Parents Anonymous was a safe place where I could openly talk about anything I needed to and get feedback from the other members. At one meeting I was not very comfortable though, the subject was “the birds and the bees.” I blush even now; my daughter’s friend played “C-O-N-D-O-M” in Scrabble and I nearly freaked out! It was time I had the talk with my ten-year-old daughter because she was curious and I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it. I remembered the ‘talk’ my mother gave me, “If you ever let a man touch you you’ll wish you were dead!” That was it— my entire sex education in a nutshell and I had no idea where to begin.
The members each sounded off one by one sharing their experiences with their mothers and daughters. Charlotte* and Donna* were happy to let the school curriculum provide their children with basic information. They felt their children already knew more than most children because they behaved more mature. Caroline* said that with her son they started from infancy stating the correct name for each body part and function. Elaine* and Karen* preferred a clear explanation of how the plumbing works and then focused on their religious morals and abstinence. Develyn* was the comedian of our group who laughed and suggested I lock my daughter in a room with YouTube over the weekend and be done with it and the room erupted with laughter. The consensus was to be honest, factual and be open to questions. Every week I took my girls to the public library and thought that would be a good place to start.
In the library both girls immediately went to their favorite topics and I whispered to the librarian, “Do you have any books on teaching kids about monthly periods and sex?” In a way-too-loud voice, the librarian ushered me to the shelf with many colorful books to choose from. There were diagrams of the uterus, cervix, vagina, ovaries, labia and things I’d only heard about. One book even illustrated different positions for having sex. I wanted a book that had all the illustrations needed and still left a lot to the imagination. When I was about to choose one, my daughter turned the corner and mission was out— the books were discovered! My daughter was like a one-girl-piranha on a piece of fresh meat. With each book she opened there were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ and a few ‘shoos’ as the Pandora’s box opened. We left the library with about five books in tow and both girls read all the way home.
For the next few weeks I answered questions about our bodies— why this and when that— and there were more trips back to our library. I became accustomed to hearing biology discussed after school, between cartoons and their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My poor husband… the day my daughter started discussing the monthly period at the dinner was the end of him!
Later that fall the school rolled out a new curriculum in health and my daughter was quite proud she already knew about periods and sex. I was uncomfortable talking about sex then but I’m glad I chose to give my daughters the information. Think of them getting a car and knowing nothing about oil changes, air filters batteries and the like. Having no real information leaves them vulnerable in many life situations and it was my job to protect them in the best way I knew.
When should parents talk with their children about sex? The earlier the better, if for no other reason than to get parents accustomed to talking with children without blushing or being obviously uncomfortable like I was. It remains a parent’s choice when they give the talk but you should remember it’s a big world out there, chances are that other children will give them the information on the playground or at the mall and it may be wrong. If you haven’t had the talk yet there is still time, in fact it’s never too late.
What should you tell them? Correct names are important; picture a clinical situation and doctors or nurses may not know what they are talking about: bum, booty, pee-pee, butty-butt, wenie, tookus, #1 through #5, etc. It may be cute at age three but a twelve-year-old may be embarrassed or uncomfortable with those words. Teach the correct name for body parts the same as you would for the mouth: incisors, molars, canines, etc.
Tell children age appropriate information. Younger children may ask, “Where do babies come from?” but may only understand ‘babies come from the hospital.’ It can help to ask them what they already know or if something in particular prompted their question. If a child of ten asks the same question then they may be ready and able to know more. Follow your gut and always be available as a resource, remember— libraries have plenty of great books for every age and moral compass.
What was your experience as a child? If you’ve already had the talk, how did you change what and how you told your children? Do you have any suggestions you would like to share with other moms and dads? Let us hear from you.
*The names of these parents are changed to protect their privacy.
Copyright © 2014 Jackie Saulmon Ramirez. All Rights Reserved.
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