4 Sexuality-Related Conversations You Must Have With Your Kids and Tweens
In Julie and my case, sex has had five amazing effects.
When my wife was pregnant with twins (kid number 4 and 5), I bumped into an old friend who slapped me on the arm with a, ‘Well done, you horny bugger, you!’
At that point I realized that my reproductive abilities had been noted by some as a form of my, how do I say this, um … sexual prowess.
So just in case you’re thinking, ‘Talk to us oh Sage about all things sexual’, I’d like to de-pedestalize myself up front and get honest.
My sex life with Julie has of late been at a low ebb.
The reason: it may have taken lots of sex to create kids, but having five kids has worked against the amount of sex we get to have now.
But it’s not only that. The exhaustion of parenting causes Julie and I to neglect our relationship, as well as leaving us bone tired most nights. (Double-meaning not intended.)
Anyway, enough about our sex life.
Let’s talk about you talking to your kids about sex.
5 Guidelines for having birds-and-bees conversations.
1. Aim at having 10 or 20 conversations, not just one or two.
Gone are the days of having the birds-and-bees talk with your 14-year-old. Not only is it way too late, but it’s far too little.
There’s just too much sacred ground to cover. One convo just can’t do it justice. Besides, the multi-faceted subject needs to be broached rudimentarily in young kids, and in more and more detail and nuance as they get older.
2. Keep it natural.
Most of these convo’s should be unplanned. Or at least, ours have been. Your kid mentions something that happened at school or something a friend said, that’s your moment to dig a little deeper and shed a little more light.
Try keep these chats non-intense. Eye contact can make it more hectic, so have the chat while you’re cooking in the kitchen, or both doing something side by side, or on your way somewhere in the car.
3. Keep it shame-free.
Many of us grew up feeling that our sexuality, at a deep gut level, is something dirty or base. Sometimes it was because of something our parents said when we were still kids. Or maybe it was something they didn’t say – taboo communicates more shame than we realize. Or something they did, like slapping our hands as we fiddled with our genitalia in our toddler years.
Although we might dismiss the Victorian age as a kind of repressed sexual neurosis, we often unwittingly load shame into our children’s basic feelings about sexuality. Our kids natural curiosity with their sexuality and genitalia is just that: natural.
4. Let them determine the pace.
Don’t tell kids more than they’re ready or want to hear. As I’ll soon elaborate on, explaining where babies come from should be answered in stages, each convo sensitive to the developmental readiness of your child.
That said, sometimes kids just don’t ask. Perhaps they feel too embarrassed to ask. Or maybe they’ve received (mis)information from a sibling or a friend at school. In that case, take the initiative and say, ‘If you’ve ever wondered how babies are made, I’d be very happy to tell you.’
5. Establish yourself as their go-to person.
The cool thing about having 10-20 of these chats with your child is that you set yourself up as the person they can safely talk about sexuality to.
At the end of each conversation say, ‘Anytime you have questions like these, I’d be glad to answer.’
One key to maintaining this role is to pretend to be unshocked by their question, comment or behaviour even though you may well actually be. You might admit, ‘I’m a little surprised’, but do your best to keep cool. They will likely keep asking you in the future if you maintain your chill at all times. Freak out later – when they’re not looking.
In the late tween or early teen years they may stop talking to you about sex, but they’re still too susceptible to misinformation and whacked influences for you to back off. So lean in and say, ‘As your parent, I want us to talk about what you need to know to thrive in this world.’
Also, remind teens that every time they’re considering a new life-stage behavior (e.g. dating) that they should be open to having a conversation or two with you about the new territory they’ll be charting – explain that this is a parental prerogative until they’re an adult.
As a two-parent family, I’m happy for Julie to be the usual go-to person. She is great at telling me when I need to join in the convo, or have a follow-up chat with whichever kid she feels I can add something more to, or simply reinforce, what she has said.
Now, for the rest of this post let me speak about the first four of six sets of sexuality-related conversations you should have. (The other two will come in future posts.)
1st Set of convo’s: Body parts (ages 2-4)
It’s unlikely kids will actually ask the questions as I will state them, but imagining they will, will help us to clarify what we’re trying to teach our kids.
What do I call these appendages?
We tell our kids that they’re properly called testicles, penises, vaginas and breasts. It’s important that they know the universal words for all of their body parts. But having created our own factory-line of human beings with genitals, we can’t bear the formality of always using those words. We generally call them balls, willies, vajayjays, boobs and private parts.
Can I touch my own private part?
Sure you can. Some kids really seem to relish discovering their very own apparatus. They also discover that it feels nice to fiddle with.
Can I do so in public?
No. But we make it clear to our kids that this is not a matter of morals, but manners. The same as nose-picking – it just shouldn’t be done in public. We gently correct this so as not to shame them.
Can I look at someone’s private parts?
In our home, you’re more than welcome to ask mom and dad about any questions you may have about private parts, and growing up in a big family, you’ve no doubt seen everything, but it’s not ok to look at anyone else’s private parts. That’s why they’re called private.
Can I talk about someone’s private parts?
Yeah, sure, if they’re your parent or sibling. But we don’t talk about any one else’s.
One of our kids forgot this, and when he was four, a friend of his visited for a playdate. His first question to this peer as they arrived at our front door: ‘Do you have a vajayjay?’ Confused by our in-house terminology, she quickly replied, ‘No…’ Then added optimistically, ‘But I can whistle!’
Can I touch someone’s private parts?
No, you can’t. Not even if they ask you to. Not even if you would like to. Would you pick somebody else’s nose? Exactly.
