Image via: epicparent.tv

Alexis suggested I write a post about how one can talk to children about sex. Other people have asked how I, as a parent,  chat with The Green Bean about matters related to the birds, the beeds and beyond.

I am a sex educator. Talking to people about sex is something I do on a daily basis.  I give workshops and seminars. I’ve lectured at universities. I’ve read several books, articles and blog entries on the subject of how to discuss sexuality with little people.

But most of the time, I’m just flying by the seat of my pants

My best laid plans to sex-educate my son go awry at every turn.  Much of teaching younger kids about their bodies – particularly the fun parts – is about doling out honest but easily understood, age-appropriate nuggets of information.  Simple in theory, but a bit trickier in practice. I don’t have a magic formula for how to give the perfect sex talk. What I do have are my favourite pieces of advice about taking to kids about sexual matters and examples of how I turned each one into a comedy of errors.

 

1. Use correct words when talking to kids about their genitals.

The theory here is if you teach the young’uns words like “penis”, “vagina” and “vulva” to your kids, they’ll learn that those parts of their bodies are nothing to be ashamed of or embarassed about.  Makes sense. It also makes sense to me from a safety perspective. If my son doesn’t have shame around these words, he’s probably more likely and more able to tell us if – heaven forbid – someone were to harm him sexually. So no “pee-pees” in my house.

All was well and good until The Bean decided to set-up a one-man, preschool genital task force. According to his daycare provider, The Bean took it upon himself to expand everybody’s vocabulary by teaching them the words “penis” and “vulva”. Fortunately the teacher thought it was great. Unfortunately some of the other parents did not.

In my zeal to normalize the penis, I had neglected something…

 

2. Teach the importance of privacy and boundaries.

A gentle, age-appropriate talk about privacy seemed in order. I started, thusly:

Me: “Green Bean, for now words, like ‘penis’ and ‘testicle’ are at home words, okay?”
Green Bean: “Why?”

Uh-oh.

Me: “Because penises and testicles and vulvas and vaginas are private parts of our body.”

Green Bean: “Why?”

Me: “Because…they’re really cool and so it’s nice to keep them kind of private.”

Green Bean: “Why?”

Me: “I guess because some people also feel shy about those parts of their bodies. They may not be comfortable talking about it and we don’t want to do things that make people uncomfortable.”

Green Bean: “Why?”

Me: “Because that’s not very nice.”

Green Bean: “You made me eat peas yesterday and I was not comfortable. You’re not very nice!”

Dang.

 

 3. Take advantage of everyday, teachable moments.

Over the past few months, we’ve had several pregnant friends and relatives. Naturally, The Bean has been curious. Like many children his age, he’s asked a lot about the babies in people’s “tummies”. This time I decided to harness the wisdom of a book. We bought The Green Bean a wonderul book called, It’s Not The Stork. It explains conception, pregnancy and birth in super easy-to-understand terms, with lots of great pictures.

The Bean was especially taken with one illustration that showed the inside of a pregnant woman at the movies. In one part of her body was the baby and in another was popcorn.

“See?” I pointed out, “The popcorn is in her tummy and the baby is in her uterus.” The Bean nodded gravely.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine gave birth. Shortly, thereafter, our family were invited to a party at her home to celebrate. The Bean kicked off his shoes and started nosing around the house intently.  Eventually he went marched up to my friend, the new mother.

Green Bean: “You had a baby!”

Friend (indicating sleeping baby in another party guest’s arms): “I did. He’s right over there.”

Green Bean: Where’s the popcorn?”

My friend made my son some Orville Redenbacher, while I sighed at yet another teachable moment gone awry.

 

4. Be honest and matter-of-fact

Recently, The Green Bean came to us, midly concerned.

Green Bean: “My penis is sticking way up.”

Me: “That’s an erection. It’s a thing  penises do sometimes.”

Green Bean: “Oh.”

