These are the things that I feel pretty sure about:
1. The more information kids have, the better. I learned about sex and puberty pretty early on, and I think it’s a credit to my mother that I made it through my teens without getting pregnant or sick. I knew how to say no, and I knew how to talk about birth control, and that’s a lot more than many teenagers can say.
2. I know that books are a good idea, because as Dan Savage has taught me, kids don’t want to talk to their parents about sex unless they really have to. I searched for a book that I felt good about, and I finally landed here. It was the only book I found that seemed to talk about gay and straight families with equal tone, admitted the presence of all kinds of bodies, and didn’t devote an entire chapter on teaching my children how to shave their legs and apply mascara. (I can teach them how to do that myself, if they’re interested. But I don’t think that those things are absolute givens when it comes to how a growing woman wants to take care of herself.)
3. I think it’s important to help our kids find comfortable knowledge of their bodies, whether it’s the way their bodies work or just the things they know feel good. So much in life as they get older is wrapped up in that comfort or lack of it, and I think there’s a lot of misplaced shame that slides in when that comfort isn’t there.
I learned about sex at an early age, and my mother was always really open and proactive about answering any questions that might have come up. I never could have imagined that I would hold on to the pendulum with white knuckles as it swung the other direction as I became far more conservative than my mother. I never thought I would blush and stumble over my words, but when the questions come, that is sometimes exactly what happens. I’m doing okay, but I know I could do better.
So I thought I’d bring this up for this month’s first of the month question. I’m pretty early on in this process, but I see major fumbling on the horizon. I can’t be the only one trying to find my way through this, can I? Anyone have resources? Tips? Silly stories about things your mom told you? I know that this can be a controversial topic, and I’d certainly love to hear from any of you, even if you’re approach differs from mine. I just ask that you’re kind and respectful to each other. As always, you have the floor. Many thanks, a
I am planning the talk with my son when he turns ten in a few months. I know he doesn’t need to know too much at this point, but I need to explain some things since his classmates have said things that I don’t want him to be confused about. I just explained gay/straight relationships to him last week when he asked about the news stories. I was surprised about how open and caring he was. It just goes to show (from my experience) that you really have to teach intolerance. Kids are pretty understanding of a lot of situations.
I’ve had that experience, too. Especially around marriage equality and gay rights- I’ve mostly had to explain to my girls why anyone would have an issue with someone else loving the person they love. They just don’t get it. Bodes well for the future, I think.
Heather Berndt says
This has been the year my boys (11 & 7) have had a million and one questions reguarding the subject. At first it was extremely awkward, but then I realized how lucky I am to be so trusted by my boys. The funniest part was in science (I homeschool), we approached a chapter on pregnancy and child birth. My son tells me “mom, I would rather learn about molecular plant structures again” … me too buddy. But it turned out alright. I am so glad that door has been opened.
We used the exact same book you linked as well as another one by the same author. We started the conversations with our boys when they were very little. I can’t remember a time when we haven’t discussed sex or puberty with them. It’s often a dinner time conversation and nothing is off limits.
I think it’s very important for these conversations to start when children are young – toddler or preschool age – and they they happen whenever the opportunity presents itself. Now that my boys are teens the conversations have changed but they’re even more important and they still often happen at the dinner table.
I think it’s important to realized that your children are going to talk to other people, and may prefer talking to other people over their parents…. and that’s okay. But, throwing some trustworthy adults in their path is also a good idea. My friend’s 13 year old daughter has chosen me as her girl confidant. This normally shy girl asks me blunt and direct questions about boys, sex, make-up and high school. Being in my late 20’s I’m at a middle point between her and her 50 year old mother. I’m honored this young girl and her mother trust me to have these conversations and I try my best to be honest with her but give her advice to keep herself safe. And I think that as a third party confidant, the most important thing, and I tell her this every time we have these conversations is “Everything you tell me is just between the two of us, unless I am worried that you might get hurt or need another adult’s help. If I feel that way, I will talk to your mom about helping US get through this.”
Absolutely, Kristina. I think kids can put expectations on what their parents will think, even if they’re not true. Sometimes it’s just so much easier for them to talk to someone else. When I talk about this stuff with my girls, I always say they can ask me anything, but I also tend to give a little list of other people they can always ask. I think this is a great thing for parents to remember.
