Originally posted Dec. 29, 2007
Weak- in-the-knees about the "birds and the bees?" Me
too. Facing the big "sex talk" means facing the fact
that our kids are growing up. You might be surprised by how
much your child already knows, though, and by how much you've
Educating your child about sexuality is a process, not just a
plumbing lesson, and you've probably been laying the foundation for
years. Surprised? Using the words "penis" and "vagina"
to label our parts was a smart start. When your kid was three
and asked you where kittens come from, unless you gave her a load
of bunk about the stork you may have simply told the truth: that
they grow inside the mother cat. Later, when she concluded
that since she came out of Mommy's belly she must be related to
Mommy but not to Daddy (my daughter Holly insisted this was true),
you probably explained that it takes both a mother and a father to
make a baby. That the sperm inside the father joins with the
egg inside the mother, and a baby starts to grow. You didn't
confuse her with tales about some magic hug (little kids take
things literally), and the details of intercourse weren't yet on
her radar. You've demystified the facts of life and lowered
the taboo quotient. Nicely done.
When the time finally comes to get into the nitty-gritty, grab a
good sex education book and cram. It's less daunting if
you've prepared by making sure your own questions about puberty and
sex have been answered first. Then, let your child know that
he can come to you with his - or he might not.
So just when should 'the talk' happen? Studies show that
girls typically begin menstruating somewhere between nine and
fourteen years of age, and boys usually experience their first
ejaculation or 'nocturnal emission' ('wet dream') between the ages
of ten and twelve (note: not all boys have them). But get
this: though rare, the earliest documented cases of wet dreams
occurred at age eight. I mentioned this fascinating factoid
to a friend over lunch and she nearly choked on her chicken.
And I quote: "My eight-year-old son still ropes us into wiping his
butt after a BM and now we gotta have the talk?"
In a word, yeah. You don't want him unduly rattled by his
first wet dream, or your daughter worrying that a spot of blood on
her panties means that something's wrong with her,
right? Most kids hear details about puberty and sex
from friends, television and school programs, but let them hear
your voice, too. Ask your librarian for helpful books
and read them before passing them on to your child to make sure you
agree with their message, but remember: there is no
substitute for a good talk with you.
The conversation doesn't have to happen all at once, and it
shouldn't. You might start by asking your child what he
(thinks he) knows already - but you're not off the hook when he
says, "It's cool, Dad, I know all about it." Situations
presented on television and in music lyrics can be convenient
segues, and speaking informally over a milkshake or during a walk
can ease tension. Kids will open up more readily if quality
time with you isn't freakishly rare and you've already forged an
Go on and admit to your child that talking about sex makes you
tongue-tied. This serves to normalize his anxieties,
and models how to express them. Sometimes kids drop
hints about their readiness for certain details. My
nine-year-old son, Noah, makes the time-out sign and says dryly
"TMI, Mommy, TMI (too much information)," if I'm heading somewhere
he's not ready to follow. When he happened upon me thumbing
through my favorite go-to book for children about sex, the warm and
witty It's So Amazing by Robie Harris and Michael Emberly, he
grimaced and announced, "That's gross. I'm outta here."
Just as important as teaching the mechanics of sex is communicating
our values about it. Our kids eventually need to hear our
views on love, premarital sex, homosexuality, birth control and the
prevention of abuse and sexually transmitted diseases - which are
all addressed without bias in another book by Harris and Emberly
titled It's Perfectly Normal. Our children may ultimately
adopt values unlike ours, but our insights can enrich their journey
of sexual and spiritual development.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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