Can I let someone touch my private parts?
Nope. The only person who can is your mom or dad when we wash you, and as soon as you’re old enough to wash yourself properly, not even we need to.
There! Now you’ve covered the basics. I’m not saying these conversations don’t get tricky sometimes. I think of Julie with one of our small kids…
Julie: You’re not allowed to touch anyone’s private parts. It’s private.
Child: But they told me to.
Julie: Not even if they ask you to touch it. Never.
Julie: I suppose, one day you can. You can touch your spouse’s private parts one day.
Child: What? Do you touch daddy’s willy?
Julie: Er, sometimes. But only when he wants me to.
(Cue: Me getting some serious side-eye from a totally grossed-out four-year-old.)
2nd Set of convo’s: Where do babies come from? (Ages 3-6)
This question can be answered in greater detail as kids get older.
To a three-year old: ‘Daddy has some tiny swimming seeds in his body. They look like tadpoles. And mommy has little eggs in her tummy. When one of daddy’s swimmers meets one of the little eggs, a tiny baby starts to grow in mommy’s tummy.’
To a four-to-five year old: ‘Daddy’s swimmers are called sperm cells. Mommy’s little eggs are called egg cells. In fact when we made you, daddy sent 100s of them into mommy’s tummy. And guess what – you won!’ (In our home this little side-story usually has led to us telling them a bed-time of how they uniquely overcame all odds in doing so and that ever since then we have known that they have what it takes to meet life’s challenges.)
To a five-to-six year old: ‘Daddy’s sperm cells are in his balls. He put them in mommy’s tummy.’ (This detail has usually surprised our kids so much that they hang back for a few months before finally asking the follow-on question: ‘How?’)
To a five-to-seven year old: ‘Daddy and mommy, while they were hugging and loving each other, used their willy and vajayjay to get this done. They fit together nicely like two pieces of a puzzle. The willy fits into the vajayjay perfectly.
Finally, to a seven-to-eight year old: ‘We call this sex. Sex is how a mommy and a daddy make babies.’
It’s all technical so far, the next level of conversation is the real blusher.
3rd Set of convo’s: Do mommy and daddy still have sex? (Age 8-10)
Hold onto your hats folks, because as awkward as the above sections may have been for you, there comes a stage when your kids will cotton onto the fact that sex is not only for procreation.
I think it’s much better to come out the closet when they’re ready and say that mommy and daddy still sometimes have sex because we love each other, and because it’s fun.
This new level of data is often a mind-jump for kids. All this time they have thought of sex as an almost medical procedure of procreation. When they hear that it’s also a form of recreation, it can throw them.
Mind you, they don’t always respond that badly. I think of another friend who picked his 9-year-old kid up from school, and was soon in an interesting conversation….
Son: Daddy, my friends told me what you and mommy get up to when we go to sleep. Is it fun?
Dad: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.
A minute of silence.
Son: How long does it take, dad?
Dad: Oh, um, I don’t know. I’ve never really measured the time.
Son: Daddy, do me a favour. Time yourself tonight and tell me tomorrow.
4th Set of convo’s: Puberty is coming (ages 8-12)
When your kids are tweens, it’s time to speak to them about puberty. So many of Julie and my friends tell us that when they were tweens their parents may have said something about sex to them, but forgot to explain puberty to them sufficiently.
Julie has been masterful in these conversations with my only tween. After our family had interacted with a teenager in all of his/her awkward adolescence, Julie has taken the gap to tell our tween about puberty for both genders. This is what I remember her saying…
‘Dude – like it or not, puberty is coming. Suddenly your body is going to start pumping with new hormones. And your body will change. Both boys and girls often get pimples, and they start to grow hair under their arms and between their legs. They become more moody – and they roll their eyes a lot, thinking they know everything. And they’re up up one minute and down-down the next. It’s because of this crazy chemical in our bodies called hormones. Girls usually reach puberty between 9-13. And boys, later, between 11-15. There’s nothing wrong with you if it arrives earlier or later than others.
‘Girls also get a monthly period. Their body creates an egg cell every month. Then every month, the body let’s that egg roll away to make room for a fresher egg. When the egg rolls away, it takes its blanket with it, and this means there’s a some blood that comes out of their vajayjay. It’s all normal and healthy. And it happens to every girl – so you must never ever tease a girl about this or make them feel awkward about it. Also, girls boobs start to get bigger. All of this can be really stressful for girls, so be kind, OK?’
‘Boys get swimmers in their balls during puberty. Their voices get deeper. Their willies, shoulders and chest also get a little bigger. In fact – sometime it’ll feel like your willy has a mind of its own! Puberty is a crazy awkward time for everybody! Oh, and when they reach puberty, girls and boys start looking reaaallly good to each other. When you were small kids maybe you were irritated by each other, but that will change to a new kind of physical attraction.”
This aspect of puberty leads to the fifth crucial convo: How do I navigate the sexual desires, pressures and opportunities that will come my way in high school?
Answering that when they’re already teens is just way too late! It’s such an important parent-tween convo that I’ll devote my entire next blog to it.
Now let me go back to where I started…
If you’re going to convey a positive tone about sexuality to your kids, it will best emanate out of a sexually celebrated marriage. As hard as it may be in certain seasons of parenting, don’t let your kids get in the way of the very thing that brought them about in the first place. Because, as I’ll highlight in my next blog, as teens need to know, sex is more than body on body, it’s soul on soul. And soul-to-soul is what a marriage is meant to be.
Also published on Medium.