Talking “the talk” with my daughters: I accidentally avoided talking about sex with my kids

Guest post by Mark Freeman

By: Yasuyuki HIRATACC BY 2.0
On a recent trip home from my daughters’ horseback riding lessons, we got on the subject of puppies, pregnancy, and birth. My daughters were trying to wrap their minds around the size of litters and giving birth to so many babies. What was confusing them was whether the mother had all the babies at once or if they emerged one at a time, and if so, how did the babies know to come out in “a line.”

My daughters asked if it was hard for the mom, and I explained that it’s tough to gauge pain or discomfort in animals, but it did seem like animals exhibited signs of pain while birthing their babies. The topic eventually worked its way to human babies and pregnancy. My oldest daughter finally asked the question, “Does it hurt?”

So, being a father and not wanting to miss an opportunity I said, “Yes, excruciatingly so.” I figured, why not, right? I am prone to hyperbole, but I felt my wife and most moms I know would back me up on this one. And a little fear of horrific pain might prolong their desire to become moms in, what seems entirely too near, the future. I know, I was using my honesty to mask my own parental fears of my daughters growing up, but… so what?

The girls were quiet for a moment and then my youngest finally said, “Well, I’m not having one then!” Internally, I cheered. My oldest waited a beat and then asked, “Do we have to have a baby if we don’t want one?”

I didn’t waste much time thinking over my answer this time either. “No,” I said. “It’s your choice, sweetheart, if you want to have babies or not.” Not to politicize a conversation with my daughters, but it wasn’t hard for me to make the connection between this innocent question from my daughter, and what seems an attempt at retracting the hard-fought equal rights for woman in the past few years.

“Okay, good,” she said.

At this point I was feeling pretty good about myself and the conversation. I felt I’d taken a stand for equal rights and promised to defend my daughters’ reproductive rights. I was feeling much like a bona fide father of the year candidate when I was blind sided by the next question.

“So, how do they get in there then?” she asked.

“Um, what?” I asked, very quickly fearing the turn in the conversation. She wasn’t asking what I thought she’s asking, was she? C’mon, I still have a few years yet before I have to talk to my little girl about that, don’t I?!

“Well, if I don’t want to have a baby, how do I not have one? How do they get in there?”

Damn it.

I was sunk. I have to admit, I wasn’t ready for the question. I stammered, and admittedly, it wasn’t my proudest dad moment ever. I looked in the review mirror and saw my two daughters’ small faces, button noses, and blue eyes awaiting my answer. They were looking to me, their dad, to drop some knowledge on them, and never had I been at such a loss before. Especially for them.

“Well,” I started just as we passed the last few trees before our house came into view. “MOMMY!” my girls exclaimed as they noticed their Mom’s car, revealing she’d beaten us home. I was saved, the girls had forgotten their line of interrogation and their minds had moved on to the excitement of mom being home. I had, luckily, avoided this particular topic for — hopefully — another decade or so.

I let them down, but almost — I feel — really let them down. You see, in that split second before seeing my wife’s car, my mind had come up with two paths to follow — neither of which were very good options.

But, you see, here’s the thing: I haven’t been able forget about it. I let them down, but almost — I feel — really let them down. You see, in that split second before seeing my wife’s car, my mind had come up with two paths to follow — neither of which were very good options.

My first thought was to bury them in science and technical terms. Put my biology degrees to good use in stonewalling having to give my daughters a real explanation for sex and pregnancy. My other thought, and the one I nearly knee jerked into telling them, was that “When two parents love each other, they make a baby together.” Where this came from, I really don’t know, but it has really given me quite a bit of consternation since it leapt into my mind.

Why would I tell my daughters that? Well, I know why, because if I could I would line their clothes in bubble wrap, I would install airbags into the knees of their jeans, and surround their hearts in rainbows and marshmallows. But how would that ever empower them and honestly answer my daughter’s question? It wouldn’t. It would only empower the Todd Akins of the world — something that I won’t abide.

However, I want them to know and believe they were created out of love. They weren’t made from it, “No,” I’ll say. “You were made with a sperm and an egg. Simple as that.” However, I will be emphatic that because their Mom and I loved each other very much, we wanted to bring them into this world.

And, since that moment, they have shown me a whole new plane of existence and love. Every day they teach me more about love than I ever would have guessed. My daughters, simply at being born and taking breaths, have given my life purpose. I will tell them that. Every word.

But, I will also tell them that love isn’t what made them or put them in their Mom’s belly. No, that takes an egg from the mom and a sperm from the dad. Happens all the time in dogs, cats, whales, and millions of other species. It doesn’t take any love at all to make a baby. There’s nothing mysterious or magical about it.

