The Talk

Every week, usually on a Monday, a packet of papers comes home from my son's school. Usually it consists of a lunch menu, various PTA correspondence, a fund raiser one-sheet, and if my wife and I have been doing our job, a letter from the principle or my son's teacher talking about how awesome he is and how much they wish more of the kids were like him. (Okay, okay…maybe not the last one, but he did get tapped to be a Lunch Buster. Still need to read up on what that is.)

This week we received a sheet of paper from the district—a head's up, if you will—about a few films that will be shown to the 5th and 6th grade classes between now and the end of the year.

Yep, those videos.

And it got me thinking. Did my parents ever have "the talk" with me? I mean a dedicated, sit-down conversation about birds, bees, penises, boobs, masturbation and blindness. I came to the conclusion that they didn't. I guess everything I needed to know I learned from watching Quest For Fire, An Officer And A Gentleman, and Excalibur on HBO and Cinemax in the early '80s. All the other blanks were filled in by Club MTV and whatever magazines my uncles had sitting in a pile in their guest bathroom. I do remember being sent home from school with a VHS tape with "The Miracle of Life" written on the side, which I never watched because there was a documentary about sharks at the beginning of the tape that I never managed to finish.

But that was then. These days it seems kids have a super-accelerated learning curve when it comes to sex. Not the direct act itself as much as outside stimulus that taps into youthful sexuality. Girls in grade school dress more provocatively, TV programming pulls no punches anymore, and don't even get me started on YouTube.

I was cleaning my son's room last year and came across a journal he had received as a present a few years back, probably when he was about 7 or 8. Only one page was filled out, the first one, with a single scribbled sentence that read: I like girls at school.

He broaches the subject with me from time to time, but only briefly, and never about specifics. Not because he's necessarily hiding anything. Just that there isn't much to tell. He's already got kids in his 5th grade class that have "boyfriends" and "girlfriends," and apparently one girl makes googley eyes at him during computer lab, which drives him absolutely nuts. (Hmmm…) But all in, his opinion is very matter-of-fact: You're only 10, you can't drive, and you can't go on dates. End of story.

Except it isn't.

Unless he's absent from school on the day "The Miracle Of Life" makes its debut in his classroom—'cause you know it's the same damn video—he'll take part in the great giggle-fest rite of passage that is grade school sex ed. Which means we'll probably have to have some semblance of "a talk" with him at home, just to give him a head's up that the video is coming.

Like any press conference, there will be a question and answer period afterwards, during which time I'm sure he'll ask pointed questions about penises and boobs that may or may not be specifically related to his parents. (Jesus, really?)

Then there's the whole question about whether or not to invite his dad over for the conversation, even though the last thing I want to do is turn the whole thing into some kind of sex tribunal. Regardless, it is our duty to answer truthfully yet sparingly, and leave enough room for him to either figure things out on his own, or feel comfortable enough to ask us for guidance when the time comes. I learned from experience, even if, at that age, nothing was really experienced at all. It was sex education by osmosis, with my parents functioning as the inflatable bumpers in the bowling alley that was my brain.

Besides, my son's got three parents to choose from. And if all else fails, there's always Malcolm In The Middle and The Simpsons.

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  1. oh lord….maybe my boys will stay babies forever and i'll never have to cross this bridge. highly unlikely though. i guess i have a few years to figure out what to do, thanks for the heads up….and good luck with yours!

  2. We talked with our oldest son at around age 7. We have period conversations about things as the questions arise, usually in a movie or other media. He's been told the basics, but also that it is a topic that makes most people uncomfortable, so that if he has questions, he is to ask us in private.

    It actually hasn't been so bad, more like an ongoing topic of discussion.

    Of, course since we live in a small house, I have gotten the question, "uh, I think I know what you're doing when you and dad and in your room and making noise." I said, "yes, do you want to say what it is?" he said, "um, sex?" I said, "yep". he said, "Ok".

    Sometimes, just acting like it normal is the best, but not the easiest thing to do.

    1 agrees
    • I totally agree, April. It's definitely an ongoing dialogue, and keeping that open line of communication that you have is key. I also totally agree about the discretion. What is "in bounds" at home doesn't necessarily translate to school, and these days teachers are unbelievable weird about talk they deem inappropriate, even if it's just innocent inquisition.

