Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Talking with Our Children about Sex

It's important for me to try and raise Henry in a way that teaches him to be responsible with his sexuality and to feel proud of his body and himself. 

I found From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children early on, and it has been a valuable resource for me over the past four years. 

I've been implementing these strategies since Henry was born, and I'm happy with his knowledge level and his comfort in talking about things with me. He knows that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, and he knows that babies grow inside of women's uteruses. He loves hearing the story of how my body spent 45 hours trying to push him out because he was perfectly content hanging out in my uterus. 

It's clear that he is comfortable coming to me with questions--which I love and want to continue nurturing for the rest of his life. Sometimes his questions make me uncomfortable, but I plow through, trying to communicate with calm and equilibrium. The other day, he asked me where babies come from, and I reminded him about how the sperm from the man and the egg from the woman come together and the baby starts to grow in the uterus. 

But then he asked, "But how does the sperm get to the egg?"


I said, "The penis goes into the vagina."

I stopped there because I've learned to just answer a little at a time. Usually Henry is content with a little answer.

It was so interesting to monitor my own level of discomfort. It was SO HARD talking about sex and reproduction with my child. And he's only four! I can imagine how much harder it's going to get as he gets older. It seems counterintuitive because you might think the discomfort comes from how young he is, but I don't think that's it. I think the discomfort comes from the lack of practice I've had with talking about sexuality in open and honest ways.

That's why I want to start now with Henry. I want to practice how to answer his questions without making him uncomfortable. Because I want to encourage him to always come to me with his questions.

Here's what Debra Haffner, the author of From Diapers to Dating, has to say about it:

"Some parents have asked me why it is important to answer preschoolers' questions about where babies come from. After all, what could be wrong about saying, 'You're too young to know this; I'll tell you later'? It's true: Avoiding this question may get you off the hook for the moment, but it also gives your child the message that you don't want to talk to them about sexuality issues. Answering this question simply now lays the foundation for future conversations, and it tells your child that you will teach them about this important question." 

And here are her specific suggestions about how to do it:

First make sure you know what your child is really asking. You could start by asking, "Where do you think you came from?"

Start off with very simple answers, and watch to see if your child is interested in continuing the discussion.

"When two grown-ups love each other, they like to kiss and hug and touch each other in ways that feel good. Sometimes, the man and the woman place the man's penis into the woman's vagina. The man's penis releases sperm into the woman and sometimes a baby begins.

"The important thing at this age is to show your children that you are willing to answer their questions about birth and reproduction." 

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Isa said...

I worry that I'm going to skirt this issue by telling my kids all about the nice doctors and test tubes that made them. Will it be easier with a little remove from the sex=babies conversation, or just an easy out for me? Good for you just saying it.

Sarah said...

Thanks for this post. I like the ideas you presented from the book, although I do take issue with one piece. I think it can me a mistake to entangle love and sex, as in "when two grown-ups love each other, they like to kiss and hug..." because it implies that physical affection (and sex) only occur in the context of love. This can be dangerous, because it can lead to the idea that if people have sex, then that must mean that they love each other. Therefore, if I have sex with someone, that person must love me, which isn't the case. Just something to think about...

mamaschlick said...

Thanks for this post. In response to Sarah's comment: I see your point but that is the type of nuance you explain when the child is older and can understand that kind of dynamic. A 4 year old is not at risk at having sex (by choice, god forbid something else) and doesn't need to know that now. In fact, I think for now, it is a good ideal to teach him. Sex is for when you love someone. Nothing wrong with that. I don't think teaching a preschooler/little kid that sex is something you do when you love, but some people have it without love, just a physical need. I don't see the value in that for this age.

Meghan said...

I'm just brainstorming here, but maybe it'll be useful for other readers too. When Henry asked how the sperm gets to the egg I wonder if you could have instead said, "It swims there" rather than "The penis goes into the vagina." Both are accurate answers, but I'm not sure which would be more satisfactory to a preschooler. My son is a little younger than Henry, and isn't asking these types of questions yet, but it's helpful to hear your thoughts and experiences so I can begin to prepare myself for when the time comes.

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