I am often asked when is the best time to talk to your child about sex. The short answer is as soon as they are born. This may leave some of you scratching your heads, wondering what I mean. The first step in teaching your children about sex is identifying body parts with the correct names. Use the right words, penis, testicles, vagina, labia, etc. This normalizes the vocabulary and starts to reduce the discomfort some of us have talking about this topic. But, the biggest rule of thumb is: answer all of your child’s questions accurately, but in an age appropriate manner, giving no more information than they ask for. Depending on your child, this can lead to embarrassing situations.
When my daughter was 3 1/2, I was pregnant with her brother. She was always very inquisitive and started asking questions immediately. How did the baby get in there? How did Daddy help make the baby? How exactly did he do that? How will the baby come out? An avid reader about child development, I knew that I should answer her questions but eventually had to make a judgement call to stop. Good thing, too. One day, we were riding on a city bus when a large man boarded the bus. My daughter looked him straight in the eye and asked, “Do you have a penis?” Understandably flustered, he didn’t answer. Without missing a beat, she then asked, “Do you use your penis to make babies like my daddy did?” I was horrified and got off at the next stop, far from our destination, just to get away from the looks I was getting from the conservative riders.
As uncomfortable as that and other moments were, I was never sorry that we were so open about those conversations. We never had a “big talk.” It was ongoing, and my children talked to me about everything. I was never uncomfortable with our conversations, and neither were they. I also never worried about them having unsafe sex. It makes me sad to think about the numbers of kids who aren’t educated about sex except at school. It’s not the job of our schools to teach our children about sex. It’s ours. When we teach them about sex, we do it in the context of relationships. We model behavior for them everyday. We are modeling relationships, too. Sex is a part of a healthy adult relationship. Why hide that? My own parents were very much in love and very physical with each other. Although they were of a generation who didn’t feel comfortable talking with their children about sex, they modeled a healthy affection for each other, and my brother and I loved seeing them hug and kiss, and we would giggle when we saw Dad pull Mom onto his lap for a quick snuggle.
My younger grandchildren love the game of acting grossed out when my partner and I kiss or hug. They say “ew” as they laugh and laugh. The more they react, the more we show them our love for each other. They know that and play along, reacting more and more animatedly. My older grandson, who is now 25 and used to play that same game, gave me one of the best compliments not long ago. He said that his current relationship reminds him of mine, so he knows it must be the real thing. That makes me so happy for him and for me. When my teenaged granddaughter talks to me about her relationships and about sex, I am reminded that I have approached the topic well. When we’re uncomfortable talking about something, it makes it mysterious and sometimes more attractive due to that mystery. In my opinion, openness and honesty are always the best policies.