      • Let me be more specific about the teacher comment, especially given Nancy's awesome response. I of course don't mean all teachers, and I don't have middle or high school experience with my son yet, but my son's school (and other elementary schools in the district) have certain no tolerance policies that I find a bit unsettling, which are then applied to all situations in a blanket nature. The teachers that we've had for my son have been awesome, but I take a bit of an opposite stance in regards to some of the rules they are made to enforce.

        • Yes, I must say that I have been a bit worried about those "blanket" policies at their school. This is why I've tried to press that the questions aren't inappropriate, but that the place may be. So far, so good…

  3. As a teacher known for friendliness and open-mindedness, I fielded an awful lot of questions from my high school students about sex (and drugs!). Judging from the number of pregnant girls I had in my classes, my kids definitely knew a thing or two about sex but they still had plenty of questions–all "hypothetical," of course. Because these were not my own children, I took the approach of being matter-of-fact and nonplussed by their questions because I wanted them to have the information but I didn't want to get sucked into the uncomfortable details of it all that could easily cross that imaginary teacher-student line. I find that the same approach works for young children, as April mentioned above. Just answer questions as they come up, leave it at that, and leave the door open in the future for more frank, involved discussions in line with developmental appropriateness.

  4. My 14-month old son just discovered his penis and sticks his hands in his pants all the time. Obviously we have a long way until we get to "the talk" but just figuring out how to handle his new-found interest in his genetalia has raised some of the same issues. For now we're just treating it like any other body part and washing his hands more frequently. I want him to be comfortable and open with his body and not to think that sexuality is wierd or gross, but it's not always easy to figure out how to walk the walk on that.

    • oh same here! my husband thinks it means something that he keeps playing with himself. i don't know how to get the husband to realize that its not something out of the norm. i'm not discouraging my son, but i want to teach him appropriate times you know?

      • At that young age, I used to ask them if they needed to go to the bathroom. They usually didn't, but it did call attention to what they were doing in a non-judgemental way. Most don't even realize that they're doing it. Of course, that led into potty training….

        Once they understood more, I used some variant on the phrase "not appropriate in public; okay at home. they didn't fully understand it, but as their understanding grew, my explainations of "appropriate", etc did.

        I think that mentioning it is all you really can do.

        • My little guy can't really talk yet or respond to questions, and "not appropriate in public" is WAY too abstract of a concept. Here's what does work for us:

          1. onesies (so he can't get into his diaper) when we're out in public
          2. one-piece jammies at night (same reason)

          At bathtime or whenever he's handling himself, I just say "Yes, that's your penis. It's ok to touch, but be gentle with it." Sometimes he pulls on it really hard, until he hurts himself. He also pokes himself in the eyes a lot. I figure he'll grow out of both of those things, eventually!

  5. I think the idea of having just one all encompassing "talk" about sex is a bit on the strange side. Different questions will come up at different times, and need to be answered appropriately according to age and maturity.

    As a parent, you should be able to go to the school and see the video with your son, or even before, and know what it is they are going to be talking about so you can already set the groundwork for it before he gets it at school.

    Research shows that the majority of teenagers would like to learn about sex from their parents. Unfortunately that isn't where they are getting the majority of their information.

  6. GRAND LAKE THEATER! I live around the corner!!!! Too bad that portion of the marquee actually says, "Avatar 3D".

  7. I've yet to have any children of my own, but I think the way my mother handled "the talk" was spot-on perfect, for me. Around age 7 or 8 she gave me a book about puberty, let me know that any questions I had were normal and I could ask her anything. She also made a point every week or so for a while after that to casually say again that I could ask questions. The same thing happened a couple years later, but the new book dealt with sex rather than puberty.

    Both books were a great mix of informative and funny (with silly cartoons and stuff, so the kid in me actually wanted to read them because they were fun, not just because I was curious). And the fact that my mom gave me the broad-spectrum info in book form, that I could blush about by myself in my bedroom without feeling embarrassed, and then opened up a line of conversation in a very casual, no-nonsense way was perfect.

    I also think it's great that she gave me the info long before the classes in school, and before the other kids started talking about it. That way, I knew I had the right information and I was able to behave more maturely in those classes and avoid the guessing games my friends were playing about what sex was all about. Of course, not all children are ready at the same time, but I thank my mother for knowing me well enough and choosing the right strategy for me!

      • I know the puberty one was "What's Happening to My Body?" I think it was written in the seventies–all the cartoons wore funky outfits (I grew up in the nineties.). I can't remember the other one, but I'll mention it here if my mother does.

        • I thought I knew which one you were referring to, but after ooking at Amazon for that one I actually found the ones I had been given: "What's Happening to Me?" and "Where Did I come from?".

