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Let's talk about sex... with the kids???

Do you remember the very first time you learned about sex?  Do you remember learning about the body and its sexual parts?  How old were you?  How do you think you'll approach it with your kids?  Will you approach it differently depending on their age?  Holly emailed the other day:

I recently read your post “Let’s talk about sex” and loved all the information and honesty.  I then realized I had a great opportunity to ask other parents about how and at what age they spoke to their children about sex.  We have a 5.5 year old daughter and a 2.5 year old son.  I have been given mixed information about when and what to tell them.  Does anyone have any advice?


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I don't think it's ever too early to have open dialogue with your children about sex. I think the important thing is to follow their cues. When they begin showing an interest and curiosity about the body and its parts, answer their questions honestly. You certainly don't have to talk about everything, but keeping those doors of communication open from early on will set the stage and enable them to feel comfortable discussing things with you. Once puberty approaches, this is probably the most appropriate time to discuss things in more detail, like pregnancy, menstruation, birth control... My mom sat me down with the encyclopedia and openly discussed both male and female body parts and changes at about 11 years old. In this day and age, that might be too late already.

At this point we're just answering questions as they come up. My 4-year-old remembers when my 19-month-old was born and she's seen A Baby Story on TV and even acts out nursing and childbirth a lot (sometimes she'll have 11 babies at once!). So for her, it's all about babies, not what goes on between the adults. We're just focusing on getting to know her body, how it's the same and different from mine and from her dad's.

A few weeks ago she asked, "How do you get a kid?" It was over breakfast and I wasn't really prepared. I though fast about what she knows--gardening!--and put it into that kind of context. I told her a daddy plants a seed in the mama's tummy and the baby grows in there. I have no idea what kind of mental image she put with that, but she was satisfied with the answer.

This post came along at the perfect time!
My 18 mo. old daughter is at that stage where she is picking up words like mad! She knows a crazy amount of body parts, including bottom/bum from from diaper changes. Lately she's been reaching down during diaper changes and saying "belly". I feel uncomfortable telling her, "no, that's your vagina" because ITS NOT.
On the other hand, I'm not sure how exacting, or how detailed I should be. How much is too much at this age? Should I just leave it at vagina? Or do I identify the specific parts?
I guess I'm wondering what other moms feel about this.
I was a nanny/day care provider for a long time before I had a child of my own and I've realized that I have no problem with a boys "penis" vs. "scrotum" but suddenly I'm faced with what seems like a dilemma when it comes to labeling the female anatomy for my daughter.
What's up with that?

I'm of the "answer the questions as they come up" school. Which pretty much started by default as soon as my boy could talk. Because of that whole deal where they follow you into the bathroom all the time.

"This? It's a tampon? Uh, yes, I did put it inside my vagina." And so on.

The advice not to give too much information at once is good. Because often the kid really isn't looking for the whole shebang. For example, my 2.5 yo knew all about periods and what they were for:

"Remember how you grew in my uterus? Well, every month, my uterus grows a little nest of blood in case a baby starts growing there. And if no baby starts, the blood comes out and I soak it up with this tampon. Isn't that neat?"

But although he knew that he grew inside me and came out my vagina, he didn't think to ask exactly how he got in there for a couple more years. He knew he started from a little piece of me and a little piece of papa, and he was satisfied with that.

Of course, the day came (age 4) and I took a deep breath and said, "This may sound strange, but the papa puts his penis inside the mama's vagina and his sperm comes out and meets up with her egg."

He was totally unfazed. I might as well have been talking about elbows. But I think that's because of all the groundwork that had been laid from the very beginning.

A terrific book to read with kids is "It's So Amazing" I got it for my son when he was 5 and he still pores over it at 8. It's got great, straightforward information and a really positive approach toward bodies, different kinds of families, etc.

(Oops, didn't mean to go on so long!)

Our kids get info when they ask. Reasonably honest info. With that said, Ella recently asked my husband how she was born and my husband kind of did this sort of weird slapping together of his hands, saying that's what Mommy and he did, then after awhile she was born. Ummm, ya.
I told her that I have the eggs and Daddy has the little fish needed to make the egg start growing into a baby. She didn't ask how they get together. When she does, I guess I'll do they slapping/clapping of my hands thing... or I'll just tell her as much as she needs to know. I am certain that I don't want to make sex weird and I know their perception will be as weird or natural as we make it. This subject feels challenging to me.

Meliah, you might use "vulva" instead of vagina, as it describes the whole collection of external girl bits. Whereas vagina is really just that one part. Unless she was actually touching just her vagina, but it doesn't sound like she was.

