Early conversations around sex: three principles to include in every chat.
My husband was out for the night and it was one of those evenings where I was hanging on by a thread and counting down the minutes until the glorious 7pm bedtime. I somehow managed to scramble together a barely acceptable dinner with a babe on my hip and had just sat down to join my three children at the table after having “waitressed” for very demanding, unpaying customers the past ten minutes. I was just about to take my first bite, mid mouth open to be exact when my 5yo blurted out, “How do you make a baby?”
While I politely cursed my husband in my head for not being there, I put down my fork, took a deep breath and said “That’s an awesome question. What do you think?*”
*The question every parent needs up their sleeve to buy some time.
Miss 5yo said “I don’t weally know” (she still hasn’t mastered the “r” sound). I asked my 7yo if she knew the answer, knowing that we have had many mini conversations over the last few years with her and wondering how much had actually sunk in. She shrugged her shoulders suggesting she didn’t know/ couldn’t remember/didn’t care what we’d talked about which is very typical of her “fairy-like - flutter through life” personality.
“Well,” I said, “inside of mummy’s body is lots of eggs and every month my body releases an egg so that it’s ready to make a baby. Inside Dad’s body is a special kind of cell called sperm. If the sperm from Dad’s body meets the egg from mum’s body then they join and start growing inside mummy’s body to make a baby.”
I finally took that first mouthful of dinner and thought “boom, that’ll do for the night”; knowing I didn’t need to explain everything in one go as we’ve got time to continue to build on the honest, real and open platform we’ve already established with our children.
Not every conversation needs to be perfect, or cover everything; they just need to happen.
Before I could get through that first mouthful, I was interrupted. “Yes, but how does the sperm from Dad’s body get into your body?” Again, from my very curious and inquisitive 5yo.
I glanced over at miss 7yo who was oblivious to the conversation taking place and my 1yo was busy tipping his cup of water into his dinner. ‘Cool. Love this for me right now.’ I thought to myself.
‘Okay, we’re going there.’ Of course this is happening while my husband isn’t here.
I talk about puberty, sex, dating, relationships and pornography every week with students of all ages in schools so it wasn’t that I didn’t feel comfortable but these questions always pop up at the most inconvenient times, don’t they?
It is SO important that we grasp the ongoing opportunities to have open, honest conversations about sex with our children from a young age. Our children are so curious and until about 7-8 years of age, we can really capitalise on their natural questions about bodies and babies to guide our conversations around sex. By 7-8 years of age, it can seem as if our children’s curiosity goes underground; they are still just as curious but by this age they start to clue on to cultural appropriateness and can get the idea that some topics may be thought to be “bad” or “shameful” to talk about.
This is where we, as parents, need to step up and become the instigators of these conversations. Just because they stop asking questions, does not mean they are not curious or not ready to have these conversations.
In addition, just because our kids feel awkward or embarrassed when talking about sex doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to have these conversations either. Heck, how many of us adults still feel weird talking about sex and we’ve GOT children so obviously we're ready for these conversations!!
Our children’s sexual development is shaped by three things; their age, what they see and what they are taught. Trust me when I say that you want to get in there first and give your child a wholistic, healthy and respectful reference point when it comes to sex. Sadly, too many of our children’s first exposure to sex is through pornography. As reported in a recent article by the Sydney Morning Herald, nearly half (48%) of Australian teenage boys had seen pornography by the age of 13 and nearly half (48%) of girls by age 15. I would argue that these statistics are very much on the conservative side and that in fact exposure to pornography is even higher than this and that the age is creeping younger and younger.
Get in first. So that WHEN (and I say WHEN not IF) your child is exposed to pornography, they have a standard, a reference point, drenched in your families values and beliefs in which they can interpret what they are seeing.
Back to the dinner table.
That night, I stuck to the biology and briefly explained that sex is a very special thing where Dad’s sperm has to come out of his penis and into Mum’s vagina. My 5yo does not need to know the mechanics of this just yet. (I have since asked her if she remembers how babies are made and she doesn’t… our kids will comprehend sex to the level of their maturity). I explained it is not something that kids do. Adults have sex when they are in a loving, committed, safe relationship to either make a baby or to echo their love for each other or because it feels good.
As well as making sure that my 7yo was now tuned in to the convo, I made sure that the following three principles were imbedded in our chat and will be in all our chats to come.
- Knowing what sources to trust.
I let my girls know that their Dad and I are the best places to get information and ask questions because we love and care for them and want what is best for them. Miss 7yo and I discussed that she may start hearing the word “sex” mentioned at school and that her friends won’t always know what they are talking about and are not the best place to get information. I also let them know that there is really unhealthy and unsafe information on the internet about bodies and sex and that if they ever see anything that makes them feel weird or they think is inappropriate, they can come and let us know. Most importantly, I made it clear that they can ask us anything and they will never get in trouble for asking us a question.
- Knowing the basics of body safety.
We’ve spent a lot of time in our family talking about private and public body parts and safe versus unsafe touches. We revised the “one-piece swimsuit rule”, which is basically that any part of their body covered by their swimsuit is a private part, as well as their mouth. We chatted through the fact that no one should ever touch their private parts, show their private parts to them or ask to see theirs or take/show photos or videos of peoples private parts. It’s always a good idea to chat to your kids about the signals their body gives them when they feel scared, uncomfortable or unsafe. The key value here we want out children to take away is that every human being deserves to be treated with respect and to feel safe.
- Knowing that sex is more than just physical.
I want my kids to know how precious sex is. Why is it so precious? Sex is valuable because every human being is valuable and therefore what each person does with their body is also of value. Not only that, but despite what the world will tell them, it is so much more than just a physical act. Sexual activity releases neurochemicals designed to bond two people in a way which is not supposed to be undone. It’s mind-blowing science! Sex is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It’s an entire being, soul kind of experience – in fact there is nothing more intimate than this. Now of course, we didn’t talk about all this that night at the table, but we will. I merely set up a foundation (as above) where sex and love are connected from the get-go.
I don’t think we can remind our children enough of these three points. In fact, I think that every conversation we have around sex and relationships, should include these principles. Obviously there is plenty more to add and our conversations will grow and layer on one another as our children grow.
Our kids need to know that there is nothing they can do, ask, question or talk about that will shock or disgust us. That we are unconditionally for them and head over heels in love with them. Our sons and daughters need to know that they have a right to be respected and that setting boundaries is healthy and GOOD and lastly that sex is precious and valuable.
Truths we can build.
I’m committed to establishing a foundation, chat by chat, from which my children are able to develop healthy, fulfilling, joy-filled, safe and loving relationships in the future. I want to tell my children a story which challenges the world's view on sex, identity, bodies and relationships. How about you?