  8. As a long-time elementary teacher, I think it's wise for some sort of education to happen around fifth or sixth grade. It is better for kids to learn the facts rather than hear untruths from other kids on the playground. In my district- girls in 4th grade get the period talk. It's not too early as we have had third graders get their periods. In fifth grade, the boys get a talk about puberty. In sixth grade it is a series of talks- some mixed group, some single sex. The talk is presented by a member of the local planned parenthood. She knows her stuff! She is so good at handling whatever question they throw at her without missing a beat. All parents are given a list of the planned topics and have the right to remove their children from the program. Very few do.

    We need to educate our kids on the basics of human sexuality so they know it's not dirty or wrong- just a part of being human.

  9. I read an interesting blog post a while back about people talking about the time their parents had "the talk" with them. One person said that his parents started having the talk with him when he was a baby, in fact shortly after he was born. They'd repeat it periodically, a couple fo times a year, so by the time they actually "needed" to have the talk, they were so used to doing it, and he was so used to hearing it, that it wasn't an issue. I thought that was a unique, and effective, way around the discomfort factor.

    • I think my parents did something similar that was really effective. My siblings and I got "the talk" early and often. We were so young, in fact, that I don't remember discovering where I came from – it was something I always knew. And because it was always open for conversation, the discussion didn't need to be repeated, it just evolved as we hit puberty, started having sex, etc. As an adult, it's been fun to watch the looks on friends' faces when I tell them masturbation was dinner table conversation, and that when I lost my virginity I had an overwhelming urge to tell my mother, but their philosophy of no subject being taboo and every conversation being welcome, as long as you weren't out to harm anyone, has kept my family incredibly tight-knit and honest with one another. I just hope I'll be able to pass that along to my children.

      • my mother was the same way. i actually came to her when i was 8 and asked her what i was doing when i touched myself (i started early) she was very supportive and open and made me feel normal, not like a freak. when i lost my virginity at 16 i told her the moment i came home (luckily it was with my high school sweetheart at the time and we were as in love as high school kids can be and he was a wonderful boy who both my parents adored). she asked me how i felt about it and if it made me feel any different. often i think parents instill this unrealistic belief that sex changes EVERYTHING about life. my mother made me feel comfortable and made sure not to judge. i love progressive mothers 🙂

  10. I suppose we've already kind of started. A few weeks ago the B.F's daughter wanted to know if I wear a bra because her mother did. So I said yes and you will too some day.

  11. I'm really fortunate that I heard it first from my mother. When I was about 7 my mother overhead me and a playmate talking about where babies came from ( kissing! ) and so she gave me the whole ball of wax : sex, menstruation, delivery and even a primer on "VD". It was probably a little too much information. I was still reeling from "penis in my vagina" when she hit me with "bleeding every month". Later she told me that nobody had said *anything* while she was growing up and she didn't want to perpetuate that mistake.
    <continued below>

  12. Now here's the interesting part. You would think this would mean our family had progressive attitudes about sex, talked about it openly, etc. We didn't. While she was dispensing the medical facts, she stressed the privateness of the topic. In fact, I think another reason my mother wanted to talk about it so soon was to communicate this privateness so she wouldn't have to worry about my friend and I re-enacting our conversation in front of my friend's mother. So a certain amount of taboo was retained too — what my mother would call "modesty".

    But whether you call it taboo or modesty, whether it was too much information or not enough, it was indeed best to hear it from my mother first.

  13. I develop curriculum and teach fieldtrip programs at a science museum and about this time of year the 5th grade students become really interested in how the animals we are studying reproduce as well (because they're now seeing the "MIracle of Life"). Ironically I had never really thought about the "birds and the bees" because it wasn't presented that way to me as a kid, but it does seem to be a way that kids can comfortably connect to sex and incorporate it into their overall understanding of the world. It also seems to be a way that some teachers who have a hard time teaching the subject can open the door to those further discussions.

  14. I spent several years waiting for my parents to have "the talk" with me. A couple of times I watched my mother (herself a teacher) gear herself up to broach the subject then chicken out. When I was about 12 I finally said "Mummy, where do babies come from" watched her face and hurriedly followed it with "It's ok, I know where babies come from"

  15. I think this is why experts say that sex ed should be a dialogue starting from when they're old enough to first ask, so that there is no single embarrassing major big deal talk that tries to cover everything.

