I never had the “Birds and Bees Talk” with my parents.
You know, the often awkward conversation about how tiny human beings are created. Instead, one morning as I made my bed, I spied something poking out from between the mattress and box springs—an illustrated manual of male and female anatomy with brief, scientific explanations regarding certain body parts and their functions.
I suppose it was better than nothing, but I remember the birds and bees booklet raising more questions than it answered.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel comfortable going to either of my parents for more information.
This probably explains why I did not tell Mom when I got my period. I simply went through a crazy amount of toilet paper until my mother finally figured it out.
Magically, a big pink box appeared in my room with the words “Starter Kit” in swirly girly letters. The items inside seemed dated and even included a belt-gizmo to use with maxi pads that had front and back tails. Are you kidding me? I wanted the peel-and-stick pads!
At the time, I did not mourn the absence of tampons. You do what with them? How?
I remember when my own girls became old enough for the birds and bees talk. One day, as we drove by a domestic violence billboard, my firstborn child asked, “What’s rape?” Since her younger siblings were in the car, I told her to hold that thought until later.
At home, we sat on her bed and I explained that it takes two things to make a baby: an egg from the mom and a sperm from the dad. I also explained how the two make contact.
“But what is ‘rape?’” she asked.
That’s where I froze. To tell or not to tell?
“Rape is a really bad thing. It’s when one person doesn’t want to participate in sex but the other person forces them to. Rape is never okay. Never.”
Then I told her what happened to me as a child. How more than once, a family member did things to me that were not okay.
“If anything like that ever happens to you, run, scream, find someone to tell. Someone you trust—me, Daddy, a teacher, a policeman.”
Barely a week had passed when our middle child informed me she knew where babies came from. On the school bus, another first-grader, a boy, had whispered the details in her ear: “The man climbs on top of the lady. They wiggle around, and then a baby grows in her belly.”
I tried hard not to laugh. It wasn’t too far off.
The next spring, during a family bike ride on the local rail trail, I was pulling our middle child behind me on a tag-along bike. “When will Daisy and Little Paint have puppies?” she asked. I took the opportunity to educate her about ovaries and eggs, sperm and fertilization. And spaying and neutering.
Not long after, our middle child announced her plans to adopt a Chinese baby girl.
“Because no sperm is getting into this body!” she vowed.
Later that year, as I drove our son to school on a particularly nippy morning, I asked “When did I tell you about the birds and bees?”
“During a quiet time, I think.” Back then, at bedtime, he and I, or sometimes he and my husband, Tony, would read and discuss a story in his children’s Bible. “Maybe it was when we read about Mary and Joseph.”
There’s a trick to teaching your kids about sex. Or about anything really.
You talk about the topic of bodies from the very beginning. Matter-of-fact. No blushing, no bug eyes. You assure them there is no such thing as a dumb question. And no topic is off-limits.
You ask what they’re curious about and say, “I’ll tell you what I know, and if I’m not sure, I’ll Google it.”
Because here’s the thing. When it comes to learning about sex, kids can learn it from their parents, their peers, or pornography. How do you want your child to learn about sex?
Make it a habit to talk about all subjects, all the time, anywhere (as long as it’s appropriate, of course).
Also, from the time they’re in diapers, teach your kids anatomically correct terminology for their body parts. A younger mother taught me this tip, her thought being that providing children with grown-up language for their anatomy will help them take more responsibility for their bodies than nicknames like “Mr. Pee-Pee” and “Miss Special Spot.”
And now, as a body safety educator, I’ve learned that a child knowing the anatomical names for their various private parts can ward off the advances of a sexual predator. A kid who knows the correct verbiage for their genitals may very well also know the difference between safe and unsafe touch.
Be sensitive to teaching moments.
When the questions come, take a breath, say a prayer if you want, and give your best answer. The time I needed to explain erotic asphyxiation to one of my high school-aged kids? I definitely prayed before that discussion.
“What are those?” one of my girls asked one day, pointing to the box of tampons in the grocery cart.
“Remember when we talked about eggs and ovaries?” And I explained how menstruation works, using my “inside voice,” of course.
“One of my friends told me when you go on a date you should take condominiums. What’re condominiums?”
This from our middle child.
I stifled a snort and gave a straight-faced answer. In times like these, you need to be careful. Because:
Your child should never think you’re laughing at them.
Also, because my daughter and her friend were quite young, I phoned the girl’s mother to let her know about the conversation, because if the tables were turned, I would want to know.
The topic of sex isn’t the only area where it’s important to have developed a culture of all questions are good questions. Over the years, my husband randomly asked the kids, “Has anyone offered you drugs? Are any of your friends smoking cigarettes or drinking? Has anyone asked you to do something that made you uncomfortable?”
If you and your kids are all the time talking about every little thing, they will hopefully not be afraid to someday bring you their big things.
This approach to parenting is hardly new. In fact, the Bible, old as it is, suggests talking to your kids “…when you’re with them at home, and on the road, when you are going to bed, or getting up.”
Daily conversation about life doesn’t just keep us aware of what our children are dealing with, it also enables them to know where we stand on various subjects and why. Discussions like this reassure our children that we care, that we enjoy spending time with them, and that we want to hear about their world.
Never forget, you are your child’s first and best teacher.
Tell me your stories please—hilarious, sweet, or awkward. How did your parents tell you about the facts-of-life? How did you tell your kids?
For more child safety tips, sign up for my email list!