Not long ago, I asked several people the age at which they give their kids “the talk.” I got a whole range of answers such as; “When they turn eight,” “The age of accountability,” “When they are nearing puberty,” and some just shrugged their shoulders hoping to put it off as long as possible. It was after these conversations when my approach to the talk solidified. I won’t be giving my kids the talk.
Call me crazy, naive, and/or potentially irresponsible for adopting this stance — especially in our seemingly sexually-saturated world — but I believe I’ve made the correct choice. In fact, because my children are presented with sexual images, messages, and languages practically every time we drive down the street, go into the grocery store, or just hanging out with friends, I feel even more confident in the direction I’ve chosen.
The reality is this, we no longer get a choice of IF our kids learn about sex, we just get an opportunity to influence HOW our kids learn about sex. So why would I forgo giving my kids “The Talk?” Because I plan on and have been giving my kids “the talk” and creating opportunities for meaningful conversations about sex since they were born. My goal as a parent is for them to never remember a time when they were given the talk but many talks and ongoing discussions about all topics including sex.
I love how Sandra Kim, from the EveryDay Feminism website says it: “Given the statistics, your child is much more likely to be molested than to be hit by a car when crossing the street. So try thinking of these conversations as being just as important than teaching your kids how to cross the road safely. “ And if you think you have a 6 or year-old who isn’t interested in the topic, they may just not be interested in talking about the topic with you because you haven’t yet opened the door.
But it’s not just about preventing sex abuse and talking about the negatives of sex, it’s talking about its wonder, its beauty, its excitement and all of its potential. It’s about guiding them to become sexual agents over their bodies and their lives from childhood to adulthood. I will never forget when my toddler son gasped with excitement, “Mom! Look! My penis is getting big!” and I said, “Yep, your penis can get big and then it will get small. It’s a pretty cool thing.” There are so many topics to cover under the umbrella of healthy sexuality over the course of a lifespan that I can’t even imagine fitting it all in and having it retained in one conversation. So here are some tips I have found to be helpful to start broaching these conversations with kids of all ages. Remember, it’s never too late to start having these conversations.
1 – Fake it until you make it
Most of us grew up in homes and environments where sex wasn’t openly talked about, so for many of you this is a big jump straight out of your comfort zone. The deal is, when I am not in my office as a sex therapist but at home as a mom and parent, I still have moments that catch me off guard. This is where I take a deep breath, manage my nerves and try with all my might to be present with my kids. This doesn’t mean I have to know everything, it just means I need to curb anything that would send the message that any topic is off limits. Of all the sources my kids could go to get their questions answered, it’s my home that I hope is their go-to. I often respond with “that’s a great question” followed by a few deep breaths. If I’m not quite sure how to answer it, I still say, “Great question! Can we talk about this during our monthly chat?” (see number four)
2 – Meet them where they are
We often times project our experience of adult sexuality onto our children, forgetting their experience with their bodies and sexuality is very different from ours. When they ask a question, such as, “Where do babies come from?” they may not be wanting the full, detailed, flow-chart answer but something as simple as, “When a mom and a dad love each other, a sperm from the dad and an egg from the mom come together and make a baby.” At this point, they may say, “Oh!” or “Cool.” or give you a nod then return to their Cheetos. Or they may want more information and have more questions such as “Ok, then what?” or “How does that work?” While they may be interested in getting more information, what they are really testing even is whether or not they can talk to you about this and many other topics. Simply saying, “You can talk to me about anything.” isn’t enough—actually talking to them about anything is how long- term communication and solid relationships happen. If they ask, “what’s sex?” You can respond with, “What do you think sex is.” This gives you a baseline of where they are at.
3 – Talk about their birth
I have found with my kids, talking about their birth and the happy memories associated with their pregnancy, birth and first years is a great way to crack the ice. I’ve shared their birth stories countless times and continue to get new questions as they’ve gotten older. It’s a nice and natural way to get things going and can happen at bedtime. My kids LOVE hearing me goo over how much I love them and the various things I remember about them. I also love the questions I continue to get as a result such as “how does the baby come out?” “how does the baby eat?” “how did it get in your tummy?”
4 – Have monthly Talks
I have a good friend who introduced the idea of having a monthly talk with each individual child on the day of their birth. For example, if your child was born on the 8th, you would have their monthly chat every month on the 8th after other kids are asleep for the night. There are two simple rules for the monthly chats: anything can be asked and everyone has to tell the truth. These conversations become consistent and a great place to talk one on one with your children. It also creates a great container if any of your children ask question that either you don’t know the answer to, if it’s at a time that’s not convenient to go in depth of you need to get your bearings. You can simply say, “That’s a great question, let’s talk about this during our monthly chat.”
5 – Get books about the body, read with them and have them handy
This is a great way to channel curiosity in a healthy way. There are so many great books out there for children of all ages including: The Amazing You, It’s So Amazing, It’s Perfectly Normal, It’s Not TheStork, The Period Book, and Changing You to name a few. I have found most of these titles to be accessible both in the library and in popular book stores. As parents you can pre-read these books to make sure they are in-line with your family values before bringing them home.
6 – Don’t let their reaction push you away
If these conversations are going to be new between you and your family, you can expect a wide range of reactions. From embarrassment, to being grossed out, to closing down the conversation early, to changing the subject, most kids have a wide variety of strategies to getting out of something uncomfortable. However, with consistency and time your children will come to understand that you are infact wanting to open the channels of communication, and they eventually will come around. Some kids may never be eager and still may roll their eyes or act embarrassed, but it’s our job as parents to not react to their reactions. I have talked to many adults who came from open homes and despite not reciprocating with enthusiasm, were grateful their parents talked with them.