I have a three and an almost five year old and neither one of them has ever asked me any questions that have required a specific answer regarding how babies are made. My three year old still thinks babies come out of a mama's nipples no matter how much I tell otherwise (I think it's some sort of connection with nursing). The most detailed I get is to tell her babies come out of a mommy's tummy. Vagina, penis, nipples and foreskin are pretty much as far as we've gotten with regards to describing body parts (I feel like George Carlin writing that sentence).

Anyway I just wanted to weigh in on this because I found out about sex, no kidding, on the playground in elementary school. Two "older" boys were literally chasing me around the play yard describing the act and I was running away with my hands over my ears. Those darn older boys - always a mother's worst nightmare. Anyway my mom handled the situation so well. She sat me down and described everything to me very matter-of-factly and with no embarassment and left me feeling like it was a natural act between two people who loved each other. I don't know how she did it on the spot, but that's the way I remember it.

I guess I plan on continuing to answer things as they come up and then at some point, if they get to be a certain age and still haven't gotten curious, sit them down and tell them all about it - hopefully before they get chased around the playground with their hands over their ears.

Meliah, you can also just redirect her hands to her tummy and say something like "silly this is your tummy, where your belly button is." Since she's only 18mths you don't have to give her the vulva or vagina words until she specifically asks what it is.
I also like how Erin was taught and given all this info. My mom would give us way TMI and I hated it. Plus she would want to talk with us about it when we watched movies and something was happening or implied. This approach just freaked me out more than anything and left me with more questions that I was to embarrassed to ask. Which led me to be uncomfortable about this topic and always squeamish when ever someone one brought it up. Now I'm over it, thank goodness, I am just hoping to be open about it and yet not give to much information away at one time.

I think "vagina" is a fine term for a little girl to identify in her diaper. It's what everyone calls it. "Girls have vaginas and boys have penises." My 2 1/2 year old likes to list who has which from the people we know, usually in public! My old day care provider used the word Yoni I think, which is the feminist term for vagina, which literally means "sheath of the sword." My daughter is familiar with both terms, but even though I identify as a feminist, I prefer her to use vagina just because it's the primarily known word.

I found out about sex when my older brothers forced me to read the "Where do I Come From?" book out loud to them when I was 8, so Erin, I can totally relate to your "older boy" thing! About a year later, my mom came up to me with the same book and asked if I had seen it. I said yes, and that was as far as it went. She was pretty detailed about the period thing though, but I didn't really believe her, since she had a hysterectomy when I was 6 and didn't get periods. I thought she was crazy when she told me THAT story!!!!

This is too funny!

I can only think about my own experience as a small child. My mom bought us tons of books designed for kids to learn about bodies and sex. One of them was a highly-controversial book of photos (and some text) called "Show Me!". Did anyone ever see that one? I think it was originally from Germany. It's definitely out of print now and really expensive, but boy did it show me the ropes!! It is for verrrrry liberal families, i'd say.

Also, Meliah's issue is so funny, because when I was about 5 or 6, my mom would not let me say "vagina" anymore - we had to always say "vulva." Which of course made me want to say "vagina" because it wasn't allowed and it was what everyone else said.

I guess I'm not providing much insight to this conversation. I've not had to deal with it personally with my own son yet. I do think this is an important issue as clearly sex has a lot of influence in many lives, and I want to equip this generation with the proper knowledge and empowerment to handle it wisely.

Actually, isn't vagina the term for the whole package? I think that the canal is called the vagina specifically but it's proper to call the whole thing a vagina. The penis is made up of several things as well, but we call it a penis and don't break it down. Of course, it would be improper to call the scrotum a penis, but I don't think we are talking about the vulva alone when we say vagina. I think exploration normally goes beyond the vulva. What about the clitoris? At age 2, I prefer to talk about the whole rather than the parts. I'll get more specific later.

I am totally the TMI mother. But on this topic I have basically answered as Qs arise and he has been fine with that. I feel a bit like I'm tip toeing aroudn the elephant i the room, thugh, and wonder if I just told him it wouldn't seem like sucha big deal - withholding the final piece of the pzzle - the sex - feels funny. I also recall finding out in elem school from a friend (a girl) and nearly feinted from disgust (I imagined that the entire penis was covered in hair, my parents, the whole bit was just yuck). So, my main goal is to avoid that feeling in my kids and for whatever reason I want it to be me or my husband who tells them, not another kid - god knows what they might say! My 5-year old knows all about birth (has "birthed" more than a few stuffed animals) and my period. But when he asks why his penis gets hard and "stands up," hmmm, this TMI mama struggles: uh, you'll need it later? Seems an overly direct connection between his own body and sex? I just don't know! he does plan to marry and have babies, though, each week with a different friend, male and female. thanks for the topic, timely and most interesting!

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