For once the simple explanation seemed to satisfy him. My son went off to play and sighed at finally having got it right. A few days later, The Bean was home with me when a solicitor knocked on my door. I was all set with my standard something’s-burning-in-the-oven-I-can’t-be-solicited-right-now excuses, when Bean ran up beside me and loudly announced,  “I had an erection!”

I used my actor’s training and slipped into the role of a woman who wasn’t totally flustered.

Me: “Remember we talked before about private words?”
Green Bean: “I’m at home!”

Dang.

 

5. Share your values about sex with your children.

In our home we believe that sexuality is a natural part of human nature . I also believe that humans are sexual throughout the life cycle, from infancy through our elderly years with experiences far beyond the partnered coitus we tend to associate with “sex”.

Once, The Green Bean came home from school and informed us that another boy in his class had been laughing because “girls have ba-ginas”.

First I did a mental fist-pump because a kid other than mine was talking about genitals in school! Then I had a chat with my son.

Me: They’re called va-ginas. A lot of girls have vaginas and vulvas. It’s just part of the body. It’s nothing to laugh at, right?

Green Bean: “Right!”

And so my little sex-positive crusader returned to school the next day. And when his classmate started cackling about vaginas, The Green Bean told him in no uncertain terms that it was not funny. And when that didn’t deter the behaviour? The Bean smacked him.

Addendum to no. 5: Also share your values on anti-violence with your children.

Yeeeeah. When it comes to talking to my kid about sexuality, I bumble, I fumble and I definitely have my fair share of missteps. But that’s parenting. Nothing about raising kids is perfect, but ultimately I’d rather these conversations be part of the every day misadventures of life with a kid, than a shameful topic shrouded in mystery and taboo.

What about you? Do you talk to your kids about sex? Have you had similar facepalm moments or do you have a success story to share?  I look forward to reading about your experiences in the comments!

Comments

  1. Natalie Joy says:

    This has got to be one of my favorite of your posts yet! Beautiful balance of information, honesty and humour.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Thank you! The Bean is a great source of inspiration and blogging about all of this will make his future therapist a very rich person. :-)

  2. Dawn says:

    Thanks for my great laugh today! You’re doing a great job with The Green Bean! At his age, it’s normal that our children’s comments come back to bite us. Years from now you and your MoM will howl at the memories and The Green Bean will be embarassed and tell you to ‘shut up.’

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Thanks, Mom!

      And The Bean has already started huffing about how much we embarrass him. By the time he reaches puberty, I’m pretty sure he’ll want nothing to do with us. :-)

  3. Janet says:

    Loved this post! And I’ve been meaning to tell you how glad I am that I stumbled across you on Twitter – and now your blog.

    My 4.5 yr old (who went to CCDC with your Green Bean) has asked lots of questions about body parts and, like you, I’m very big on using the proper terminology. I smile every time she starts talking about ‘private parts’ and uses the word ‘vagina’, knowing that what I’ve taught her has stuck.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Hi, Janet! Since, The Man of Mans usually did the daycare pick up and drop-offs, I didn’t see the other CCDC parents as much, so it’s always great when I can connect with people via social media.

      I’m thrilled that so many parents seem to be keen on teaching their kids the proper words for their private parts. I think it goes a long way towards avoiding some of the stigma that’s sometimes associate with the genitals.

      It also means my kid is less likely to cause a ruckus when he starts going on about the virtues of testicles in the school yard. :-)

  4. Dawn S-B says:

    As a mother of three, I think the whole privacy issue is fascinating. My oldest (now 7) was not born with any natural modesty. By this age he knows that there are ‘rules’ about privacy & modesty which he tries (more or less) to follow, but it’s still not intuitive to him. My middle (now 5) has insisted on bathroom privacy and wearing all clothing in front of anyone not in our nuclear family from before he turned 2. My youngest is probably somewhere inbetween the two older kids. The differences have been useful in talking about ‘private’ stuff with all three, though: “you know how your brother wants privacy in the bathroom? That’s how lots of people feel about xyz. So we try to respect that.” “Oh, okay.”

