While talking with a friend, she asked me when I was going to give my kids the sex talk. At the time, they were 4, 5, and 7, and when I told her I had already talked about it with each of them, she looked shocked. “Wow! I was going to wait until it was absolutely necessary. I thought we had at least until middle school.”
As wonderful as that sounded, I found out the hard way I had already missed the “absolutely necessary” window with my first two children. They both learned about sex from other kids a few weeks into kindergarten during recess. It was upsetting and disturbing to find out how early this was happening. I honestly do not remember talking about sex at such a young age.
My oldest came home a few weeks after his first day of kindergarten and asked if sex was when you rub your privates together. I quickly decided to have a talk with him about it and figured it was a fluke. There must have been a “bad” kid in his class who was teaching him (my innocent child) this stuff. Then it happened again when my daughter was in kindergarten. She told me her friends Tommy and Sarah “made sex on the bus.” Unbeknownst to me, kids who are 5 have sex talks with each other.
After following up with their teachers (who were not surprised; they have seen it all), I had to have a pep talk with myself and accept the fact my kids were going to be exposed to lots of things before I was ready for them to be exposed. Welcome to parenthood — are we ever ready?
Both times, I addressed it right away. I explained the basics about sex in a way I thought they would understand. There are a lot of great books out there regarding talking with young kids about sex, but I didn’t have any. I didn’t even have a plan. Like my friend, I still thought I had time — like years’ worth of time.
The talks I had with both of them went over pretty well. They were quick and painless, and the looks on their faces when I told them what sex actually was were pure disgust. They didn’t have any more questions about it then, but have asked me many since, which leaves me feeling relieved they feel so safe coming to me.
I stressed the fact it should not be talked about at school, and if they had questions, they needed to ask an adult, preferably me or their father. I must admit, I was nervous they would still talk about it. Nobody wants to be the parent of the child who is conducting sexual education seminars on the swings.
So, before my third entered kindergarten, I took opportunities to have short talks with him about his body and sex. I was honest. I didn’t use nicknames for body parts, or laugh when he asked me cute questions, or decide to change the subject really fast because he was uncomfortable. I didn’t push it or try to get it in all in at once. I listened and watched for signs that he was “done” with our talk while making sure my voice was the first he heard on this subject.
After doing research on my own, I soon learned that around the age of 4 is a very normal time for kids to become interested in sexuality. And often times, because our kids have not been exposed, they have no idea there is anything wrong with talking about it. And really, there isn’t, as long as they know there is a time and place for it, which is just as hard to teach.
I remind them often they are not to go to school and teach someone else about sex because that is a job for an adult. And if they have questions, they should always ask an adult. If they are scared because someone has touched them in a way that feels yucky, they need to tell an adult. It has been much easier to empower my kids about what kind of language to use, what is acceptable behavior, and how to ask for help because they have a basic understanding about their bodies and sex.
Now that my kids are older (13, 11, and almost 10), it’s much more comfortable to talk about the bigger, more specific questions regarding sex because we have been open about it for so long. With so much being available to them through the internet, I need to continue to have a strong voice because it just gets more complicated.
I have confidence my kids will feel like they can come to me whenever they have questions because I have been so open with them. That doesn’t mean they will, but I feel like I have done everything I can to keep the lines of communication open.
I stand by my decision to have the sex talk with my kids at a very young age. I never want there to be shame attached to something that is so important. It has helped us tackle other strong subjects like drinking, drugs, relationships, abuse, and consent with a bit more ease.
So while it might not be the answer for every family, it has been the answer for us. I talked to each of my children individually because I thought it would reduce the silliness that can be associated with it. Every discussion we have had since has been different, and I am sure the way I approached the subject with my kids was not the route that some families would take, simply because every child is different and they don’t absorb things the same way. You have to do what feels best to you as a parent. For me, talking with my kids very early about sex has given me peace of mind, and as a mother in this day and age, that counts for quite a bit.