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.
None of this matters. I still have no idea what I’m doing.
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. It’s about controlling the message. Ha! I have to no control. What I do have are my favourite pieces of advice about taking to kids about sex. I’ve tried all of them and every one has been a comedy of errors.
Five Tips On How To Talk To Kids About Sex (And How Each One Has Blown Up In My Face!)
Tip 1: Use The Correct Words When Talking To Kids About Their Genitals.
The theory here is if you’re straight up and say 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 (god forbid!) someone were to touch him inappropriately. 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 cute. Unfortunately some of the other parents did not.
In my zeal to normalize the penis, I had neglected…
Tip 2: Explain The Importance of Privacy And Boundaries.
A gentle, age-appropriate talk about privacy seemed in order. I started, thusly:
“Green Bean, some words, like ‘penis’ and ‘testicle’ are private words. At home words, okay?”
“Why?” he asked, wide-eyed.
“Because penises and testicles and vulvas and vaginas are private parts of our body.”
“Because…they’re really cool and so it’s nice to keep them kind of private.”
“Well, some people also feel shy about those parts of their bodies. They may not be comfortable talking about it and we shouldn’t do things that make people uncomfortable.”
“Because that’s not very nice.”
“You made me eat vegetables and I was not comfortable. You’re not very nice!”
It can be very challenging trying to explain privacy to a child who accepts nothing as axiomatic.
Tip 3. Take advantage of everyday, teachable moments.
Over the past few months, we’ve had several pregnant friends and relatives. Naturally, The Bean had questions and like most children his age, referred often to babies in “tummies”.
This time I decided to harness the wisdom of a book. We bought The 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 ours gave birth. Shortly, thereafter, we 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 up to my friend and said, “You had a baby!”
“I did. He’s right over there,” she said indicating the bundle sleeping in another partygoer’s arms.
“Where’s the popcorn?” The Bean inquired, confused.
She made him some Orville Redenbacher, while I sighed at yet another teachable moment gone awry.
Tip 4: Be Honest And Matter-Of-Fact
Recently, The Green Bean came to us, midly concerned.
“My penis is sticking way up,” he said.
“That’s an erection,” we explained. “That’s a normal thing penises do sometimes.”
“Oh.” Apparently satisfied, The Bean went off to play.
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 line, 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 terribly embarassed.
“Remember we talked before about private words,” I reminded my son gently.
“I’m at home,” he retorted indignantly.
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”.
“Vaginas,” I corrected, happy that a kid other than mine was spouting off about genitals, “Yes a lot of girls have vaginas and vulvas. It’s just part of the body. And that’s normal, right?”
“Yes,” said my Bean.
“And that’s nothing to laught at, 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.
Addenum to Tip 5: Also share your values on anti-violence with your children.
And there you have it – the bumbling, fumbling ways I talk to my kid about sex! 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? Don’t be shy! Clearly I need all the help I can get, so I’m eager to read about your experiences in the comments!