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Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

By Mir Kamin

Recently I got into a small Facebook spat with some friends of a friend (totally my fault; sometimes I forget that the Internet is the wrong place for reasoned discourse) because I defended the placement of a beginners-guide-to-bondage-and-related-sex-play video on a government-funded, specifically-for-teens sex-ed site. Most of the people in the comment thread were outraged, and I made what I thought at the time was a fairly bland comment about knowledge being power and “if you think teenagers aren’t doing this stuff, you don’t remember what it was like to be a teenager.”

The first person to pounce on me derided my “wild and perverse” sexual proclivities, which made me laugh and laugh. (For the record, although I don’t know why I feel the need to clarify: Not personally interested in bondage, myself.) “Knowledge is power” is an oft-repeated mantra in our home, and I believe it, even (maybe even, especially) when it applies to difficult topics of discussion.

So let’s talk about sex

In fact, if you live in my house? Let’s talk about sex early and often. Let’s discuss the mechanics, use proper anatomical terms, look stuff up together when warranted, and above all, let’s just be honest about it (in an age-appropriate way, of course). My children were 6 and 8 the first time we had a fairly hardcore discussion about sexual intercourse, and the only fib I allowed myself in that conversation was to say that sex was for married people, and even then I felt conflicted about adding that, but did so because my daughter was clearly unnerved and I felt like creating more distance between her and the knowledge I’d just shared was appropriate at the time. That was merely a starting point, and of course over the years the information has been augmented and adjusted as appropriate. Although such discussions are never easy, if I’m being honest I have to admit that I found those early, purely-theoretical ones easier than the ones we have now, because now the kids are teenagers and I can’t kid myself anymore that it’s all just theory (or that if it’s theory today, it’s not likely to be practice in the near future).

But knowledge is power. And the bottom line is that I want my children to be safe, first and foremost, both on physical and emotional levels. Also I don’t want them to grow into adulthood viewing intimacy as something weird or shameful. Like it or not, I have to try to conduct myself in a way that helps guide them towards maturity without damaging them or our relationship. So how do we balance that? We keep talking, and we acknowledge the weirdnesses when they happen, and I try to follow some basic commandments.

The Parental Commandments

  • Thou shall listen more than talk.
  • Thou shall not discuss your own personal sex life with your children. Ever. (Seriously.)
  • Thou shall, however, discuss your own personal past on a very high level—if asked—to demonstrate both good and bad decisions from your life (e.g., “We were together a very long time and really cared for each other,” or “He had a girlfriend and I went out with him anyway because I was young and stupid.”)
  • Thou shall give straightforward answers whenever possible, and seek out supplemental information when needed.
  • Thou shall impart your own moral position clearly but without judgment (e.g., if your family believes premarital sex is wrong, then of course you want to communicate that, but not in a way that would make a kid feel like they are evil or ruined if they don’t ultimately share your values).
  • Thou shall discuss everything the child wishes to know, even if it makes you uncomfortable, and it is okay to say “I don’t know a lot about this” or “I feel a little weird.” This makes you human, which most teenagers will appreciate.
  • Thou shall acknowledge often that the parent does not get to make choices for the child in this realm. I like to say, “It’s not up to me, these are choices you have to make for yourself, and I am just trying to make sure you are informed enough to make good ones.”
  • No matter what your personal feelings about it, thou shall make peace with the fact that nearly every human on the planet ends up having sex, and most teenagers are going to begin exploring themselves and others on some level, and this is normal and natural and the very best thing parents can do is keep communication going during this time.
  • Thou shall make it clear that if a need arises, you will be available to assist, and will do your best to reserve judgment. (If you have moral reservations about, say, purchasing the morning-after pill or a birth control prescription, then you need to be clear about your limits, but I would also encourage you to think long and hard about what is truly the most prudent choice if your child needs you in a difficult situation. Think about it now, before anything happens… and then pray nothing ever happens.)

