Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Talking to your kids about sex

Have you had The Talk with your children yet? It's supposed to happen some time in early grade school, before their peers have time to (mis)inform them about what sex is all about. Having The Talk is a ritual many of us go through, first as children and then as parents. I still remember my parents sitting us down. I don't remember much of the details, although some kind of illustrated book was involved.

But what if you never had to give The Big Talk? Here at the Freeze household, reproduction is a matter-of-fact part of everyday discussions. I don't think I'll ever need to officially sit my children down and explain the facts of life, because they will already know them from numerous conversations.

Here's an example of a conversation between me and the kids while I was driving to visit my younger sister, who's pregnant with her second and due this summer:

Dio: Is aunt B going to have another baby? (in a super excited voice)

Me: Yes, she has another baby inside her belly.

Dio: And is the baby going to crack open?! (probably thinking of how he pretends to be a dinosaur egg after baths and cracks open out of his towel)

Me: No, the baby won't crack open out of her belly! Remember, the baby is born out of a special hole called a vagina.

Zari: I know that! (in a know-it-all voice)

Dio: And can I be pregnant and have a baby?

Me: No, only mamas can get pregnant and have babies. But papas can help the mamas get pregnant. (Zari and I have talked about this on other occasions, and I've briefly explained the basics of sex and fertilization.)

Dio: Oh.

Me: And did you know that when the baby is inside the mama's belly, it lives inside a special muscle called a uterus. It's like a balloon and stretches bigger and bigger when the baby grows.

Dio: Oh.

Me: And when the baby is ready to be born, the uterus squeezes really tight and helps push the baby out.

Dio: Oh.

Me: And did you know that when the baby is inside the uterus, it lives inside a bag of salty water? It's like being inside of a swimming pool! The baby swims around, kicks, and splashes. When you and Zari and Inga were babies, you swam inside this salty water the whole time you were in my belly. This salty water is called amniotic fluid.

Dio: Why is the baby in the water?

Me: Because it doesn't need to breathe inside its mama's belly. The baby has an umbilical cord attached to the placenta, so it doesn't breathe air until it is born. 

Dio: Oh.

Me: And guess what? When the baby is ready to be born and the uterus is squeezing really tight, sometimes the bag of water breaks and splashes all over!

Dio and Zari: Hahahaha!

How do you talk to your kids about sex?


  1. This is how we handle things to. I also show Robin anatomy pictures online (well, maybe not of fertilization!) and talk about it all as if it's just not that big of a deal. She hasn't asked how babies get created but when she does, I will simply explain it with no big drama. It also helps that we have images of the girls being born, their cords, their placentas, etc.

    I remember getting "the talk" from my Mom at age 9. She also bought me a book (What's Happening to my Body? Book for Girls) which I read over and over again. I was the most informed kid I knew about things like tampons and sex, etc. That was really reassuring as I hit jr. high. But I definitely plan to get the sex talk in before my kids even understand that sex is a big deal in our culture!

  2. No sex talk yet, but my 2.5 year old watches (and loves) plenty of birth videos. :-)

  3. Being that I'm a childbirth educator...my kids know a lot about pregnancy and birth from a very early age. I was quite disappointed when my oldest daughter's 3rd grade teacher was pregnant and the school declined my offer to bring my fetal development flip charts into the classroom and talk about how the baby was growing. I promised not to talk about how the baby got IN or OUT, and to make sure the mom was "modestly covered," but they were still concerned that the kids might ask too many questions. GGGGGRRRRRR.

    We do have continuing conversations about choosing a partner, dating, stuff like that.

    I will admit though, that my kids don't find out much about the mechanics of sex while they are young. We tell them that a "special hug" between a man and a woman results in a woman getting pregnant. In 5th grade in school they learn that sperm and egg need to combine to make a baby, but the school doesn't answer the question of how the sperm gets from the man to the woman. My husband and I have chosen to take each of the kids on a special weekend away with the same gender parent when they are 10 years old to talk about sex--including homosexuality, porn, incest, and rape. Of course during that weekend a lot of fun activities are also included.

