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When my son was a toddler, he was taught that he has a penis and that females have vulvas. We didn’t water down the proper names of anatomy into dumb words like “wiener” or “hoo-ha.” He was also taught to ask before touching others and to speak up about others touching him, especially if he didn’t like it. We told him 8,000 times that it’s important to respect your body, as well as have autonomy over it.
So, when he was 7-years-old and came home from first grade talking about a girl who had kissed him under the slide at recess, it seemed high time that we had the sex talk. No, I didn’t think he was in danger of inappropriate behavior. But let’s get real: Kids these days are learning some super backward ideas about sex and gender all before the third grade. So I took this kissing situation as my foot-in-the-door to set some foundational knowledge for my son.
And I did not hold back.
When I launched into the wild territory of explaining sex to my son, I was sure that I would flush into every shade of red on the color wheel, while tripping my way through what was supposed to be an awkward milestone (I saw American Pie, for Pete’s sake). To my surprise, however, our conversation came pretty naturally, probably because we had already been talking about body positivity and self-respect in our house for his entire life.
The talk lasted more than an hour. We chatted while making dinner and then the whole family joined in as the conversation spilled into dinnertime. My son had questions. I had answers.
He didn’t need to know details beyond the mechanics of sex — that a penis goes inside a vagina in order to conceive a baby. What boggled his mind, though, is that sometimes grown-ups do this for fun.
He asked me what it means to be gay. He was also curious about why this girl at school was so insistent that she is his girlfriend. We told him the truth about all of it.
Despite what some may think, my son did not become depraved or weird for having this information spelled out for him. Our talk occurred in the safety and privacy of our home. My husband and I could take our time making sure that not only does our son have his facts straight (someone told him that his lips will shrivel up into raisins if a girl kisses him on the mouth…WTF?!), but that he feels confident to use that information in appropriate ways.
We also told him that he probably shouldn’t run around the playground at recess explaining what sex is. That’s a discussion that kids should have with their parents. The exception, of course, is if my kid feels compelled to correct some of the pretty crazy information floating around the second grade.
We’re starting to discuss the concept of consent now. All three of my kids are in charge of their own bodies. We don’t force them to give kisses or hugs to grandma, no matter how offended that makes her (and believe me, it does). We do this because it is no longer enough to teach our kids to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. They need to feel safe, treat people with respect, and know that their voices and choices about their relationships — from a peck kiss in second grade to sex in high school — is healthy and on their own terms.
Talking about sex with kids doesn’t have to be weird. Trust me. Your kids will thank you later.