The Sex Talk

1368747_ladybugs_mating_2Last weekend, I picked up the fourth edition of A Child Is Born by Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger, an absolutely brilliant, breath-taking photographic journey of a baby’s development from conception to birth. I am using it as a way of introducing sex to my children, the oldest of whom is six years old.

Some parents, especially of the generations before me, might gasp at the idea of teaching pre-pubic children about sex, but children are learning about sex younger and younger with every generation. I’m not just talking about images of sex on TV or what kids gossip about on the playground, but even more so, what their parents are modeling to them about their view of sex.

With this, I’m not referring to whether parents keep their bedroom door locked while they’re having sex or speak in hushed codes when they’re planning a “get-together” later that night, but rather the attitude they bear toward sex, particularly its purpose.

Certainly, in time, I’ll be introducing the idea of sex as a relationship tool. But “the talk” isn’t and shouldn’t be a single event in a child’s life. As advocated by Kelly Bartlett in “Kids and Sex: Getting Comfortable with The Talk” on The Attached Family, teaching our children about sex needs to begin when they’re toddlers and is done in phases, building up in details as the child grows and is able to better comprehend the complexities of the act. At my children’s ages, the main idea I want to bring to my children about sex is its purpose in conceiving new life.

Children start asking where babies come from well before most parents are comfortable with talking about sex with them, and most of our answers fall along the lines of “a seed grows in Mommy’s tummy” or “the stork brings them” or, as in my case, “when Mommy and Daddy pray for a baby and God thinks they’re ready.” And those reasons are good enough for a while, but at some point, children start to ask about the logistics of creating a baby. Maybe they heard something funny from one of their classmates or they walked in while their parents were “hugging” or, as in my case, they learned that animals “mated” to have babies and that people are animals, too. Whatever the reason, there comes a time when we need to start talking about sex in more concrete terms than “angels delivering bundles of joy to our doorstep.”

I began by describing how mommies have a teeny, tiny egg in their bellies and daddies have a tadpole called sperm, and when they get together, a baby is created instantly. A Child is Born became a handy way of illustrating what that baby looks like—what each of my children looked like as a new baby, and that I loved them as soon as they were born, oohing and ahhing about how cute they were even as a two-celled embryo! They giggled at the pictures that showed fetuses with tails, flipper arms, and webbed hands. They asked me how big they were along the way—from smaller than we can see to the size of a pea, a strawberry, a pop can. And then we got to the pictures of childbirth, and I recounted their individual birth stories and how unique they were and what my first words to them were and how different they were as they grew into the children they are today, and how much I love them now.

And then, the question: But how does the sperm get from Daddy into Mommy’s belly?

Well, parents can explain this in any way they want. I used A Child Is Born for this, whose infrared photographs give just enough detail for educational purposes without being remotely R rated. This might be too much for some children, but as my husband and I live on a small farm, “mating” is not a new concept for my children. For other families, though, graphics may be too much. Generally, the advice from experts is for parents to give the facts at the child’s level of understanding, such as “Daddy’s pee-pee touches Mommy’s belly” or “Daddy and Mommy hug each other really tight,” and then let the child’s questions guide the conversation.

What I wanted to convey is that sex is a part of the circle of life, that it isn’t shameful or gross. I don’t want them to grow up thinking of sex as a way to self-medicate or as a single-factor barometer of relationship well-being, either. I don’t want to portray sex as taboo or as a free-for-all. And these are attitudes that will shape over time, through many sex talks through the years. Ultimately, I hope that my children will see sex as what it’s biologically intended to be: how a woman and a man were designed to experience the beauty and miracle of creation of life.

I think that it’s the parents’ job to teach children about sex, as it’s the parents’ job to teach children about anything else, and I think it’s the parents’ decision of how to go about teaching their children about sex, but I do think we should give some thought as to our goals of what we want our children to learn.

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Rita Brhel
Rita Brhel is a stay-at-home mother to three children. She is also a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the Community Action Partnership of Mid-Nebraska, the Publications Coordinator for Attachment Parenting International, the managing editor of the Attached Family magazine, an API Support Group Leader, PSI Postpartum Support Coordinator, Sidelines High-Risk Pregnancy Peer Counselor.
Rita Brhel

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2 thoughts on “The Sex Talk

  1. I agree Rita. Last year, I started buying a series for teaching my children about the basics of sex, their bodies, and reproduction, that talks about subjects based on the age of the child. The first book, talking about pregnant mommies and breastfeeding, etc., was a hit. However, the most recent book I bought talks about body parts of girls and boys more in detail, and my son has expressed that he is not ready to read about all of that. I am having to respect that, but I feel good knowing that when he’s ready, I am ready to talk about it openly with him and he knows the book is there if he wants to read it with me.

  2. Hi Rita! I randomly came across your blog and have read a dozen of your posts in the last hour -which began at almost 4am- and really appreciate your honesty of parenthood!

    I believe that kids should start out learning the proper medical terminology for the body at the get-go: penis, vagina, scrotum, vulva, breast, anus, testis, uterus, ect., and not the silly names that came from sexual shame like “pee pee” for penis and vagina or “belly/tummy” for uterus like we were taught.

    The explanation of baby making using “Daddy and Mommy hug each other really tight,” can lead kids to think that hugs make a baby. Teaching kids that “babies grow in mommy’s tummy/belly” also causes confusion since they are taught that food is digested and turned into poop by the tummy. It is analogous to teaching 3 year olds that 1 + 1 = 11, then 5 years later explain to them that 1 + 1 is actually 2.

    Those type of explanations for anatomy and reproduction are terrifying thoughts to a tiny mind learning cause and effect, I know first hand:

    At 6 years old I had a “pregnancy scare” thinking the hug I shared with a new friend got me pregnant, and the stress of that thought led to a tummy ache the following morning which confirmed it in my mind. I never told anyone because I was so ashamed; my solution was to ignore it to make it go away, but I cried myself to sleep for weeks anyway.

    Over the next several years I had dozens of “pregnancy scares” until I finally learned on TV that only a boy and a girl could make a baby, not a girl and a girl. It took an additional year for me to feel safe hugging a boy that wasn’t my baby brother.

    That experience ignited my passion for, and dictated my profession in, age-appropriate & comprehensive sexual education in the public school system.

    My hubby and I chose not to have kids, but my life is dedicated to educating kids and teens on comprehensive sexual education; a task that is *quite* difficult here in Texas where it is against the law to teach anything *but* abstinence only in the public school system. That decision has led to a pervasive ignorance of sexual fact versus fiction that traverses generations causing so, so much damage.

    Texas schools leave sex ed to the parents who, as kids, also went to schools that left sex ed to parents, thus insuring chronic multi-generation sexual illiteracy. Add the ubiquitous religion-based conservative attitude towards sex in the south, and the first sex talk from parents is often also the last, so kids get what they think are facts from the media and their peers. And we all know the devastating effects those have =)

    Thank you so much for writing about how to discuss what is -for most parents- a very difficult subject! Having an open and ongoing line of communication about sexuality with your kids will instill each with sexual self esteem and prepare them for healthy sexual relationships in their adult life.

    The little humans you are shaping now will shape the little humans that are yet to come, and since you are doing a fantastic job, humanity as a whole thanks you <3

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