  4. Our children know from a young age that a woman's body gets ready for a baby every month, and if she doesn't have a baby that month, that she bleeds for a few days. As for sex itself, they know that a man and a woman lie naked together, that it's something enjoyable, but something God intends only for marriage. They know that God uses that to make a baby, and that the Daddy has the seed and the Mommy the egg.

    The specific mechanics of sexual intercourse haven't been explained yet. Our children are 10 and under and homeschooled (with no cable in our house), so thankfully, we don't have to worry too much about them getting a sex miseducation.

  5. My son is only 12 months old, but my husband and I have talked about how to talk about this subject. I told him he gets to explain puberty - man to son! I know the physical changes but no experience since I am a woman. The "facts of life" are pretty easy to explain, its the morality around sex that is difficult to decide when/how to teach - we are Christian so our beliefs will be apart of the discussion as well

  6. I don't think it's as complicated as people make it out to be. I like your approach, Rixa.

    As for the morality of it. I don't think sex has a morality, just the one we, as a society and culture place on sex.

    In the end, sex is either going to feel in alignment with your inner guidance or not - and that has nothing to do with morality or culture, it has to do with what you are ready for at any given time and how confident you are in staying true to what you want vs what you feel "obligated" to do in a relationship.

  7. Thanks for this article! I wasn't sure how soon I needed to be ready to start talking to my kids about this (DD is 4, DS is almost 2, so still young). But then my daughter came to me the other night and exclaimed "Mommy! I have a Hole in my girl parts!" So, we went to the mirror and I held up her leg so she could see it and I explained it was her vagina and that someday when she was a mommy, that is where babies would come from... And pretty much left it at that (for now). It was kind of a fun and interesting new experience... :)

  8. Thanks Rixa for this post! I am sure you also used your MamAmor Doll at times, very handy to help visualize these type of questions :)

  9. I decided I would do ANYTHING to avoid having "the talk" with my kids when they came of age. I can't think of anything more icky and gross than to sit them down one day and lay out all the personal facts right then and there. The look of disgust on their faces... them looking at me weirdly for days...

    no thanks!

    So I tell them a little at a time as needed. Causally and matter-of-factly. And I never, ever refer to it as the "talk". It's just normal parent/child conversation. A little at a time so it's never weird. Just when it comes up naturally.

    None of them have the full concept--but my oldest is 11 and he isn't ready to here every last detail. I'm not ready to tell. He knows "sex" is the special relationship of special type of very personal intimacy and closeness that two people have, generally in marriage and that babies come from that love. He knows it takes two to make a baby though I haven't yet given him all the details (coming soon, I would imagine). He absolutely knows how babies grow and are born (I'm a doula and a homebirther!) But my decision is to let him show me when he's ready for each new fact, and then explain until he's satisfied. That way he never gets grossed out and I never have a panic attack.
    This goes differently with each child according to their own maturity scale. My seven yr old daughter knows about as much as my 11 yr old boy simply b/c girls tend to be more open and curious about their bodies.

  10. Similar at our house. I called the uterus a special "baby holder", and got out all my CBI posters that show from fertilization to birth (plus after birth). The kids were SOOOOO excited about it. lol Beats the embarrassing "talk" any day.

  11. In the recent marriage sermons at church, our pastor showed statistics that the average age that boys start watching porn is 10-11. So they either learn from their parents or they learn from the internet or their friends... or magazines.

  12. @ Knitted in the Womb -- Heaven forbid that "kids might ask too many questions" at school..."GGGGGRRRRRR," is right!