The Teenager Commandments

  • Thou shall be informed by a reputable source (hint: not Urban Dictionary).
  • Thou shall remember that the Internet is forever, world without end, never take naked pictures of yourself as a minor (or hopefully ever), amen.
  • Thou shall respect thyself and understand that choices about your body belong to you alone.
  • Thou shall know that no one—this bears repeating: no one—has the right to do anything to your body without your enthusiastic consent.
  • Thou shall remember that people who are drunk or otherwise chemically altered are incapable of consent.
  • Thou shall acknowledge that if it’s “too embarrassing” to discuss with a partner, probably you are not ready to be doing whatever it is with that partner.
  • Thou shall plan for health and safety well in advance of any situation where this becomes a factor. Plainly stated: If you haven’t planned for prevention of STDs and pregnancy, you are not ready for sex. Period.
  • Thou shall remember that sex comes in many forms, and sharing genitalia in any way is sex. No kind of sex is “wrong,” but don’t kid yourself that if it’s not penis-in-vagina it doesn’t count as sex both physically and emotionally. It does.
  • Thou shall remember that there are good reasons why sex and other forms of intimacy are considered private. Please keep it private. That means no gossiping (about your own or others’), and no engaging in private behaviors in public places.
  • Thou shall try to remember that hormones can be wonderful things, and intimacy is also a wonderful thing, but our brains are not terribly reliable when we’re turned on, and you have your whole life to figure this stuff out. Don’t be in a hurry. You can always do more, but you can’t go back in time and do less if you regret it later.
  • Thou shall remember that everyone has regrets. Try to make the best decisions possible, but if/when you make a bad one, that’s okay. You’re human. Learn from it and move on.
  • Thou shall remember that we parents love you no matter what.

Please understand that I don’t find this stuff easy, by any means, but I think it’s important enough to push through my own discomfort (and my kids’). I’ll let you know in about a decade whether or not it worked, I guess.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Cheryl S.

    April 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    I need to print the commandments out and keep them! My daughter is 8 and we just had our first “real” sex talk. She wanted to know how the baby got in there, so I told her. She was grossed out. 🙂 But, I completely agree that as a parent I have to be as truthful as I can because I don’t want her knowledge to come from the internet, or urban dictionary or some friend who is making stuff up!

  • […] In an effort to spread the horror joy, I’m over at Alpha Mom today, outlining the commandments of talking to your teens about sex. […]

  • Andrea

    April 15, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I love the way you parent!! Thank you for being a model for the way I want to be. I am trying to keep it open & casual with my son (11), so that he will be ok with talking to me or his dad about these things. As of right now, he is always more embarrassed than I am about these things!

  • ej

    April 15, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    You have lots of good ones.  I’m a trained OWL (Our Whole Lives – the human sexuality class offered by the UUA an UCC) and you hit many good points.    The benefit of OWL is your kids get to form relationships with caring supportive adults who ARE NOT their parents and with whom they can ask questions and get truthful and correct answers.  Also, it encourages discussions of more than “parts is parts” and moves beyond to the whole idea that ideally healthy, caring relationships are at the core of human sexual relationships.  And while we do agree that we as parents don’t ultimately get to decide when/if/or how our children will participate in a sexual relationship, we always let them know that we believe it to be something best suited for adults.  And we tell them why.  

    • Mir Kamin

      April 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      I’ve heard wonderful things about OWL—love it!

      • ej

        April 15, 2014 at 5:26 pm

        Gah, I think words but fail to type them.  (I’m a trained OWL FACILITATOR – not a trained owl),

        You made me think of my favorite OWL demonstration.  When we discuss boys who might claim to be “too big” for a condom a facilitator will put a condom on over his/her fist and stretch it up to the elbow.  They don’t break and it makes quite the visual.

    • My Kids Mom

      April 15, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      My kids have also taken OWL and I couldn’t praise it higher. Could you share the name of the books they use so others might be able to purchase them? I own all of Robie Harris books but I think those were separate.

      • ej

        April 15, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        There are lots of supplementary books that different facilitators use, depending upon the program and the age group.  There are OWL classes for children as young as 5 through adulthood, and obviously the presentation is quite different for a third grader and a sophomore in HS.  

        Our elementary ed program used Robbie Harris’ book “It’s Perfectly Normal.”   The Jr. High curriculum is available through the UUA, an you can buy it for $75 but you can’t get the AV materials as an individual.  Those are only available to trained program facilitators. 

  • Mel

    April 15, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    I’ve always tried to keep the lines of communication open, and now that I have a 27 year old son, a 15 year old son, and a 12 year old son, I have found that my 27 year old still calls me to talk about things. We have a very open relationship so I must have done something right. I’ve continued that on with the two younger boys and the teenager is also very vocal and not afraid to ask questions. I agree with you, these are things that they need to hear from their parents, not a bunch of bratty teens on a street corner.

  • nicole

    April 15, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    i recently had the first real, nothing held back discussion about sex with my seven year old. We’d previously had a discussion when he was 5 and he wanted to know how a baby got out of a mommy but wasn’t yet curious how it got in there. 

    Anyway, I got a great book at the library that was totally age appropriate but covered everything from puberty, the mechanics of sex and babies, adoption, homosexuality, birth control, sexual abuse even HIV and AIDS. It was thorough and age appropriate and he was interested and asked questions when he wanted more information.