    Then again, I'm researching the "unschooling" version of home schooling, so when my child asks it would be an excuse to go to the library to get out some scientific books with lots of colourful pictures and diagrams about human (and animal) reproduction, and maybe rent some educational DVDs.

  16. Also I agree that it is good to let children know that a lot of adults want to keep sex as a private topic, so out of consideration for not making them feel uncomfortable, don't bring it up in public unless you think its necessary, and be prepared that some people might react uncomfortably.

  17. I never got the talk either, in fact I don't ever remember not knowing how it worked. My folks had the book "Where Do I Come From?" on the bookshelf (with all the other books, it wasn't a secret…). We started reading it when my brother and I were very young, before there was any reason to be embarrassed about it. While it was not particularly in-depth.. I think it literally featured the phrase "When a Mommy and a Daddy love each other very much…". But it covered all the basics, I knew the proper terms for all my parts and it opened the line of communication for any questions I had that would pop up in the future…

  18. I think sometimes we give our children too much information. I lost "mine" at 14, and I deeply regret that. But by the time I was 9 I had seen all the sex ed classes, by the time I was 12, I was receiving condoms, pregnancy advice,( abortion adoption, ect ) and of course they talked about abstinence, but they gave no real consequences, they talked about the scary stds, but then told us where to get help if we had one so it didn't seems as threatening or scary, it just seemed… like something we were supposed to do. Needless to say by the time i graduated high school I knew of about 20 girls in my class who had babies already 3 of witch were pregnant with their 2nd and 5 girls walked across stage pregnant.
    It might be the economy and where I live, but I think giving all that information just fulled the epidemic,
    Like saying, ok we know your trash so just go ahead and do it and welll help you when you screw up..
    I think if we limit the information that our children recievce and gradually introduce them to new things.
    But i wont be letting any school give my children condoms at the age of 12.
    I think the puberty talk was very informative.
    I think it should have stopped there though, at least until the kids are older.
    Because I think if you put it out there like that younger kids are more likely to go out and do it.
    If you wait till they are in high school they are less likely , because they have other things to be worried about, like clubs and sports and pep rallys, Im not saying there wont be accidents, or experiments
    But looking back, I did not care about that person. I didnt feel much of anything for him,
    and I was way to young to actually enjoy it.

    • I had a super-comprehensive sex education class at 14. It talked aobut EVERYTHING: pregnancy prevention, STD prevention, when a young woman should start seeing a GYN, sex, dating, love, homosexuality, transgender. You name it, it was discussed. The funny thing is, it was a brand-new class for high school freshmen, and only about half of the freshmen took it. I think only ONE girl who took the class got pregnant, and getting pregnant was VERY common in our sleepy little town (you either had sex, did drugs, or were a band/drama geek). I personally think giving kids information prevents early sex rather than encourages it, so long as it's delivered with information about love and teen dating.

  19. I never got one, single, concrete "talk" growing up. My parents (mostly my mom) kept the lines of communication open from the time I was a very young child-from the age of 3 "where do babies come from" to the age 5 "how the baby get into the mommy's uterus?" I knew a lot more than most kids did about my body, procreation, sex, masturbation, and rape. And you know what? I waited until I had graduated high school to have sex. I had a healthy respect (but not fear) for the physical and emotional ramifications of sex. If I can be even as half as comfortable with my kids, I'll think I've done a good job.

    • Communication is the key I think!!! And information….it's unbelievably sad how many girls I knew in high school got pregnant or STD's because they didn't think oral sex was "sex" or that "pulling out" was a method of protection. Girls need to know the facts so that when they are put in a situation like that, they can make an informed decision.

  20. I may be biased here, but I feel like my parents brought myself and brother (he's 18, I'm turning 24) up with the most open and honest sex talks possible. There was never an official "shut the door, we're going to have a serious talk" about sex, because my parents were informing us from the start. I do believe that information has to be tailored to the age of the child, obviously the younger, the more simpler and less detail. But, as we grew up, and sex became a topic in school (and it started around grade 5…..waaaay before we had sex ed in grade 7)…my parents were always extremely open and honest. We knew we could come to them with any question, no matter what. They would not judge us. It wasn't always easy

  21. sometimes we were embarrassed to ask, I'm sure sometimes my parents were embarrassed to answer. But they always took the time to explain things to us, because they felt that we needed to have the correct information in order to make the right decisions and to stay healthy. When I felt I was ready to go onto birth control, I went to my parents, and went on it. When I was in a serious relationship in high school, and felt ready to have sex, I did. I was safe and knew the consequences. I also came home that night and told my parents I was sexually active. Maybe too much information for some parents-but my family runs on "the more honesty the better" so although they weren't thrilled (they felt I was young) they were happy I was able to discuss it with them. I stayed with that boyfriend for 2 years, and do not regret my decision at all, I feel like I lost my virginity at the right time in my life, for me. And my brother had a similar experience-my Mom bought him condoms for the first time! My parents knew that sex is out there, everywhere, and that eventually my brother and I were going to engage in it. So they did the best they could to make sure we were as informed as we could be.

