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Talking to Kids About Sex

Updated on March 20, 2013


It isn't exactly the most comfortable topic for any parent to discuss with their child, but like it or not, your teenager is going to be talking about it with or without you.

They will be seeing it on television, hearing it in music, and most of all talking about it with their peers.

I love my babies, but I do have to accept that the time is fast approaching when other people are going to love them too; some of those people are going to be members of the opposite sex, and... oh no...

So far most of my children are blissfully icked out when it comes to the subject of sex, but I do have a daughter that will soon be sixteen. I saw her interests turning from Barbie dolls to boys, and while I will always see my baby girl, I realize that some already look at her and see a full-grown woman standing before them.

Boys want to do things with my daughter that I don't even want to think about. Even worse, I was a teenager with hormones once upon a time too, and I have a pretty good idea of where her thoughts are headed these days.

Once I realized there was no stopping this procession from little girl to potential hottie, I was tempted to go online and price chastity belts. I briefly considered converting to Catholicism and seeking out a good convent.

Was it possible, I wondered, to move up into the hills and become a hermit family?

I finally had to accept that my children, like it or not, are eventually going to have sex. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday they will. Not a pleasant thought to be certain, but the time will come.

If I have to accept that someday my children will be having sex whether I approve or not, then my next step was wondering...

Is there a way to ensure that they at least make the right decisions, not necessarily for me, but for themselves and their future?

I'm no professional, but I do love my children and want the very best for them. I have developed a lot of parenting philosophies over the years.

Some came from studying professionals, asking for advice when needed, and parenting classes. I am also a trained youth group leader and victim's advocate.

Above all, I am a mother who loves her kids passionately, who seeks to balance out what I want for my children and their futures with what they want for themselves and their futures.

Sex isn't an easy topic for any parent to cover with their kids, but hopefully I can at least give you some new ideas while discussing the oldest subject on earth with its newest residents.

We all have a natural desire to shelter our kids. Were it up to many of us, they would never leave the house without being fully encased in bubble wrap, a GPS tracker, a can of mace, and at least one responsible adult.

Yet we have to let them live, and someday we expect them to live on their own. If we make all of their decisions for them and control their every move, we are raising children who will be incapable of managing the adult world successfully.

At the same time, just tossing them out in the world and hoping for the best isn't going to work either. We can just hope that they are well educated on topics, or we can do our best to assure we have educated them as much as possible and prepared them for the time when they will be faced with those tough decisions.

We won't always be there when it comes time to make some very important decisions. Instead, we must teach them to make good decisions and to protect themselves while still experiencing all life has to offer.

This is the fine line all parents must walk: to give them roots AND give them wings. It is a delicate balance, but we can do it. We love them that much.

That, my friends, appears to be a loaded question. There may never really be a "too soon," but there most certainly is a "too late."

I do not remember my mother ever talking to me about sex, not once. I do remember asking my grandmother once what a virgin was, and she looked at me as if I had said a four letter word and replied:

"A woman who isn't married."

The thing is, I already knew the answer when I asked her. By then it was already too late, I was aware of sex. Most of the time I was home alone so I had free reign of the television. I had come across dirty books, and had a lot of "well educated" friends on the subject.

I was so young then, I'm sure my grandmother thought she had many years to worry about talking to me about those sorts of things, when all along I could have probably educated HER.

When a child starts asking questions, pay attention to their cues; curiosity about it is a good indicator that they are ready, even if they don't specifically ask. If you don't fill that curiosity, someone else will. Like me, they will fill in those blanks with information from other sources, and that information is questionable at best.

Each of my children became curious about such matters at a different rate. My son was in kindergarten before he began asking some of the same questions his older sister asked at three. He is much more shy about the subject, and has just begun really initiating private conversations at twelve.

My youngest still hasn't asked many of them, and she just turned ten. Most of her questions revolve around clarifying things other children have told her. As I watch her reactions, I know when she has heard enough. If she wrinkles her nose or makes icky faces I slow down and ask her if she has anymore questions.

My step-daughter, on the other hand, has been raised differently. She once informed me that sex (referring to gender) was a dirty word. Since I am not her mother, I don't feel comfortable discussing the topic in depth with her without her mother's permission, but we do focus on other topics such as "good touch versus bad touch" and respecting your own body.