    The thing that I found most remarkable about the whole experience was how unphased he was by the information. No embarrassment just acceptance of how things work. It totally reaffirmed my belief in “early and often” as a strategy to making sure he’s well informed and has a healthy attitude toward sexuality. 

    I really didn’t want him getting this information from some kid at school but I also had to stress that he wasn’t to go informing other kids. Hopefully he’s not THAT kid but at least if he is he’ll have the right info.

    • Katie

      April 16, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      What book?  I have a 7 year old, and we talk until he loses interest, but I would love more guidance on the nuances of what is age appropriate.  

  • Brigitte

    April 15, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    Especially with all the things they get accidentally exposed to on the internet and TV (Rihanna’s S & M video, Cialis commercials, etc.). Gah! Better they get the real info from us.

  • Hl

    April 15, 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Thanks for this. Growing up, sex talk was off limits and it was abstinence only discussion until marriage. Which made me feel shamed and confused and I still have hang ups as a married lady. I will def. be talking honestly and openly about sex with me daughter in the future. 

  • O

    April 16, 2014 at 1:21 am

    A guide to bondage for teens? That’s horrible! That’s outrageous! That’s… oh wait… I was 19 the first time I got tied up. Never mind. Carry on.

    • Mir Kamin

      April 16, 2014 at 7:55 am

      Hahahahahaaaaa! It was a safety video, actually, about safewords and consent and such. But thank you for the giggle! 😉

  • Stacy

    April 16, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Great rules!  I grew up in a very conservative, Christian home.  However, I also grew up hearing that I was my mom’s “best mistake!”  Because of that, we had the sex talk often and I knew I could talk to her about anything.  She even showed me how condoms worked (a green condom.  Why did my parents have green condoms?).  Many of my friends only got the “don’t do it until you’re married” talks.  Several of them ended up pregnant.  I’m grateful that my mom stepped out of her comfort zone to have those discussions with me.  Now, I have a 5 year old daughter, and she already knows how the baby gets OUT of the mommy (she also knows how it gets in: God puts it there!).  My sister had a baby and my daughter wanted to know, so I told her.  Knowledge is power, and kids today need all the knowledge they can get!

  • kapgaf

    April 16, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Yes, yes and yes. It’s how I did it – it hasn’t stopped my daughter from making mistakes but it has ensured that we can talk about them without judgement (she’s actually harder on herself than I am).
    I don’t know any of the books mentioned (I did without) but there is one aspect that hardly ever gets talked about and that is pleasure. I made sure that my daughter knows that she has the right to pleasure and to ask for what she likes as well as doing what her partner likes…
    I do remember a discussion with the mother of one of my daughter’s friends : she wasn’tt going to allow her daughter to go out late and therefore wasn’t going to talk to her about sex because her daughter wasn’t going to have sex. I pointed out that sexual activity is not limited to night-time. It kind of surprised her.

  • Arnebya

    April 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    My own childhood experience controls how I communicate with my kids. The oldest is 13 and unlike me, she won’t be stuck thinking for YEARS that hickeys give neck cancer or that looking at a penis makes you blind. I need to print these out when I’m feeling frightened by honesty and forthrightness and when she’s being…teenagery. I’m uncomfortable at times, mainly because I’m afraid that during every conversation she’s going to point at me and ask DO YOU STILL HAVE SEX? WHEN WE’RE HERE?

  • eliza

    April 17, 2014 at 9:01 am

    As a high school teacher, I would like to augment the ten commands with “please, please, please, if you’re gonna do it, do so in private. No area of the school is considered private.” Seriously. I overhear do many conversations and it’s clear parents are not talking to there kids. Maybe I could post this in the bathroom, anonymously.

    • Mir Kamin

      April 17, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Agreed, that’s why I included the privacy one. Sometimes I wonder if teenagers (not mine, thankfully) think they’re invisible once they lock lips with someone!

  • Alyce

    April 17, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Time and again I am buoyed by your reasoned approach to the everyday roller coaster that is parenting. These are wonderful commandments. You are doing an amazing job.

    When I went to eat my breakfast I kept chuckling at my “totally safe banana.”

  • Kim

    April 23, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    I heart you even more for this.  I grew up in an open household – I mean, nothing creepy, but it was clear to me from day 1 that sex was something my parents enjoyed. None of that “my parents would never do that!”for me. Plus my dad had a Playboy subscription for years. I was still the last of my friends to lose my virginity.  Sometimes I wonder what my kids will think – I was twice as old as my mom was when I had my first.  My husband and I are affectionate, but we sleep in separate rooms because of various sleep issues. 
    They’re 4 and 7, so we have time, but we also have the book, “It’s not the Stork,” so my daughter knows the basic mechanics.  Knowledge is power. And kids notice what you don’t talk about, as well as what you do.