This is my first comment here, first off let me say I really enjoy your blog and your female body image.
My 7 year old son has not asked questions about sex yet, which surprises me because we are expecting boy #2 soon. I want to make it a more comfortable topic than it was for me, my parents never talked about sex. Ever. I find I a, very uncomfortable talking about it and expressing feelings.
My MIL gave us the book where do I come from? Havent read it to him yet.
I will have to check out the book you mentioned.
Thank you, Katie, and thanks for your comment.
It’s been my experience that one day there are no questions, and then something like a switch goes on and the questions flood in. It might surprise you!
I think I had “Where Did I Come From” when I was a kid, and in my memory, it’s a good one for your son’s age. I think that “It’s Perfectly Normal” is a good one for the next step, which in our house has been about 8 or 9. It starts to talk a lot about puberty, but also really goes into the details of bodies and sex in a slightly more mature way.
Cynthia Holt says
My daughter, who at the time we had the “talk”, knew the process of animals mating, she has seen it, but never made the connection between animals and people doing the same thing.
My daughter’s best friend’s sister got pregnant, so the subject came up. I made a point to have a discussion about it.
I started with the basic anatomy facts followed by what they were used for and what the end result was. After the basics, I asked her if she wanted to know more and she said no. I told her that we would have more of these discussions as time went on. I also reassured her that she would feel completely different about sex when she got older.
Since then, the subject comes up from time to time and i give her the information, always asking after every fact I give her if she wants to know more.
I’m expecting that these discussions may be a bit more in depth when she hits puberty
Hi. Thanks for your questions and all the great comments. I am coming at this from a very different perspective on this, so take that for what it’s worth. When I was in grad school, I spent 4 years doing criminal child abuse investigations for the state in which I live. Much of that time was spent working with kids who had been sexually abused, mostly by those closest to them, usually by people in positions of trust. I realize that experience gives me a bit of a skewed world view about this topic, and I acknowledge that.
Having said that, I think any discussion about sex in general is incomplete without a bit of education regarding abuse, first of younger kids, and then of teenage girls, date rape and so on. I think all of these topics begin at birth at some level, because it’s about how we convey unconditional love. It’s about how they are held, cuddled, talked to and affirmed in their very being, beyond what their physical appearance may be. It’s about as adults we know these kids are a gift to us, but do not belong to us. Their bodies and spirits are their own, and our job is to guide and protect them the best we can, and that part of that is to teach them that “No” is a complete sentence. For little kids, there is a book called My Body Belongs to Me. For older kids, you can get more into the specifics, but this really does begin early.
Listening to the caring and straightforward comments on this blog gives me hope for our young women. Our children are sacred gifts given to us, and all we can do is return that sacredness to them, hopefully with some wisdom and compassion. I think you are all doing an amazing job raising your daughters and sons. Just the question alone is indicative of the courage it takes to parent. Well done. Thanks for all you are doing to make the world a safer, better place.
ps, this is for all kids, not just girls. I think the way I worded that made it sound like this is only for our daughters, but boys are certainly impacted too. Thanks!
Terri, thank you so much for bringing up this essential piece of the puzzle, and in such a thoughtful way, too. Unfortunately, abuse is such a real part of so many people’s sexual experience, and I agree- I think it’s important to start education early. It’s so deep too, and as parents, I think (at least I hope!) there are really concrete ways to help educate our children both to protect themselves from abuse and not to be abusers themselves. Thank you for bringing this into the conversation.
I loved this …
My parents swung to the conservative end of the spectrum when it came to sex – there will be no sex before marriage, etc. But … I also knew that if I ever had any questions, I could ask my mom and she’d tell me the truth – not just what she wanted me to hear. So between that and reading Sassy magazine and anything else I could get my hands on – I was the person who could randomly spout off random factoids about birth control, sex, etc., in junior high and high school. I was the person who would go to Walmart and buy condoms and pregnancy tests for my girlfriends because I wasn’t afraid of being discovered or ashamed at their necessity.
I don’t know how my parents did it, necessarily – but they somehow raised me with a core set of values, yet be extremely smart about sexuality.
Good luck – thank you for the helpful links!
