and the like, but I don't know if I really want to read the book with the cartoon penis in it every night before bed. While, yes, at this point in my parenting life I hope that my girls never have any interests in boys, I know this can't ultimately be the case. And unlike people, like our dear president, who think that sex education should be about how to avoid sex, I think it should be about education. And with the curious minds I already have in tow, I don't believe in holding back truths from a mind seeking to learn something.

I am curious to know how the more experienced parents handled this and how the others plan on handling it. I don't think that by any means this is the defining issue of our children's lives, and I think that most of the drama is parent-induced. Nevertheless, all discourse is helpful.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Brooks was almost eight when I had the full boar talk with him. As someone who was totally traumatized by the cartoon books as a kid, I went the other way with it. I did it pretty clinically. We looked up lessons on the internet (there was a lot of kid-friendly stuff with gentle anatomical illustrations), and discussed the whole process including menstruation, ovulation, etc.

He seemed pretty blase, only had a couple questions, and was mostly interested in how weird fallopian tubes looked.

Gabie has asked in passing a couple times about it, but she is still in the "Daddy put a baby seed in Mommy's belly" phase.

She does, however, know how babies come OUT. To which she replied, "I'm only gonna do that ONCE."

Dewi

Shanna said...

My oldest son is 4 years old and we just had the "Talk" the other day. Actually, the talk has been going on for a few years. :) He started asking questions when I would talk about things I did before he was born. Similar to the conversation you mention with your daughter.
I have always told the truth as much as I can.
We have always talked about everything we can so he knows that guys have a penis and girls have a vagina.

I just try to answer only the question asked and don't elaborate. For instance when I was pregnant with my youngest, he asked me how the baby got in my belly. So I told him that his papa and I made the baby and put him there to grow. He was satisfied with that answer.

However, 3 months later he asked again. Only this time he wanted to know how it got in specifically. So I explained sperm and the egg. Then he wanted to know where the sperm came from. So I explained that the penis has the sperm.
Still he wanted to know how that sperm got in my belly so I told him that his papa put his penis in my vagina. He thought that was quite funny and didn't ask anymore after that.
For now.

Wow, sorry for taking up all that space with my blathering.

Basically I am saying that you should try to be truthful, answer only what they ask, and remember that whenever they ask is the right time to answer.

Shna
:)

K. Crow said...

I've always been unsure on how to do this myself. I know for sure I don't want to be one of those parents that has cutesy nicknames for the parts, I want to be an honest parent, and jeez, it’s a penis, just call it a penis. Why must we hide it with silly words and then later on tell our children, oh yeah, by the way, that’s not a wee wee, it’s a penis.

As for the sex talks, I think I just answer their questions based on what I think my child’s level of understanding is and to answer simply (we don’t need questions to lead to questions that get too deep at 3 or 4) I mean, I don’t need to tell her where daddy’s penis goes, or about orgasms or the details, especially at a younger age. But telling my kids “when a man loves a woman, that’s when babies are made” aka the “generic no real answers” thing doesn’t fly with me either.

I think being honest with your kids, even at 3, leads to more honest conversations later on. I feel that if you can be honest with your children, and you create that safe environment to where they feel good talking to you and aren’t afraid to be honest with you, then talks about things going on in their lives and drugs and such will become easier as they become older.

As for education about sex…HONEST education about sex is what I think can help with premarital/teen pregnancy problems. Talking with your kids about it when they come to you. I don’t know if I like the whole “ok, let’s sit down and talk about sex” thing. They learn a lot from friends and classes and such, why make it awkward for both parties? Let them start the conversations, let their curiosity lead the discussion (again, basing on age and appropriateness) while being truthful. I think arming our children with information about sex, not just “don’t do it”, is the way to go. Why not arm them with what could happen (pregnancy, std’s, condoms/birth control, emotional turmoil, marriage before sex, abstinence) and talking about sex rather than hoping telling them not to do it will hold them off?

As for my sex education, I was given a book with pictures that explained the making of a baby. No one read this to me, I read/looked at it on my own. I don’t know of any stories of awkward outbursts by knowing that it’s a penis. I didn’t run around shouting “vagina”. But my curiosity was filled and if I had questions, I asked and they were answered with the real words, sometimes using the book for reference.

Sorry this is so long! And loved the blog!

-Kelly

cesca said...

My kids are aged 5 and 4, and they already *know* how babies are made. If you asked them, they'd tell you that you need a male and a female and that they have to have a special cuddle called "sex". A seed then goes from the male's penis into the females tummy and a baby grows.

LOL, I've fed them little bits and pieces over the years, in an age appropriate way, and it doesn't bother them at all.

Another thing - they know HOW a baby comes out of Mummy's tummy. We've watched birth films and they're FASCINATED and can't stop talking about it. (Of course, I only let them watch happy non-complicated birth films!) I have homebirths so if we had another child they'd definitely want to be there (in fact, they're BEGGING us to get pregnant again just so they can watch their new sibling being born!).

:-)

Jenny said...

