Q. While listening to one of your insightful podcasts, “Mom, When Can I Start Watching Porn?”, I heard you say “that the best time to start introducing your children to the mechanics of sex and how babies are made and born is between 4 and 6, before it becomes embarrassing, shocking and awkward. If you are saving “the talk” until kids ask, you may wait forever.” I have two daughters, ages 5 and 1. I always answer their questions as honestly as possible except when she was three and I was pregnant. She asked: “Mom, how did my baby sister get in there?” Not prepared, I froze. What, when and how do I share the answers to her future sex ed questions before she is too embarrassed to ask me?
A. Don’t wait for the questions. They may never come. Sometime, ask her, “Do you remember when I was pregnant with your sister, and you asked me how she got inside me? I didn’t think you were old enough to understand then but now I think you are. Would you like to know?” I’d bet money on her answer! Books are the best way to teach the specifics and to generate discussion and more questions.
Books make it easier because you don’t have to come up with the details on your own and risk sounding like a science teacher. I will list some books you can choose from at the end. My favorite is Peter Mayle’s book, “Where Did I Come From?”. “What’s Happening to Me?” is his companion book about puberty. Actually, my favorite is a Swedish book called “Our New Baby” but I don’t believe you can get it anymore.
Probably the biggest step is with yourself before you pose this question to your daughter. You want to be clear and open and ready to take on whatever she brings to the discussion. Ask yourself what your fears are in talking about sex. What is your agenda about it? What were you taught, if anything, when you were young? And when? Who did you learn the mechanics from? How did you feel when you first learned? How taboo was the subject in your family?
Most of us have deep seated shame around sex in our subconscious and even conscious mind. Unless we were talked to clearly and openly about it by our parent, it was a dark, foreboding subject that most of us learned was not a topic to talk about and especially ask a parent about. Therefore, it was bad and shameful. If this was anything like your experience, you may be passing it on and emoting an energy that tells your child, Don’t ask.
When we blatantly don’t talk to our children about whatever the elephant in the room is, shame gets attached to it. Children learn quickly what is not to be spoken of. Secrets fill many family homes. We add to the shame if we give off tension or a strained look when anything sexual, including the names of body parts, are mentioned. That shame generates from our associations with sex, what we learned about it growing up, and our difficulty talking about the topic. And if we were strongly forbidden to even talk about it, the act of it was taboo. Society’s messages added insult to injury. All of this needs to be reckoned with to get past the hurdle and talk straight and factually with our children.
Why don’t you want to talk about it? Are you afraid your child will be scared, traumatized? If so, is that because you were when you found out? Did you find out when you were a lot closer to puberty than your five year old? Who told you? I bet it wasn’t a caring parent. Sex can be a horrifying concept. But young children don’t know it’s anything to be afraid of, embarrassed about or terrified of.
When you tell a young child who hangs on your words, you are more likely to get across the normalcy of it. Little children don’t know that talking about a penis entering a vagina is anything to be ashamed of. But when you decide you must set aside time to have “the talk” with a child who gets easily annoyed by your words, and who will likely do some eye-rolling and groaning in disgust, “the talk” becomes a dreaded job for all. And if you wait for a child to ask—if indeed your child does ask—you will undoubtedly be unprepared and thrown for a loop causing you to say some pretty stupid things!
So teach the facts of how babies are made when you can use a book for guidance and the subject will come across as perfectly normal.
You might want to begin with talking about the difference in boys and girls body parts and attributing correct names:
The Bare Naked Book by Kathy Stinson and Heather Collins
Bellybuttons are Navels by Mark Schoen and M.J. Quay
Books that teach about sex and how babies are made:
Where Did I Come From by Peter Mayle
A Child is Born and How Was I Born, both by Lennart Nilsson
Happy Birthday!, It’s Perfectly Normal, and It’s So Amazing by Robie Harris, Michael Emberley
Mommy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole
What’s the Big Secret: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Mark Brown