Friday, May 18, 2018

Talking Sex with my Six-Year-Old

Every parent's dream: a chance to share the story of the birds and the bees with your child!

I know, I know. We all *say* we will do it better. (Not the sex, the TALK! Clearly, I am amazing at sex.)

We will tell our kids things. We'll be more honest, more approachable, more comfortable with that talk.

And then... our kids ask us a question, and all bets are off.

Suddenly, it's facepalm-ingly obvious why our parents stammered, struggled, stifled, or just STOPPED talking to us about S-E-X.

It. Is. Awkward.


That's a question I've had for a long time.

You see, I grew up in a very unusual situation when it came to the sex talk. To begin, my own mother did not learn much about her body or how it worked until she got into nursing school. HER mother was a teen mom, and so she didn't really know much either. So, when my mom had me, she vowed that she would be sure her daughter didn't grow up with no knowledge of her body and how it worked.

I can remember being seven years old and PORING over my mom's books from nursing school about sexual reproduction. They were informative, clear, correct, and detailed.

There were pictures - and a lot of descriptions!

I have to admit, I read those books frequently and learned everything I could learn.

And then, it happened - my mom was asked to be the nurse to teach the sex education class in my school!

I often trot out this anecdote at parties or other social gatherings when adults are sharing their "oh you won't believe what MY parents did to embarrass me" stories. When I lead with, "Guess what? My MOM was my sex ed teacher in grade seven!" I always win the competition.

Truth be told, my mom had a tough time with that gig. I was attending a private religious school, and the school administration and board of directors were very clear on how little my mom was actually allowed to teach the students. Abstinence was the only message. Missionary position was (likely) the only position. No answering student questions that coloured outside of the acceptable lines of the Purell-ed Christian sex experience.

If that story doesn't win the prize, I move into regaling the guests with stories of the NUMEROUS occasions I walked in on my parents having sex. Yes. More than one time. My sister and I grew up in a household where we spoke openly about sex, we knew my parents were having sex, and while we were raised in that born-again era of "I'm worth waiting for," we definitely KNEW what we were getting after the wait!

Fast-forward to twenty-five years after my grade six sex ed class, and I was approaching that spring fever convo sooner that I might have anticipated. My oldest daughter has always been an extremely curious child, and her curiosity extended to the anatomy and function of mommy's body. Well, okay, she was curious about DADDY's body too, but Daddy is as private as an oyster clutching the pearl of great price when compared to Mommy's nudist predilections.

Gwyneth was naturally asking a LOT of questions about my pregnancy. How are babies made? Where does the baby come out? How long will it take for the baby to get here? How did the baby get into your belly?

When I came across the kids' book entitled It's NOT the Stork, I knew I had to borrow it from our public library for Gwyneth and all her questions.

She was instantly hooked - just like I was by my mom's medical books so many years earlier. We looked at the pictures, read the various chapters, and learned all about sex together.

That evening, Ian and I were doing the dishes in the kitchen when from Gwyneth's bedroom we heard a shriek: "WHAT is THAT?!?!?!"

I doubled over in stitches immediately - I knew exactly which page she had found!

"Well honey," I said carefully, "that is what a boy's body looks like when he is naked."

"But what is THAT THING between his legs?" she insisted, pointing to his penis.

And that's how we started talking about sex. I told her about boys' anatomy and girls' anatomy. I read to hear about sperm and eggs and intercourse (who SAYS that in 2018? Can we have a new word, please?). We talked about vaginas and penises and boys liking girls, girls liking girls, boys liking boys - we covered it all.

All of this learning struck a chord in my four-year-old daughter. While I was pregnant, she decided she should ask me if the baby was going to come out of my vagina. Great question - except for the fact that she asked it in the middle of a church service while the minister was praying!

The day Gwyneth asked if the baby was going to come out of my vagina.
Right around this time, the Ontario Ministry of Education took serious fire for their newly revised Sexual Education component of the elementary health curriculum. Parents across the province took up arms against the sea of troubles and tried to, by opposing, end the new curriculum.

I can recall reading that entire curriculum from start to finish. Gwyneth was in junior kindergarten, and I had a vested interest in knowing exactly what she would be learning. I also encountered MANY friends and church members who were adamant that this curriculum was a disaster for children. Parents were pulling their kids out of school, protesting, signing petitions.

Here's where my open-about-sex upbringing came into the picture: I can honestly say that I believe the curriculum is fantastic! It is age appropriate and addresses the issues that kids are asking about at each stage. Too often, the parents I've met or spoken with are completely clueless about their kids' interest in and curiosity about sex. Having taught high school for fifteen years before Kinsey was born, I knew how much kids already (thought they) knew by grade nine. Some parents were really upset that the curriculum discussed masturbation. I have to tell you: I know this is an issue that is challenging to talk about, but I hope I can address it if needed, rather than just relying on the school system to talk to my children about this topic.

A lot of what kids talk about is misinformation. They believe things like, "oh, having sex standing up means I won't get pregnant" or "you can't get pregnant when it's your first time" or "you can't get an STI if you only have oral sex."

There is SO much misinformation out there. The question I always ask other parents is, "Do YOU want to teach your kids about sex or do you want MuchMusic, YouTube, PornHub, and their equally misinformed friends to teach them about it?"

Parents, here's the thing: we cannot prevent our kids from finding out about sex. We can't stop them from being curious and exploring their bodies - or their friends' bodies! We can't prevent them from experimenting. We can only teach them the facts - honestly, openly, and unashamedly - and be there for them to support them as they grow into their sexuality. Will this mean they make mistakes? Yes. Will they make poor choices? OF COURSE. But we have to help our children to become good decision makers. As I've mentioned in a previous post, this means teaching our kids about the right time and place and partner for sex. It does them no good to tell them to avoid sex - in my experience, this leads either to sexual dysfunction and repression, or excessive and distorted sexual risk-taking behaviour. Or both.

I find it so strange how many people - not JUST parents - are completely disarmed and uncomfortable in the face of the human body. Grown men whom I work with refer to women's breasts as "boobies." The sight of bra straps causes an uproar in schools, where outdated - and decidedly inequitable and discriminatory - dress codes would keep women eternally dressed as Atwood's handmaids. The very THOUGHT that a person might see part of a woman's breast while she feeds her baby sends the oversexed and the prudish running for the formula aisles or a breastfeeding burqa.

The Handmaids from the recent television mini-series adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale.
How many parents are disproportionately concerned about sex scenes in movies or on TV, yet have seemingly no qualms with their children watching scenes of disturbing and gratuitous violence?

Which is more natural - sex or dismemberment? A naked human body that is sexually attractive seems far more innocuous for my children's viewing than the alarming prevalence and normalization of violence in our North American media.

Last night, Gwyneth - whose birthday is in a week - told me, "Mom, soon I'm gonna be TEN!"

I replied, "Oh honey, let's get to seven first. Besides - once you turn ten, then soon you'll start releasing an egg every month and getting your period and needing to use pads or tampons! You don't want to rush that do you?"

Her immediate reply was, "MOM! I won't get pregnant until I'm fourteen."


"Gwyneth," I said firmly, "you'd better not even be having SEX when you're fourteen!"

"Well, I will be doing it when I'm a teenager, Mom."

Yes, I thought. You will.

"Just make sure he uses a condom, okay Gwyneth?"

At this point, poor Ian was finally shaken free from his interwebbed revery and dryly added, "Well, THIS conversation just got heavy."

No, my love. This is what talking to your kids about sex looks like.

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