I was a wide-eyed eight-year-old, playing at the home of my closest-playmate, “Beth”. At one point her older sister, “Sarah” joined us. Eager to prove her superior knowledge to us underlings, Sarah began dishing about a soap opera episode she had come across once. She mentioned all kinds of characters’ names and described who was “having sex” with whom.
This is the earliest memory I have of hearing the word sex. I had absolutely no idea what it was, but obviously I SHOULD’VE known!
So I did what any curious 8-year-old would do. I marched straight home and asked my mom.
Bless. Mom’s. Heart. She rocked it, and went ahead and had “the talk” with me right then and there.
I remember two things about that earnest discussion:
- My mom seemed to know just what to say and was perfectly calm while telling me THE most mortifying thing I had ever heard in my life.
- I was so relieved my mom and dad only had the three of us kids. That means that they only had to do THAT three times. Whew!
Thirty years later, I now have a husband of nearly sixteen years. We have an eleven-year-old daughter, a ten-year-old son, and our baby girl just turned six-years-old. Clearly I made peace with the mortifying news I received in 1989 and have a rudimentary understanding of where babies come from. And because we don’t want our kids’ introduction to sex education to come from neighbor kids, the internet, or Hollywood, we began having these important discussions with them about two years go.
I’m no expert, I’m just a mom who cares. But today I’d like to share some guiding principles that help me to approach this topic mindfully in my family.
Tips for Having the Sex Talk with Your Kids
- Breathe. It probably won’t be as hard as you think. When I opened up the topic with our oldest, it was way easier than I anticipated.
- It is a privilege to guide our kids through these big moments in their lives. If you think of it as an uncomfortable chore you are dreading, try to re-frame your thinking. Your kids are growing up and this is a big part of preparing them for adulthood.
- Think of it as the beginning of an ongoing discussion. It’s doubtful that all our kids’ questions will be satisfied in one talk. Your main goal for your first discussion about sex could be to help your kid understand that they CAN talk to you without fear. I started by taking my daughter on a special overnight at a hotel. We ate at a nice restaurant, swam in the pool, watched movies, and sprinkled conversations throughout our time together. She seems to look back on that time as a warm memory, rather than an embarrassing one.
- Consider assembling a list of key people in your tribe and enlist their support. I know it is likely my kids will have questions they won’t want to talk to me about. At the same time, I want to protect them by putting some healthy boundaries in place. My husband and I have given our older kids a list of adults such as trustworthy relatives and other aunt and uncle-like figures who they can talk to if they are more comfortable with them. Our kids know we consider all these people “safe” to talk to about sex and sexuality.
Unfortunately we also must explain that not everyone is safe to talk to about these issues. For that reason, I remind my kids of their “safe people” list anytime the subject comes up. It cannot be emphasized enough. And as much as I trust the people on their lists, we still need to help our kids recognize the signs of inappropriate behavior from all adults, trusted or not.
- I could write an entire post just about books and resources on this topic. I encourage you to do some research and find some books you are comfortable giving to your kids. For me, it’s important to provide a small “library” for my kids so they can privately explore their questions about sex anytime they wish. This is not meant to replace our conversations with them, but to accompany them.
- It can be perplexing talk to our kids about sex. Your kids may have questions you are utterly unprepared for and require you to do some quick thinking. Or they may be completely unphased by the information you give. You may think they understand something you have taken great care to explain, only to find out later that they left with bizarre ideas and interpretations of what you said.
- Mostly, it is beautiful. Human sexuality is a difficult topic, but as with most things in life that we have to work hard at, it is also a beautiful thing to prepare them for. Even though sex is something that has been used and abused, becoming a painful thing for so many, it has the potential to be something sacred and wonderful. If we can do something now to help our kids prepare for something amazing later in their lives, don’t we all want to try?