    At my house we are open about bodies in general and reproductive health questions when they come up. I figure that being matter of fact, not making a big deal out of nakedness, and neither inculcating shame nor hyper-sexualizing the body is the best way to go. My 4 1/2 year old and 2 1/2 year old boys know that men and boys have penises and testicles, girls and women have vaginas and uteruses and that babies grow in the uterus. The older one has sat with me through videos about DNA and cellular reproduction for my microbiology class (no TV in the house means that they will watch ANYTHING if it's a moving image). In bits and pieces, he's heard about DNA and how it's a set of instructions for making everything in our bodies, and he knows that to make a new person, cells from the mama and papa combine to form a new cell with all the instructions for a new person (no questions asked about the mechanics of this yet). We've talked about placentas, umbilical cords, belly buttons, breastfeeding, how the mama's body transforms the food she eats into nourishment for the fetus and the baby and how we are made of bananas and salmon and kale and chocolate and all the other things our mamas ate while we were gestating. They know about menstruation and how the uterus makes a home for a baby, but if one isn't going to grow, it cleans house and a woman bleeds for a few days every month. When I finally got my period back and the 2 year old walked into the bathroom and saw me putting a reusable menstrual pad in my underwear, he knew what it was without asking. He pointed and said, "Mama-diaper!" Yeah, thanks, son.

    This post is making me think I should do a knowledge and understanding check, just to see what he's got right and what funny 4-year-old explanation he's made to bridge the gaps in his knowledge.

    I am actually a LOT more concerned about making sure we have a series of talks concerning healthy relationships, how to maintain and respect boundaries, the social and emotional aspects of being in an intimate relationship with somebody else, good decision-making skills, determining your own values and ethics in the realm of physical relationships, and all the things that are way more fraught and complex than simple mechanical descriptions of how babies are made.

  13. I never made a big deal about discussing sex with my kids. The book "Where Do Babies Come From" was just one of many books in our nighttime rotation. As a midwife, I have tried to raise sexually healthy children and have just always talked about sex matter-of-factly.

  14. My almost 4 year old has recently been asking me to make him a "girl baby". So I started teaching him about babies, how first I would have to get pregnant by having a sperm cell meet my egg, and how they take a long time to make, etc. I pulled out some of my pregnancy books and showed him pictures. I was really surprised how long his attention span lasted for it all! Body talk is pretty common in our home, so explaining some things didn't really seem like a hard thing to do. We haven't explained actual sex yet, but I honestly don't think it would bother me (or him) to talk about it. Everything seems normal to him now, because he's just learning. He doesn't understand yet that some things are supposed to be kept private!

  15. With our kids -all boys - we have always approached it on the questions they have asked - I say we but I really mean me. It seems as though my husband is always at work when the questions happen and I'm not the sort to say 'ask your dad when he gets home.' The most uncomfortable for me was explaining masturbation - my oldest asked what the word meant when he was about 7. And every year on their birthdays I tell them their birth story and this has made it quite natural to have conversations about how babies are made and how they get here.

    I still love to hear my mom tell the story of how I got the talk. I was three and wanted to know if my male cat could have puppies - so I got sex and genetics all in one. :)

  16. What about questions of sexuality and relationships? Although you are discussing some of the basic facts of human reproduction, what will you do with topics like being gay, sex outside of marriage, and such? Simply defer to the Mormon prohibition on these activities?

  17. I approach it similarly in tone and matter-of-factness.

    It is a little trickier, in ways, since we have lots of sexual diversity and conception diversity among our friends and family. I am hoping to avoid creating the idea that sex=intercourse between a man and a woman = baby. So, we talk about what we can, when it comes up. There is not as much of a direct line, in our family, between sex, marriage and babies.

    My 6yo knows what kind of sex makes a baby - and that babies can also be made in test-tubes with microscopes or from insemination - He knows that sex involves things that are pleasurable with our bodies and genitals. He knows that partnered sex is not something children do. We talk about appropriate touch and consent quite a lot. "Its not the stork" and "Its perfectly normal" are popular books.

    I am a midwife, so the mechanics of pregnancy and birth are things we discuss all. the. time. With permission, I brought a placenta home for my boys to touch and see the other day - They loved it. I imagine my 6yo is the only kid in kindergarten who can explain the difference between the chorion and the amnion.

  18. My kids are 8, 5 and 18mos. The older two haven't even asked "where do babies come from"! Should I be worried! LOL.
    And I have to say the remark that Anonymous made by asking if it is the "Mormon prohibition" was rude.

    Being a member of The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints I will teach my children they need to be married before sex, and marriage is between man and woman. We support the Family. Anonymous, you act as if that is wrong.