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Hi Dawn! Thanks so much for commenting!

      So interesting that your kids are all so different from one another. The Green Bean is like your oldest. He’s *starting* to accept that people want privacy, but I don’t think he relates much to it. In his mind there’s nothing greater than nudity!

      It’s really cool that you can explain boundaries by using your son as a concrete example. *I’m* probably the most modest person in our household. so the privacy bar is pretty low around these parts.

  5. EduDad says:

    Great tips and the stories to follow are hilarious. Our daughter is 4 and has been asking tons of questions. We, too, are a anatomically correct word usage family and it has blown up in our faces a few times. Our son is too young for now but I’m sure there will be some hilarious incidents in the near future.

    Alexis sent me to your site and I’m happy she did. Great stuff!

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Thanks, EduDad. Kids are funny, but an ongoing source of hilarity. :-)

      I’m very glad Alexis sent you to my site, because that led me to your site. Your blog posts remind me of my favourite teachers and how much they inspired me when I was growing up.

  6. Lisa L says:

    Oh how funny!!! We taught Little Man the proper name for his genitals as well. On the advice of our pediatrician actually! at 3 1/2 I’m not quite sure he grasps the concept of privacy. I try to get dressed in private but a lot of the time he catches me sans bra, and once he looked at me wide-eyed and said “Mommy you have big nipples!!!”. Thanks kiddo.

    I’m thinking it’s time to teach privacy and modesty but I’m not sure how to make him understand that when mommy is on the potty it’s private. Especially when I’m forever knocking on the door asking if he’s all done on the potty. Kid needs a newspaper!!! Lol

    Great post :)

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Thanks!

      It’s hard, the privacy thing. Because you’re right. Kids that young don’t get a lot of privacy themselves, so it’s tricky trying to make them understand what it is and why they need to give it to other people.

      And if it makes you feel any better, The Bean is fond of critiquing my boobs as well. :-)

  7. Man, that kid has got you owned! “I’m at home!” Good way to get rid of a solicitor. Of course, I can just enjoy your experiences and laugh, since I won’t ever have to have a sex talk with a kid. I’ll just enjoy you recounting yours.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Oh, you think you’re going to avoid all of this. But by the time The Bean hits puberty, he’ll be so sick of hearing me jawing about sex he won’t listen to a word I say. That’s when I’ll tell him, “It’s okay, son. Go to Ruthanne’s house. She’ll answer ALL your awkward pubescent questions.” 😀

  8. Greg says:

    Love this post. We use correct terms as well, though I have to admit that daddy also finds humour in referring to the “junk”. It was hilarious the first time he told me something like, “I hit mine self in the junks!”

    I’m not exactly dad of the year material here. But we have fun.

    The “baby in the tummy” is an interesting one, because I would probably be tempted to use that myself if I hadn’t read this post. Now I’ll be more mindful! Pass the popcorn…

    • nadinethornhill says:

      “I hit mine self in the junks!” OMG, that is hysterical! Like, needs to be on a t-shirt funny. 😀

      I used to talk about babies in tummies, until one day when was speaking to a group of grade 8 students about contraception and safer sex techniques. Several of the boys in the group asked me if they could get someone pregnant through oral sex.

      At first I was surprised that so many of them were confused about (what I considered) the basics of conception, but then I realized it’s a logical assumption because we often tell little kids that pregnancy women have “a baby in her tummy”. When they’re older, girls may learn about the uterus when they learn about the menstrual cycle, but boys won’t always realize the distinction.

  9. Alisa says:

    I am rolling around laughing out loud. One day, when I have more time, I should write about our fails on this subject… so many hilarious stories.

    Unlike you, I HAVE left my favorite toy lying around and then had to field questions… this story is on LJ (buried somewhere) but is definitely worth a read or a share :).

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  2. […] 6. We try to make sex, sexuality, relationships, reproduction and bodies part of the larger, every day conversation around our house.  The results have been….unexpected. […]