Having "The Talk"
A few months ago, we were sitting in a car. My son turns to me and says, “mom, I read in this book that for babies to go into the mom’s tummy, the dad has to put his penis into the mom’s vagina”. Some thoughts running through my head were “Oh boy,” and “what books are you reading and why don’t I know that?”. First, I established that said book is the book he took out of the school library for holiday reading. It’s called “The Big Book of Knowledge” and it’s quite informative, actually. Then, we answered that, yes, when people are adults and when they love each other and they both agree, that’s how the baby can get into the mom’s tummy. He was quite incredulous.
Now, this is how my son works out how something works. First, he asks questions. Then mulls the answers over, sometimes for a few days or weeks. Then he comes back to the topic and asks another question. So, I was expecting more questions after this first one. The next day I had to correct the (quite reasonable) misconception that when the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina he pees there. This was reasonable because he doesn’t know any other uses for his penis yet. He’s 8.
A couple of weeks after that, there were more questions. We had a discussion about the timing of the arrival of the baby. The look on my 6-year-old daughter’s face when I explained how the period happens—well, you can guess. I assured her she has loads of time, and it seems to have worked. I was prepared this time, with a book I picked up as soon as I could after the first talk (link below).
I’m pretty sure we’ll have more discussions on the topic. In preparation, I was looking at research about what’s the best way to talk to children about sex. There isn’t a single resource with everything. So, I thought I would do something a little different with this post. Instead of picking a single paper, I would make a sort of annotated list of resources I found. I’m hoping this would give answers to parents with kids of all ages who have come across these questions. I may update this every once in a while if I come across useful things.
What I Did When My Son Asked About “The Birds and The Bees”
The first thing I did was re-watch Julia Sweeney’s hilarious TED talk. It’s a five-minute guide on how not to accidentally lead your child to internet porn. Which can be quite useful. This is one is to watch without the kids.
Then, I looked at the Mayo Clinic, because they’re a good and reliable site. They have a good guide for parents of toddlers and a good guide for parents of teens, but nothing for the in-between, to my disappointment.
I looked at a few books, in Hebrew and in English. On one hand, my kids are too old for most of the picture books. On the other hand, I didn’t want a book about puberty because that’s jumping the gun a little bit (I hope). This presented me with a problem. Most books are either picture books or puberty books. I did find a book called “Let’s Talk About the Birds and the Bees” which I loved. This is the one I ended up getting. It does have some stuff about puberty, but it covers a host of topics including actual sex, what’s it like being a parent, and what love is all about. It has useful information and a straight forward, simple, and not-too-childish approach. I recommend it if it’s available around where you live.
I found a study looking at how parents talk to their children about sex. This study is a review of lots of other studies, but unfortunately not a meta-analysis. It does have interesting insights about how and when parents talk to their kids about sex. Here are a few interesting insights:
- Mothers do the majority of sex education de facto.
- Mothers mostly discuss sex with their daughters.
- Talking to kids about sex does not make them start having sex. In fact, talking about sex is associated with beginning the sexual activity later and with healthier sexual behaviour (such as practising safe sex). Whew!
In terms of websites, there are a few good ones out there.
- The Good Men Project came up with a very nice list of action items for parents to teach their children consent. This has sections for various ages (1-5, 5-12, adolescents and young adults) and good practical advice. But note that this is only about consent, not about sex in general.
- PBS has an interesting piece about sex education in the Netherlands, where they have a week of sex-ed for all years of school, from Kindergarten and up. The idea is not that you tell kindergarteners about putting penises into vaginas. Instead, children talk about love, relationships, family, good and bad touch (touch that you like and touch that you don’t like), and so on.
I hope this is helpful to you. Please feel free to put any other web sources you have found helpful in the comments below. I promise I’ll read it and won’t be shy about what I think :) I’m also happy to hear about any other resources and what you have found helpful. You could email me or find me on Facebook if you want to chat privately.