Each child develops at a different rate. What can be too late for one child could be too much information to handle for another. When your child shows curiosity about a certain subject, they are ready for the answer... but not necessarily the whole answer.

My oldest was always curious about herself and her body. She watched me carry two younger siblings, and was very much a part of both pregnancies. She attended ultrasounds with me and laid her head on my belly so she could feel them kick. So naturally she wondered how they came to be growing inside of me.

She was only three when her little brother arrived. I knew I didn't want to lie to her, because I never wanted to lie to my children about anything. I even had a crisis of conscience when it came to holiday figures.

When she asked me how her brother got inside of me, the first time I decided to just give it to her in small bites and see how she reacted. "Daddy put him there." That seemed to satisfy her for several months.

Later she came to me and asked how Daddy put him there. I explained there was a seed and an egg. When the seed fertilized the egg, the egg split in two, and then into four, and pretty soon a baby was growing.

It took two years of these small conversations to actually get to the technical version of the birds and the bees. After each conversation, she seemed to walk away satisfied, and I was relieved that I didn't have to sit down and get out the biology book just yet.

Talking to Kids About Sex

A Chicken's Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex
A Chicken's Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex
" … Worth the price for its title alone, this book helps parents come to grips with the fact that their children really are sexual creatures and that it is parents' responsibility to communicate with these creatures about sex." - Catholic Parent
Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be: What Your Kids Are Learning About Sex Today- and How to Teach Them to Become Sexually Healthy Adults
Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be: What Your Kids Are Learning About Sex Today- and How to Teach Them to Become Sexually Healthy Adults
Reminding readers how much things have changed in the last 40 years, sex educator Levkoff seeks to end the hysteria about sex ed by clarifying the difference between the facts of puberty and the values every parent holds. Sex is good, says the author, and sex education equals life education.

I wasn't thrilled when my kids began telling me about information already gleaned from their peers.

One little girl demonstrated a French Kiss on my preschool-age son. Another boy kept putting his hands down my daughter's pants in kindergarten. Kids took it upon themselves to define specific acts in detail, and one child shared the street definition of a hermaphrodite with my two younger children.

Yet my kids came home and told me these things with full trust. They see me as an authority on the subject, and that wasn't an accident. Not only have I always given them the answers they needed when they asked for them, I have always tried to answer them in a non-threatening way.

Yes, it is a little odd when your child comes home and tells you they now know what a ***** is. Keeping a straight face, and NOT calling the parent of the other child to say "What the hell were you thinking?" is a monumental task.

I somehow managed to choke out the words, "Yes, that is what some people call that, but the proper term is ****, and it really isn't a subject that Sally should be sharing with kids at school, is it?" all while trying my best to not to react strongly and possibly dissuade future conversations. My goal is to always keep that door open, and to represent an authority on that and many other subjects, even when I am screaming inside.

If you set yourself up as an authority on difficult subjects, your kids will come to you when they hear something from someone else. They trust your word over their peers. They do it because they trust you and that is a gift.

As tempting as it is, that is why you must not be dishonest with your kids. Dishonesty ruins that trust relationship, and you have then given away your authority.

So even with younger children, don't be tempted to fall into the stories of storks and cabbage patches. When your kids find out the truth elsewhere they wont trust you for straight answers later.

You don't have to answer in detail, but give them something concrete.

As strange as these conversations can feel, they can be a great way to bond if done properly.

Sex was never meant to be a dirty word; the act itself is a normal and natural part of an adult's life. It brings a couple closer and makes the relationship outside of the bedroom stronger. Yet we often teach children that sex is naughty.

Kids are naturally curious about sex and sexuality. Younger children are curious about their own body parts and the parts of others. It isn't unusual for kids to play doctor, and it isn't unusual for parents to find out about it and panic.

Slow down, take a deep breath, and remember, how you handle these incidents can shape your child's sex life as an adult. When we react from an adult point of view instead of a child's, we tend to panic. To us it is frightening, but to them it is just innocent curiosity.

When we react strongly, it rips that innocence away, instead of naturally losing it.

The same goes for nudity. A strong reaction to find your child playing naked and even touching themselves can lead to them seeing their own body as something that induces shame. I've always taught my children that the human body is beautiful, because it is. There is nothing wrong with nudity itself in a private situation.

However, nudity is not socially acceptable in most public situations. "Appropriate" is a big word around our house. While sex and nudity may not be dirty words in our home, there are appropriate and inappropriate times for everything.

