Talking to your kids about s-e-x

I’ve always believed that sex education needs to begin as soon as you bring that little bundle of joy home from the hospital, but the pic above may be pushing that philosophy a bit far! (Faith snapped three-year-old daughter as she pulled Papaw’s book from the book shelf.)

Here’s an excerpt from The Why Files. (Buy it at

Before public schools taught sex education, my friend Chuck was conducting his own “classes” at the back of the bus. His curriculum consisted of magazines he had found stashed in his dad’s workshop. One day he announced, with great authority, “‘Rhythm birth control’ is having sex while listening to the radio.” (Do not try this at home!)

Another educational tool I found fascinating was the Family Medical Book that my aunt and uncle kept on a high shelf in the closet. For twenty-five cents, my cousin would sneak it into his room for a peek at chapters 17 and 18. (I think he finally bought a mountain bike with the money he collected from friends.)

Unfortunately, most sex education occurs at the back of the bus, at a cousin’s house, in locker room, and wherever kids meet—and much of it is misinformation.

Where would our kids really like to find out about sex? Parents! Yep, that’s what the Search Institute has learned, but only one in fourteen parents discuss sex with their children.

Like many parents, you may feel awkward about bringing up the subject with your children. But let’s face it–it’s us or the bus! Lois and I vowed that our children would hear about the beauty and wonder of sexuality before some second-grade Masters and Johnson told them!

The ideal would be to begin sex education at the moment of birth. Hugging, kissing, and warmth of human contact show a child the beauty of communicating love with our bodies. Parents can use teachable moments such as children discovering their body parts, Mom being pregnant with a younger sibling, nursing, discovering tampons on the top shelf of the closet (one mother told her son they were cigars!), or bringing home a new word (with four letters, of course). You don’t have to worry about bringing up the subject with small children!

But you may have avoided the topic by saying, “Someday we’ll have ‘the talk’.” So, now that “someday” is here, how can we openly talk about the subject?

Answer the Questions that They’re Asking

If they ask about “A,” don’t give them “A-Z.” We’ve tried to keep a bit a head of what our children–and their peers–already knew. If kids were talking about “M” on the playground, we made sure we were talking about “N-P” at home.

Plan Some “Big” Events

When Faith was in fourth grade, Lois took her to the local Holiday Inn for a weekend of swimming, miniature golf, and eating pizza on the king-size bed. During this time, Lois explained the wonderful–and normal–changes Faith should expect in the next few years.

Since I wanted to get in on the educational process, I wrote a letter to my favorite nine-year-old, to use when Lois got to the part of the sperm and egg getting together (See chapter 15).

My trip to the “Holi-dome” with Paul came in second grade. We discovered he was hearing about “N” already and we had just talked about “O,” so we accelerated his education.

In our teaching we’ve avoided the concept of “good” and “bad” touches that is often taught in schools. Because we don’t want Faith and Paul to think that sex is “bad,” we’ve used the terms “family and friend” touches and “husband and wife” touches. We don’t want them to be emotionally confused when suddenly “bad” touches become “good” touches after they say “I do.”

So, we’ve tried not to teach anything we’ll need to un-teach such as babies come from cabbage patches, the Tooth Fairy transforms bicuspids into coins, and “Grandpa is just sleeping.”

Allow the Subject to Come Up Naturally

Hug and kiss a lot! (Put this book down right now and give your spouse a big, wet kiss!) Let your children know that physical affection is designed to express joy and love in close relationships. Let me warn you, however, that knowledge is dangerous a grade-schooler’s brain! And we have tried to teach them that what they’re learning is not for school’s “show and tell” or family reunions.

Once, Lois was in the shower after spending several hours weeding strawberries. As the stream of water massaged her sore, aching muscles, she was murmuring, “Ooooo. Aaaah. Oh, yah!” Paul knocked on the door and yelled, “Are you and Dad having sex in there?!”

Another time, when Paul was three and visiting my parents, he suddenly announced, “Grandpa, I have a penis! Do you have a penis?” My father turned bright red and just stared into his mashed potatoes. Which brings us to another point.

Remain Cool and Calm

My father turned bright red another time. As a sixth-grader I wrote in the dust of our ’55 Chevy “Make love, not war.” Dad went ballistic and growled “Wash that off right now and never, ever say ‘make love’ again!” I just thought it meant it was better to love people than bomb them. I found out differently at the back of the bus. And I also discovered that sex was an unspeakable subject with Dad.

That’s why it’s so important we parents maintain a calm, matter-of-fact expression when our kids ask, “What’s a condom?” or “How do you get AIDS?” Admittedly it take some practice to react calmly to, “Where can a person buy an early pregnancy test?” (See chapter 24 for the answer to that one.)

If we have a history of being cool and calm when the subject comes up, the subject will keep coming up.

Be Accurate

But even good communication can be broken off with bad information. When I was in third grade, my mom told me that a baby lived inside a mother’s stomach. This poor, ignorant women, I thought. According to my science book, a baby would have to survive hydrochloric acid in the stomach and then have to squeeze through several feet of intestines to get out. Yeccchhhh! I knew that couldn’t happen, so I stopped asking Mom questions and started asking Chuck instead.

Keeping Lines of Communication Open

Most of all, deliberately work at ways to get beyond the “What did you do in school today?” “Nothing” dialog.

1. Do things with your teen. Take your son or daughter out to eat—just Mom and son, or Dad and daughter. Do things that allow you to spend lengthy time together.

People look at me like I’m some kind of sexual deviant as I sit outside of women’s dressing rooms (which always seems to be the bra and panty section), but Faith loves to shop and I love to be with her. Once a week, Paul and I try to have “Men’s Night” where we build something or just watch TV, drink Pepsi’s, and see who can belch the loudest.

2. Look through the books they bring home from school. Ask, “What do you think about . . . ?” (Remember, keep questions non-threatening.)

3. Watch TV with them.

4. Talk about TV commercials. “Do you think using [fill in the blank] will really make you [fill in the blank]?”

5. Talk about why you don’t allow certain TV programs in your home.

6. Talk about the TV news. (Every night there’s an opportunity to talk about everything from AIDS to zygote cryogenics.)

7. Talk about music. Ask, “What do you think about that singer’s attitude toward women?” “Why do you think that singer has such a bad attitude toward men?”

8. Talk about the message presented at your house of worship last weekend.

9. Play communication games, such as the Ungame. The board game allows from non-threatening communication of real feelings.

10. Talk about what you’re feeling. (Don’t make them take the first step.)

Sometimes it’s as difficult as getting a “child-proof” cap off a bottle, but keep trying. Your children do want to hear about sex from you–not at the back of the bus.

Copyright © 1987 James N. Watkins


Author and speaker

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