    It might not work for every family, but it worked for us. And my husband and I plan to bring our kids up in the same sort of household.

  22. I'm one of those folks who got "the talk" before I could remember having it. Probably having a then-nurse and eventual-midwife mother was part of that — but I can't ever remember NOT knowing where babies came from. There was a little confusion about how it happened (did sex happen with people facing each other or stacked on top of each other? ANSWER: BOTH!!) but I knew the nitty gritty of it all so early that it was just a complete non-issue.

  23. I always thought my mom did it perfectly. From the time I can remember, there was a book on the bottom shelf of our book shelf called something like, "How people are made." I forget the exact title. It was an illustrated book, coffee-table size, full of all sorts of information about men and women and babies and how it all happens. I vividly remember the two-page spread about breasts, featuring two full pages of illustrations of different women of all shapes and size, naked. Underneath the long row of naked women it said something like, "Breast come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes."

    The book was wonderful and completely available to us from whenever I could read (which was before kindergarten). I can remember being fascinated with the size of eggs and how we grew inside the womb. And I can remember being free to discuss anything in the book with my mom at any time.

    I've never had "the talk," because it was never necessary. My mom just answered questions as they came and we never had any. School was useless in that regard.

    • I actually got a very similar book as part of a Christmas present (it showed the entire body anatomy, and I wanted to be a doctor at the time-but it also covered everything to do with sexuality too)…I was young when I got it, don't remember how young though. Whenever I was confused and too embarrassed to ask questions-I went to the book. It was great. And yes, school sex ed is useless.

  24. we have a "ask us anything, we will always tell you the truth" policy with our kids. so when our son asked us about sex at age 8 i pulled out a great book i had from when i was young and he and dad talked about the basics. the next day he asked me if dad told me what they had talked about – i said yes- he said "what do you think?"- i said that if he ever had any questions he could always ask…what do you think? he said "i think it would kinda hurt…does it?" ACK! every fiber of my being wanted to run- this was my baby! i did not want to talk to him about this!!- but holding true to the commitment to always be truthful we ended up having a great talk about how, "no it actually feels good…but…"and it gave me the opportunity to discuss with him how to treat and respect women.

  25. For any parents wanting an up-to-date book about sex for their kids, I can recommend the series by Robie Harris. We have "Let's talk about where babies come from" (published as "It's so amazing!" in the US) which covers just about everything in an age-appropriate way (it's aimed at kids from around 7 & up; there are another two books, one aimed at younger kids and another aimed at kids & teens aged 10 & up). It even covers topics often avoided in other books, such as homosexuality, abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, adoption, abortion, masturbation etc. I'd imagine some parents might feel uncomfortable about the breadth of information covered, but it's all handled in a sensitive way, and acknowledges the fact that different families will have different opinions about some of these issues.

    I had discussed the biology of reproduction with my kids but had managed to sidestep the issue of exactly how the sperm gets to the egg, and getting them a book seemed like a nice way to broach the subject properly. I had some issues as neither of my kids were planned pregnancies and I didn't feel completely comfortable with the "when a man and a lady love each other very much and they want to make a baby…" approach as it wasn't strictly true! But at the same time, I wanted them to grow up with a responsible attitude to sex (preferably a little more than me!!) and didn't want to make out that everyone leaps straight into bed with anyone they are attracted to, but also didn't want them to think there was anything "wrong" with sex. Getting that book has made it so much easier to have natural, relaxed conversations with them about sex.

  26. anything is better than how i found out about sex ugh. i was 6 and looking through the VHS tapes for my cinderella tape. a few were unmarked. thanks dad for storing ur porn right next to the little mermaid and beauty and the beast. my mother beat my dad senseless with that video tape. as i was an outgoing and inquisitive child, my mother knew better than to let the subject go unbroached. she was very graceful and honest and told me as much as i needed to know at the time. thanks mom for turning my horrid experience into a positive one. those images of 80's porn are forever burned into my retinas though…

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