While it may be appropriate to ask mom questions when the two of you are talking, it is inappropriate to discuss the details of those conversations with grandma over the dinner table. While nudity may be appropriate when you are alone in the bathroom, it is not appropriate when the neighbor child asks to see your privates.

So instead of making sex into a four-letter word, try to make it a matter of appropriate versus inappropriate.

While sex between consenting adults is appropriate, there is a lot more to it than just the act of sex. There is an emotional level that young children and even teens aren't quite ready to handle.

People often underestimate the importance of childhood innocence. We all lose that innocence slowly throughout our childhood years, but some things take away bigger pieces of that innocence than others.

A huge part of that childhood curiosity is built around the idea that the adults are hiding something, and if they are hiding it then it must be pretty dang interesting. I apply this not just to sex but to other topics as well.

If there is heavy drug use in a movie, sexual jokes, rampant nude scenes, or blood and gore, anything I feel my kids aren't ready for yet, I limit their exposure. A huge problem I have is that other parents don't, and my kids feel left out.

Feeling left out is not a good place for any child, but I try to remember to look at it from their point of view as well. When I explained the concept of innocence to them, I tried to make it clear how special that innocence was, and that I didn't want them giving any of it up before they were ready.

Not too long ago my twelve year-old son spent the night with a friend, and they were watching what we call a "no-no" movie. My son told the father that he wasn't allowed to watch those movies. The father told him that was okay, he just didn't have to tell me.

My son walked in the next morning and told me right away. "But," he said, "don't worry Mom, I covered my eyes on all of the no-no parts." By teaching your kids to value their innocence, it becomes less like they are being deprived of something fun and more like they are protecting a treasure.

When you are talking to a child about sex, you are actually talking to them about many subjects. One of those topics that goes hand-in-hand with sex is responsibility. Making the decision to have sex also means taking responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

As soon as children are old enough to understand the responsibilities that come with life, they are old enough to understand the responsibilities that come with sex. Babies can and will be created at the most inopportune times. A baby is a lifetime commitment, and once one comes along your childhood is over.

More often than not, a child born to a young mother will be raised in a single-parent home. Even if the couple does get married, the chances of the marriage remaining intact is small. As far as my son goes, I have made it known that I will expect him to be fully responsible for any children he brings into this world, whether he stays with the mother or not.

Unwanted pregnancy aside, yes, some STDs are curable, but many still are not. Herpes and Aids are lifetime commitments of another sort, as is Hepatitis C. As scary as things are, they can be prevented by choosing partners wisely and protecting yourself.

Nobody says, "When I grow up, I think I will contract herpes," or, "I think I will be a struggling single mother and have to work two jobs just to keep food on the table."

The time to plan for your future is before the mistakes are made; once it is done it is too late. So when I talk to my kids, we talk a lot about their futures and what they want in their adult lives. We talk about how an unexpected baby would change those plans.

Children, especially teenagers, are famous for not thinking the consequences of their actions through. They tend to live in the moment, making the future is a far-off place that really doesn't have any impact on their thought process.

Keeping their eyes on the future as much as possible can help them remember their goals and not do things that will compromise them.

Another huge part of the sex talk is the decision making part. I am probably not going to be there when the time comes to make the decision regarding sex, so I have to trust my children to make the right decision without me.

As a family, we play around with decision making a lot. We play games where I ask questions and they answer them. We play the "If you really loved me, you would do it" game, and "But everyone else is doing it."

We talk about making decisions based on what they want for themselves, not on what another person is pressuring them to do. While I am trying to teach my kids to wait, their peers are going to be pushing in the opposite direction and I know that; however, their peers don't have to live with the consequences of those actions.

While we work on building those skills, I try to compliment them every day on their ability to make good decisions, to choose the right thing for themselves and their future consistently. In the past, when those skills have been put to the test, I have been very proud of them. I reinforce those skills they already have whenever possible.

We live in a society of merchandising and consumerism. Everyone is selling something whether they realize it or not. As teenagers, kids try on many different personalities, go through many phases, and many of them are focused on selling themselves to their peers.

We all send out hidden messages about how we want to be treated, most of the time we aren't even aware of them. Believe it or not, it isn't just the skimpy clothes we should worry about. Spend a little bit of time around a group of young girls and you will see what I mean.

