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Why I've Already Started Teaching My Kids About Sex

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Bethany Sanders: Forget about the stork: My kids want real answers.

woman talking to son

"Mama, how do babies get in a mommy's belly?" I swear to you, my husband is never around for these questions. He's either conveniently at work, or his inner Spidey sense (which tells him an uncomfortable conversation is imminent) sets off its alarm just in time, so that he's out raking the lawn or at the store picking up milk when these questions come up.

Other blush-worthy questions include, "Do I have a baby in my belly already?" (spoken loudly in a restaurant while my husband was, of course, in the restroom) and, "How can you stop yourself from getting pregnant if you don't want a baby?" (asked in front of our pediatrician).

Gone are the days when kids believed a stork dropped babies onto porches like little wailing gifts from heaven. Kids today are savvier than that, and waiting until they're "old enough" for the Big Talk can mean they get the (mis)information from their peers instead.

Though I'm happy to let my daughters believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy for a few more years, I think that they deserve honest and straightforward answers from me -- and their dad, if he ever gets back from the store -- about their bodies and where they came from. That's why we started discussing these types of tough topics as early as we could.

"Kids are capable of understanding far more than we give them credit for," says sexuality educator Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., author of "Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be." "You don't have to share everything at once. Find out what they want to know, listen to them and take it from there." I've learned that the simple question, "Well, what do you think?" helps my kids expand on their question so I can hear exactly what they're thinking. It can also give me time to gather my thoughts.

It's my hope that, by making discussions about sex and development a normal part of our everyday conversations, my kids will feel comfortable talking to me when more complicated conversations come up in the future. "There's nothing wrong with being honest with your children," Levkoff says. "Sex and sexuality are wonderful and important parts of life. It is far better that we set the stage for them, rather than letting the TV teach them."

When your kids are ready to start talking about where babies come from -- or rather, when you're ready to start discussing it with them -- consider these tips:

  • Don't lieUse correct names for body parts and give honest, age-appropriate answers to their questions.
  • Give them a little bit of information at a time. Think of your child's sex education like circling a mountain: You'll return to the same questions again and again as they get older, giving a little more detail each time.
  • Use context as a jumping-off point. Say that someone said something weird at school, or that your kids saw something on TV they didn't understand. These are great teachable moments where you can give solid information to your kids.
  • Uncomfortable? Grab a book and share it together. We just finished "It's Not the Stork!" by Robie H. Harris, and it was pitch-perfect for my little ones. But my older child is ready for Harris' next book, "It's So Amazing!"
  • Be available. Create an environment that makes it easy for kids to come to you with questions.

A friend of mine raising a 12-year-old boy says that car rides are the perfect place to discuss uncomfortable questions with older kids, because the kids can't go anywhere! You've got a rapt audience, and you can both keep your eyes on the road. (No awkward eye contact necessary.)

Have your kids started asking these kinds of questions? How do you handle it?

4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sol April 27, 2010, 7:22 AM

My daughter started asking these questions when she was 3. Now at 5 the questions have become a bit more complex but we try our best to answer them. I think keeping the lines of communication AND information open is the way to go. My parents didn’t do any of this with me and I learned about sex in all the wrong places. I believe that by discussing this with my daughter she will grow up knowing that these things are normal, sex & sexuality are not something to be ashamed of. Hopefully this will lead her to be a bit more self assured when she comes face to face with peer pressure relating to sex.

chris April 27, 2010, 7:47 AM

Thank you for offering a better post than the one yesterday where the mom was so afraid to talk to her son about sex and now that she has, her son is so grossed out that he claims he will only have sex once because he wants one baby. I was so surprised by her post and some of the people responding by saying “oh that’s so cute”. I started talking to my kids while they were young. They are now 14 (boy) and 10 (girl) and I try to use any excuse to talk about sex,love and relationships. My son started getting sexting messages on his cell phone from girls around 12! I have used that to have many of many conservations. Parents are only fooling themselves if they think their kids aren’t expose to sexual matters while still even in elementary school. My son at 13 was 5’10” with skateboarder long hair and wearing size 12 shoe! He is often mistaken for 16 or 17. He started high school this year and a senior (17) was actually pursuing him. It’s crazy! It is my job as his mom to talk to him over and over and over again about safe sex and teach him the proper way to deal with girls (respecting them)and help guide him to make the best choices.

Kristin April 27, 2010, 5:05 PM

Amen Chris.

Hassan March 28, 2011, 11:35 PM

Still confusing. Talking to your kids about such a sensitive topic is always difficult (my opinion). Getting frank is giving liberty to them.

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