When I was in 5th grade, my mom took me to the “Mother/Daughter” night in my school’s cafeteria. I honestly had no idea what we were going to discuss as my older sister (having attended four years earlier) laughed at me as I left the house. There was silence as we drove to the school, and judging from some of the responses to questions about the human body my classmates answered, they were just as blind-sided as I was. It was an evening about menstruation and the female body. No discussion of sex. We each received a booklet that I took home and read in my closet. And I read it again when my period started two years later. Although my mom asked if I had any questions during our car ride home, I said I had none. When my period started, I thought she should know. I still remember her words. “You’re a woman now.” And then when I asked what I should so, she said, “Place the sanitary napkin…” Enough said. She was as cold as ice. Our mother/daughter relationship ended there. It was as if I was a stranger to her. For the remaining years we lived together, I had to muster up the courage to ask her for more maxi pads when we were out. Then I just started buying them myself. You’d be right to assume there was no conversation about sex. So, this thread is great, but I think a really basic thing for each of us to remember as we navigate how to speak to our sons or daughters is don’t be afraid of them. Even if these conversations are scary, these changes are new and scary for our children, too. It’s a terrible time to abandon them. And if you don’t know what to say or how to begin, maybe it’s not so bad to let them know that. Then you can navigate your journey together.
So well said, Cindy. Thank you.
I think, also, that it’s important to acknowledge the link between menstruation and sex in a strong and positive way. It’s such a big change, and I think it’s one to celebrate! I think maybe parents are so terrified of the possibility of teen pregnancy that they don’t take the time to celebrate the awesomeness of the power that’s coming into a girl’s body. Sounds a little New Agey, I know, but I hope I can do this when the time comes.
That book you linked to is great. I’m a librarian and in a youth literature class the professor assigned us that book. I ended up buying it and giving to my sister to share with my nephew.
I’m so glad to hear it! A librarian’s recommendation means a whole to me 🙂
Great topic! When my kids were teens (one son and two daughters) I was a Sunday School Superintendent, Chairman of the Board of Christian Education, etc, but I was also working in our health department’s STD program. Some of my church friends didn’t approve of how I handled things, but I felt that, no matter how much I “preached” I wasn’t going to be able to look over their shoulders on their dates, so we talked about everything at early ages.
My kids knew they could ask me anything and I would be honest, even if I squirmed a tiny bit. (I tried not to.) I brought home condoms and told them I hoped they would not have sex for a long time (and all the reasons why, of course), but if they did, they needed protection. That was my bottom line. I didn’t want pregnancies, STD’s or even HIV infection for my kids and there’s a whole world of other influences tempting them to go with their natural urges.
I did find a book or two very helpful, though I can’t remember which ones. I gave them the books and added that if they had questions that weren’t answered in the books, I’d be happy to answer them or find the answers if I didn’t know. I also brought home the handy brochures from where I worked. Openness and honesty is the only hope you have of protecting them from harm AND imparting your values, whatever they may be. I’m sure you’ll do great. A blush or two isn’t going to hurt anyone. Just keep talking. 🙂 And listening.
One of my daughters (at age 15) even asked me to bring home the free condoms for her male friend (not sex partner) because the local convenience store refused to sell them to him, saying he was “too young.” Good grief.
That book is awesome. My daughter used to read it at our local book store when she was about 9. She is 12 now and I think I need to get that book for her. She won’t talk to me and the topics in her sexual health class are pretty intense. She seems to leave her class a bit on the shell shocked stunned side.
So I’m hoping the book will fill in the gaps or open a dialogue for us:)
Definitely pick it up- I think it’s perfect for her age. It does a great job of filling in the holes in a warm, but super honest way.
The book has been great. She reads it at night, when she’s supposed to be sleeping;) I’ve heard her telling her friend some of the stuff she’s been reading.
Definitely worth getting. Thanks for posting about this topic.
I’m so glad it’s working for her! I’m happy I posted about this too– I have to say this discussion has been really helpful to me as well.
Kelly Fox says
I think sharing age appropriate information from early on builds a good foundation and gradually adding to it as they become older. Also having good role models such as aunties/uncles can leave them with another person to ask if they feel embarrassed to go to mum or dad.
I would recommend A Mighty Girl http://www.amightygirl.com/ – it has been so helpful and I’ve been storing up resources for when I need to have the talk with my kids. My mom was always open and left it so I could come to her with questions. I loved that. I knew that I could ask her anything – even if I didn’t actually do so. I think sometimes kids just need to know there is a safe person(s) to talk to. Sex can seem so intimidating and taboo that the silence around it makes them afraid. I think if you are there for your girls and speak from the heart you will do wonderful :).