I have pointed this out to my children through the years. I want them to know and understand: "If you are advertising something, don't be surprised when someone wants to buy what they think you are selling."

Girls who sell themselves using sexuality are trading sexual attention for love and respect. Many of them truly believe that sexual attention and love are the same thing, and some never really learn that difference. When I was in school, I was one of those girls. All it got me was heartbreak and no self-esteem.

Honestly, I didn't think I had anything else to offer. I saw nothing in myself worthy of another person's love or affection. I see a lot of girls today making that same error in logic. A girl who acts like they are nothing but a piece of meat is often treated like one.

The last thing I want is for my children to repeat that mistake, so I want them to be fully aware of what they are selling and why. Girls don't always realize that the latest styles are an image, and they don't stop to think about what that image says to others.

All of our children are made up of far more than just their looks. They have brains, talents, and skills. They have unique personalities, and their own way of thinking and seeing the world around them. They aren't just a body, but a whole package. I want to help my children see that.

We have talked a great deal about the images of women that men in our society are presented with. Pornography is just one of those images. The girls in popular media who are presented as all body and no brain are another.

These are the kinds of girls that men are supposed to want, but you can only look at a girl for so long before you want more. A girl who can have a great conversation, who has a brain and isn't afraid to use it. A girl who doesn't have to sell anything because she in confident in herself and her abilities. Those are the girls who end up in healthy relationships.

As much as I would like for my children to wait until marriage, I know the odds are against it. So if it is going to happen, I want it to happen only when they are ready. I want it to happen with someone who respects them fully, who will add to and enrich their life, not take away from it.

"We are only given one body. If we don't respect it then nobody else will either. Respecting yourself is the first step towards being respected by others. No means no, and yes means yes, and anybody who doesn't respect that fully does not respect you.

Someone who loves you doesn't pressure you into anything you are not ready for. No matter what words are coming out of their mouths, it is their actions you need to watch. If they aren't listening to you and your words, then they are not respecting you.

Respect yourself, and be sure that anyone you spend time with respects you as well. At the same time, be respectful of others. If they say no, they mean it. Don't push them either. Respect is always a two-way street."

"What you and your teen should know about sex."

Talking to our younger children is one thing, talking to a teenager is a whole new realm. Teens are facing pressures today that we never dreamed of. Today's parents need to have a battle plan, and these books can help!

None of us want to think about the prospect of our child being sexually abused, but it is better to prepare a child for that situation now than to try to repair the damage later. There is no way to prevent it totally, but there are some things you can teach your children that will make it less likely.

For younger kids:

1. "Good touch versus bad touch." Any touch that makes a child feel uncomfortable, especially those that occur in an area usually covered by a bathing suit, should be reported to an adult the child trusts and to the parents as soon as possible.

2. "Stranger Danger" is also important, but keep in mind that most incidents happen with people the adults know and trust, not with strangers. However, you can teach your child to make a scene if a stranger approaches them: draw attention to the situation, and run to a safe adult as soon as possible.

3. "Safe 2 Tell," always make sure your children feel safe telling you anything that makes them uncomfortable, and sympathize with them. The average child tells seven adults that sexual abuse has occurred before one finally believes them. Most adults before that point deny the reality, minimize the situation, or tell the child they are sure it wasn't on purpose. Always take a report seriously, your child is counting on you!

For pre-teens and teens:

At this age they are likely to spend time in group situations, and molestation isn't as likely as date-rape.

1. Hang out in groups, and don't wander off alone with someone. If they want to be alone, make sure you tell the people you are with and stay where they can see everything that is going on.

2. Don't leave your drinks unattended. Educate yourself on date-rape drugs. They are more common than you think, can render a person unable to fight in as little as 15 minutes, and obscure memories of the event. Some can even be fatal in the wrong dosages. They are odorless and tasteless. If your drink, even water, has been left alone even for a moment, get a new drink.

3. Avoid drugs and alcohol, as they limit your judgment and resistance. If you do drink, make sure you stay in a group of friends and always have a safe person with you.

4. "No always means no," for both boys and girls. Teach them to respect themselves and others by accepting a "no" at face value.

Teach your children to focus on their safety in every situation. It is not something that comes naturally to a child, even a teenager. Don't talk about it once, make it an ongoing topic.

Keeping the door open and always talking honestly with your children is the best defense.

(images courtesy

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