Having The Sex Talk with Your Child
Six years ago, when I was the mom of a kindergartner, the principal announced one morning during a school-wide assembly that the fifth grade boys would be watching a special movie that day. All of the parents around me tittered and one dad even muttered, “Watch out, fifth grade girls.” I then realized that she was talking about the “facts of life” video and distinctly remember feeling relieved that we still had many more years before my son saw it. Many more years until we had to have “The Talk” with him.
Well, guess who’s now in the fifth grade?
When Sam came home a few months ago with a note telling us that the school would soon show the kids the maturation video (and giving us the chance to opt out), it immediately propelled my husband and me into action because we realized that Sam knew nothing about sex. Nothing. Or at least nothing that he’d learned from us.
You see, we’d taken the parental tactic of just following his lead on what he wanted to know about sex and when. We hadn’t intentionally kept him in the dark, but besides the usual “what are boys and girls’ private parts called?” discussion, he’d never once asked us anything about reproduction. And it certainly wasn’t a subject I was eager to bring up on my own accord. “Hey, Sam! Once you finish that mac ‘n cheese, let me tell you all about the wonders of sperm! FYI, they’re super fast swimmers!”
Anyway, because we wanted him to hear about reproduction from us before he heard about it from a generic school video, we finally had The Sex Talk with him. A long talk. A couple of talks, in fact. And throughout the process, we all learned a few things about the best way to handle discussing sex at this age and stage.
So today I’m passing along a few tips and tricks for talking to your preteen about sex. Even if they’ve known about the birds and bees since preschool.
My preteen still hasn’t asked about sex, so can I just wait a little while longer to have The Talk? Like, when he’s 50?
Simply put, “no.” It’s always better that they hear it from you first and hear it correctly and at this age, you can’t wait any longer. Quite a few kids in the fourth or fifth grade already know about sex, but by sixth grade, almost all of them know the 411. And therefore the odds of your child hearing wrong or disturbing information about sex are high because kids definitely talk about it. A lot. For example, Audrey, the Town Crier of our neighborhood, once memorably ran up to a group of 10 nine-year-old boys playing whiffle ball and spilled the beans on how babies are made. In graphic detail. Her mom was fielding angry phone calls about the incident for weeks afterwards. And those boys’ parents were left scrambling to give their boys the right information as soon as they could.
But chances are, if you have a girl, you’ve already had the puberty talk, so this is just the next step. If you have a boy, you may have had the puberty talk already, too, but if not, start with that then continue on to The Big Sex Talk.
Why do I still have to have The Talk at home if our school is showing them a video about it?
Because the sex talk definitely isn’t something that should be outsourced. But also because the video, which varies by the school and should be previewed by you if the staff allows it, probably won’t explain things as thoroughly or sensitively as you can. For example, the video my son Sam saw showed a graphic about erections, then said that boys get them “many times a day, whenever they’re excited!” And if that scant explanation doesn’t scare a kid into never acting happy again, I don’t know what will.
OK, but why do I still have to have The Talk with my kid if I have informational sex books for him to read?
There’s nothing wrong with books and there are many good ones, but they should be used as a supplement to a parent’s talk, not as a substitution. This is just something that needs a human touch. Regarding the books, some experts advise just leaving them around the house in the hopes that a child will pick them up when you’re not looking, but other experts (whom I agree with) instead suggest picking out a couple of good ones and handing them to your child in their room so they realize how important they are. You don’t have to make them read the books, but they’ll know they can refer to them whenever they want.
Should my husband have The Talk with our son and I have The Talk with our daughter? What should I do if I’m a single mom with a son?
This is obviously a personal decision based on your comfort level and what you expect your child’s comfort level to be. Most parents I know go with the “if you share the same equipment, you have the sex talk” rule. I would have been fine talking to my son about sex, but I knew he’d feel more comfortable hearing it from his father. (I know I would have been mortified if my dad had talked about sex with me.)
If you’re a single mom with a son, or a single dad with a daughter, and/or don’t want to have The Talk yourself, find a trusted relative or close friend of the same gender to do it for you. But let your child know they can always ask you questions, too.
So, I just have to have The Talk once, then I’m dunzo?
Nice try. But no. As every adult knows, sex (and love) are very involved, complex subjects and there’s no way they can be covered in one simple conversation. Start with the basics, of course, but be sure to let your child know that they can always come to you with any other issues that may come up.
That said, we all know that kids keep a lot to themselves, so it’s also a good idea to regularly check in with them when they have their guard down, like maybe when you’re both in the car. Ask them if any questions have come up since your last talk and you’ll probably be surprised by what they say. Like when a friend of mine’s 9-year-old daughter recently asked what a “blow job” was because the kids at school had been laughing about the word. (I know, OMG, but it’s happening.)
Our family is very open about sex, is it okay if our child is, too?
Well, remember what I said about Audrey the Town Crier spilling the beans to 10 shocked boys in our neighborhood? Learning about sex obviously doesn’t always happen in a bubble, but most parents still want some control over what their kid hears, when they hear it and from who. Meaning, once you have The Talk with your child, let them know to keep it to themselves. Which, if they’re like most kids, shouldn’t be too hard. After my husband had his talk with Sam, he told him not to tell anyone else, especially his younger brother. Sam’s response? “Don’t worry. I don’t want to talk about it to ANYONE EVER EVER EVER.”
Besides the basic biology of sex, is there anything else we need to cover?
Well, yes. But not right away. There’s a whole slew of other things that go way beyond “when a mommy and daddy love each other very much” and the basic workings of intercourse. Things like romantic love, for example. Your preteen needs to know that love is not the same as sexual involvement.
Per the book “From Diapers to Dating” when dealing with preteens who may be starting to “date” someone soon, “parents need to talk about abstinence…preteen children need to know what you think about teens’ having sexual intercourse and the behaviors you expect of them.” I know that may seem a little overboard when you’re dealing with an 11 or 12-year-old, but it’s a talk (or two) you should be prepared to give well before that train leaves the station.
It’s also important to remember that telling your child about abstinence doesn’t mean you don’t also have to cover things like contraception, AIDS and STDs, which many experts believe all kids should be informed of by age 12 or the start of middle school. Heady stuff, to be sure, but it’s better they learn it from you than from someone with wrong information.
Other topics that you should try to cover in your continuing talks with your preteen can include sexual orientation, your religious views on sex and various ethical, moral and legal issues that arise. “Should kids wait until marriage?” “How do I know if I’m gay?” “What’s wrong with dating an older boy?” The questions and issues regarding sex are varied and sometimes difficult, and while they’re not always easy to answer, it’s important that you listen to your child and try your best to advise them.
So what’s the most important take-away about having The Talk?
It’s exactly what I just said above: there’s not just one Talk, but many Talks. If you try to be as open, honest and straight forward with your child as possible, they’ll grow up with a healthy attitude about sex. And that’s a good thing for everyone.
Especially Audrey The Town Crier.
If you’ve already had The Talk with your child, what’s your best piece of advice?
Published May 17, 2013. Last updated May 17, 2013.