    So please be kind and ask a question, don't accuse!
    P.S- noticed you couldn't even login with your name!

  19. Well if you want to discuss LisaJ, yeah, I kind of wanted to know what Rixa was gonna do with questions of sexual orientation and premarital sex and such. This for two reasons: she puts out some of her parenting practices, such as the sex ed one, as if she's got it all figured out and it is so simple. But this isn't a simple topic and there is a lot more to sex than how babies are made and born. Secondly, Rixa often seems so anti-authority and anti-male power structures, but that strikes me as somewhat contorted in the context of a very traditional, MALE-dominated power structure religion. I also must point out that Rixa is putting herself right out there front and center with this blog and I think she is quite capable of holding her own in conversation.

  20. I'm definitely a Feminist Mormon Housewives kind of girl when it comes to discussing some of these tricky issues. (If you don't know FMH, you should, for those Mormon readers or those who are interested but not of our faith).

    Mormonism has two very different, conflicting currents in its culture. On the one hand, it is hierarchical and led by (almost all) males. It has aligned itself ideologically with the Christian right and has taken on the rhetoric of the "traditional family." But on the the other hand, it has a history of radical anti-authoritarianism. I mean, a farm boy from rural New England claimed to speak with God directly. We believe that each of us can receive direct, personal guidance from the divine. We also have a lay clergy and men and women are all actively involved in running each local ward (equivalent of a parish/congregation). We believe that Deity is male and female--in other words, Mormons believe in a Goddess or "Heavenly Mother" (as she's more frequently called, echoing the common term "Heavenly Father" to refer to God the Father). So it's not quite as simple as branding our faith "very traditional" or "MALE-dominated" (even though it has those elements) because there's another dimension that's also integral to our faith.

  21. My daughter is only four months old, but I will probably take a similar approach-giving age appropriate information as asked or as I feel necessary. I believe in healthy and happy sexuality, and we've already started by using proper terminology-Mumma and Baby have vulvas, and Daddy has a penis. My mother was very open and matter-of-fact about sex, in part because no one told her what a period was until hers started! She didn't want her daughters to go through that, and so there was always a running dialogue about sex and relationships. This made me feel safe to come to her with problems and questions, and I hope that my daughter and I will have a similar relationship.

  22. I guess this is very complicated for parents who would love to postpone that moment as that is one of the first signs their little angels are growing up.

  23. My kids know about how babies get out...but how they get in is still a mystery :) It's easy to talk about the out part at their birthdays every year; not so natural to discuss sex. So advice on how you talked to Zari about that part would be appreciated; it just doesn't come up as naturally in conversation.

  24. Well, I find ways to purposely bring it up and talk about it just as matter-of-factly as I do about how babies get out! I think the key is to keep it simple and to be careful not to say one thing but do another with your body language and tone of voice. Learning about sex is only weird because we make it so either by example or by our words, or both. So if I were to have a conversation with Zari about birth or pregnancy, I might also slip in a quick lesson about conception. It doesn't have to be exhaustive, just little bits here and there in everyday conversation.

  25. I notice there's not a lot of parents of older children and teens commenting here. That does make a difference, you know. Sex ed is easy with littles, not quite so easy with teens.

    My initial approach to sex ed was very similar to Rixa's and it worked great....till puberty. Then it got a bit more complex. I too have many materials on childbirth ed and my kids watched birth videos so I thought I had it aced. Then they hit puberty!

    My boys have been more difficult than my girls, at least so far. They don't really want to talk about some things with Mom. Dad will answer things if asked directly but not bring it up, and they don't generally want to bring it up, even to him. So I end up having some discussions with them, but it is a little awkward sometimes. I was surprised at just how strongly they didn't want to hear certain things from their mother.

    In the end, we bought some good books and gave them to the kids to let that supplement our talks. It helps with the stuff they are hesitant to ask about. However, I have to say I have been disappointed in the quality of books available for younger boys. They are either too simplistic and young, or they are far too sophisticated. Wish there was more that was somewhere in the middle for those middle years.


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