I love your blog! Your post about breastfeeding was great. (Luckily) it reminded me of my husband. I think your blog is the only man's blog on my favorites list :-)

I'm not an experienced parent (my first daughter is 9 months old) but I think when she gets old enough to ask, I'll tell her the truth--but only enough to satisfy her curiosity. She'll ask for more info as she needs it. I don't know who decided it was dirty to tell kids the truth about where babies come from. When I was 8 or so I asked my mom what caused a woman to have a baby and she told me it happened "when God decided the woman was ready." She didn't mention the woman also had to have sex! It confused the heck out of me; I thought my belly was going to get huge any day and I'd have a baby if God wanted me to. Later my best friend told me her mom's version of it, which was closer to the truth. I know my daughter will hear it somewhere and I'd rather it be from me and not some confused kid!

Sol Smith said...

Thank you, Jenny! I just love to hear such positive comments. And I'm with you--there's nothing wrong with an honest education. Withholding facts doesn't seem honest, to me.

ohyes-that-girl said...

You. Crack. Me. Up. I love the way you write, with such honesty and humor, and with pretty down to earth topic. I just love your blog! :D

With that said, ahem. Sex.

My mother? I asked her several times where babies came from. By the time I reached 8 she finally mustered enough courage to say, "When two people love each other they can have babies." My dad looked at her in horror. They were divorced a year later. True story.

When I was 13 my step mother took it on herself (which at least someone attempted to talk to me about it albeit a bit late since I was already 13!) to sit me down and have THE SEX TALK.

What she did was rent an educational video that explained everything. Boy organs. Girl organs. How they each worked. How you needed both to have a baby. It was actually very educational and very helpful. But that way, they really didn't have to explain everything themselves. They let the video, literally, do all the talking.

To my dads total total embarrassment, though, they sat with me through the entire video and answered any questions that I had about the video. So, they were still there, and new that I needed the information, but they went about it in a way that made everyone a bit more comfortable, I think.

Later they also gave me a book "Girls and sex" or something. Which was also good reading material. They wanted me to be educated.

My mother, on the other hand, was very relieved to find out that my father and step mother had given me "the talk". She would have died, I think, if she had to do it herself.

But for us? I don't know what we'll do when Audri gets old enough for "THE TALK". I want her to feel comfortable with her own body and with us, as parents, to be able to give her the correct responses to all her questions. It will be honest. And correct. And said with love.

But God am I ever dreading "THE TALK". And it's for selfish reasons. I just don't want my little girl growing up too damn fast.

Meg said...

My 3 are 8,6, and 3.

I keep waiting for it to come up. It hasn't yet, but I agree in the honest approach- and in appropriate terminology. No weiners and who-ha s in my house.
Great blog.
Meg
GNMParents
Maine-ly Megin

Tim said...

We have a 12 and 9 year old daughter and a 3 year old son. My wife and I haven't had to have a "sex talk". It's been more of an ongoing conversation that grows in complexity as are children get older. We started by talking openly about the body parts; calling them by their correct names. It only seemed to bother our friends and family when our oldest daughter would say vagina at 3. My sister thought cochie was a better term.?.

I think sex like other important issues should not be dealt with in one focused "talk" but rather incorporated into daily conversations as the situation presents itself. I will not shy away from sex questions. By doing so it makes it seem dirty. Sex is a natural thing and should be something to discuss openly with your children.

Both of my girls have different personalities and different levels of interest. It is important to let your kids determine when they are ready for different levels of conversation. A 4 year old doesn't need to understand the concept of an STD. My 12 year old does. Unfortuanately, the sex talk is one of many things you will have varying opinions on because what works for one child or one family will not work for another.

My son likes to call his penis he peanut. That is ok too. We didn't teach him to call it a peanut because we were embarassed. He just likes to say peanut and giggle.

Anonymous said...

I'm still in the process of making my first child, but I want to tell you how my sister handled the situation.

She told the truth. Every time her son asked a question, she would answer it truthfully and honestly. Even when he was 3. It is a topic that will be revisited many times over, because there is only so much the kid can understand at a time, and they will have more questions as they are older.

My 10 year old nephiew is highly intelligent, and has a firm grasp on the concept of sex. He knows all of the logistics, he knows what his parents think is appropriate and what is not, and most importantly, he has formed his own ideas about his views on the subject.

You should raise your child in the way that is most comfortable for you, your wife and the child in question. I'll wager that each child will be different, too.

I think that the truth is always the best policy for raising an educated child.

familyonbikes said...

We had "the talk" with our boys when they were eight. It was actually very easy -I was surprised.

We were traveling around the USA on bicycles and had LOTS of time to talk - so the boys asked tons of questions and my husband and I did our best to answer them. We talked and talked for hours on end.

At one point the topic came up and we just answered it just like we answered all their other questions - as we cycled along the edge of the road. they were satisfied with their knowledge in about 30 seconds and we moved on to their next question. Easy-peasy. Much easier than I expected!

Now we are getting ready to ride our bikes from Alaska to Argentina - and we're sure to get lots and lots of questions on that journey as well. It's a great way to spend time with our kids!!

You can read about our journey at www.familyonbikes.org

Kristy said...

I don't know how exactly that I came to your site. I have a friend named d***, and i was looking for a picture of a cartoon d*** to post on his myspace, and here's where it brought me.

I read some of your blogs. You are funny guy and most def ... a fantastic dad. :) Being someone who didn't find out how babies were made until I was 13 when I lost my virginity ... I might could have used some honesty.

Yes! I will read more. You're great! Thanks for the chuckle.

Kristy

Sol Smith said...

Kristy-

Thank you so much for those words! I'm so pleased that I'm willing to make a cartoon of your friend d**** so as not to waste your time.