Thanks so much for sharing that link, Karey. It looks like a pretty amazing resource.
My best friends and I invented a code word…so that when our friend’s kids share something that parents need to know – we can use the code words which mean ‘talk to your kid NOW’ but doesn’t violate the young person’s trust. Our words are: the zebra is in the corn. This allows us adults to be honest and receptive to questions and secrets, and be the kind of adults young people hopefully want to talk with.
Caitlin Hotaling says
What amazing timing! I just mentioned to my girl (10) that we might have to start having some conversations soon. She was embarrassed and groaned. I asked why she felt funny about it and she has some unexplained ideas about mother daughter appropriate conversation. Probably comes from friends at school, sigh. For years I have been answering questions as they arose and bought a book she has been reading, so she knows what’s happening and starting, but not sure how we’ll have the more open conversations in the future. Especially about the more complex aspect of feelings, pressure and societal norms, etc.. At least she knows the facts and not some made up fictional ideas. It makes me a little sad that she doesn’t want to have an open conversation but when I think about it I certainly didn’t want to either at her age, or any other. We shall see and glad to see I’m not alone on this path.
Caitlin, I know I mentioned Dan Savage in the post, but I’ve got to invoke him again. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him at all? But he’s a sex advice columnist who’s been around for a while, at least since I was in my teens. He and his husband have a teenage son now, and every so often he addresses this topic, and the number 1 thing he says is that no kid really wants to talk at length with their parents about sex. His advice is to get in and out fast, answer any questions, and make sure their safe. I only mention this because I wouldn’t take your daughters resistance to talking openly with you too hard–I’m pretty sure it just might be part of the deal. And I think (at least I tell myself) knowing that your there and open to talking is huge- whether or not she feels like she wants to.
I attended a parenting workshop in May and one thing that the instructors stressed over and over was your kids are hearing about it (sex, drugs, etc.) from their peers (or older kids) already so the most important thing you can do is open and keep open the door for communication. The other thing that research has shown is that kids do actually hear what their parents are saying even if it doesn’t seem like they are listening. So, while talking to your kids may be uncomfortable, it’s well worth it in the end!
Alana, thanks for the ‘village’ you provide here – it’s a HUGE help to me to know I’m ‘not the only one’!
We have always stressed the importance of relationships and respecting others. If those emotional standards are in place the physical (hopefully) won’t be as hard to deal with.
I’ve been talking to both my girls since they were toddlers about sex. First, we started out with body part names, and where does the baby come from type stuff. They saw me getting the box of pads out from under the sink, and they asked what are those for, and so I answered. Later, around age 9, I got them a book “What’s Happening to My Body?” by Lynda Madaras. It’s pretty explicit, real, diagrams and all, but in a very gentle, comprehensive way. You need to look through all the books to decide if your child’s ready for it, but mine have loved diving in and out of that book as needed. They still talk to me, and I ask them if they have any questions–sometimes yes, sometimes no. But, the reality is my babies are growing up. They will need to know all this when they are grown up and have their own families. I’d rather they would learn from me than be ignorant. They do Family Life Education at school too. My oldest daughter just rolls her eyes at FLE because of all the giggling. She’s heard it before.
I think another important lesson, and one that I’ve instilled in them since they were small, is that they are in control of their own bodies. No one has the right to touch them without their permission. And, they don’t have the right to touch other people in a way that makes others uncomfortable. Because, really, most sexual abuse happens with someone your child knows.
Oh, and as far as celebrating womanhood, just take your daughter’s feelings into account. My friend’s mother gave her a “Red” Party complete with all her grown up friends and someone dressed as a Japanese witch. She still cringes. I still cringe remembering my mother informing her friends that I got my period. I didn’t want them to know. sigh. But, your daughter may welcome a celebration, so just ask her instead of going ahead.
Point well taken, Kate. I have a friend who took each of her girls on a little trip when they turned 14 to celebrate their womanhood, and I think something like that might be a better idea. Something special but not public, right? I think I would have been mortified to have a “red party” when I was a kid.
Nothing to contribute since I don’t have or interact with kids, but thank you for blogging about this and discussing intersectionality in sex ed! Role/Reboot might have some ideas, too: http://www.rolereboot.org/