I know too many people who have more love than most, but who will never make a baby. It is not for lack of any amount of love, but because of biology that they can’t make a baby of their own. I have friends who have lost babies, but it was never because of an over abundance of love. It was, sadly, because of biology.

Babies should be born into a safe and loving place, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes they’re not made because of love, “Not like you were,” I’ll say, but sometimes in apathy or even brutality. And, “That’s not okay,” I’ll say, but it is true.

I’ll tell them again because I actually got this bit right, that it will always be their choice whether to have a baby or not. Because, it is their choice.

So, I feel better now. I feel ready for the conversation, which I still hope has been delayed for a lengthy amount of time. I’m now ready to have “The Talk” with my daughters about how babies are made and where they come from. I’m still embarrassed about being ill prepared before, but at least I rallied and am ready for them now.

Which is good, at least, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for them to actually make any.

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Comments on Talking “the talk” with my daughters: I accidentally avoided talking about sex with my kids

  1. Thank you for this. I’m getting pregnant in a doctor’s office, and though I’ll have love for my future children, and I’ve spent lots of time and energy and (honestly) money making them eventually happen, the only love involved presently does not involve anyone other than me. I’m really glad I’m included in your explanation. 🙂

  2. You’re welcome, Marie. I’ve come to believe our children come to us in so many different ways and shapes that all that matters is that we do right by and love them. The only definition of family I believe in is love and kindness. The physical make up of the family doesn’t really matter so much. Thanks for reading and sharing your story!

  3. Have to jot down a few notes from this for when I inevitably have to have the talk with my daughter. I love that you emphasize that love is not needed to make a baby, but love was why she was made. Always remind them that they were a product of a loving relationship.

      • That loving relationship may simply be the love of parent for child. With abortion and Plan B readily available these days, we hope that any parent having a child is doing so out of love for the child. Even a child put up for adoption was loved enough that the parent wanted to give it a loving home rather than terminate.

        • “readily available” is open to some interpretation – not the words i would use in my location/culture.

          if they weren’t – well, i would stick with the idea that love doesn’t make a baby, but it can make a family (however you are choosing to define that – or makes a relationship, if you’re talking about a kid who’s not your family).

          • I agree, babies aren’t made out of love, but love is certainly a (the?) main component of a family. Marie, it sounds like you’ve worked very hard to bring your children into this world, and it sounds to me like quite the testament of love. However our families are made up, single parent, two parents, same gender, not, love should be the only thing that truly matters. That’s my opinion for what it’s worth, at least. Good luck with your pregnancy!

          • I agree. My aunt and uncle have been trying to figure out how to have this conversation with their adopted son – he was not particularly created out of love, his mother absconded from the hospital after his birth and they’ve heard neither hide nor hair of her for six years. However, he is most certainly loved and valued as part of the family. This is a lovely way to put it.

  4. You’re not the only one who has been surprised with a question! One day I was driving my (new- as in had been living with me for less than a month) foster son home from school and he was singing a rap song I didn’t know. It involved the word “clitoris” and he promptly asked me “What’s a clitoris?”
    I’ve been teaching sex ed to underserved populations for YEARS and I STILL stammered and gave a half assed answer that I’m still a little ashamed about. It’s funny, we think we’re totally prepared, we have the answers to all these questions ready to go, but when it’s dropped on us as we’re driving down the street it all goes right out the window.

    I will also say, the line “surround their hearts in rainbows and marshmallows” is the perfect way to describe how I feel as a parent. Perfect!

  5. It’s so funny for me to think on “the talk”… as the daughter of a midwife, there was never NOT talking about it. All of it. In detail. With medical terms (hell, I got into a fist-fight at age 5 over whether Barbie had “breasts” or “boobies” — how DARE that other girl use such a stupid word to describe Barbie’s breasts!). By the time I was 10, I was always like GOD MOM CAN WE PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT VAGINAS AND BABIES ALL THE TIME.

    Moral of the story: the quickest way to not have to answer questions about sex with your children is to talk to them about it all the time.

    • Totally agree x 1000

      Any time my 11 year old boy-kid has raised anything that could even remotely segue to a reproductive/physical boundaries/human body topic, I have jumped all over it. I tend to keep information factual but the conversations are usually short and therefore not overwhelming.

      For example- ad on TV for menstrual product:

      Kid- What is that ad for?
      Me- short recap on periods, made way easier thanks to previous discussions about wombs, eggs, sperm and and babies. Then quick explanation of the purpose of the product.

      Kid- that is the most revolting thing I have ever heard

      Me- yeah, I know it sounds gross, but that’s what happens. Its been happening to me for years

      Lesson over. I have paved another stone on the pathway to an informed teenager (then adult) who understands the male and female body. Who will not NOT know stuff. I see so many pluses to this ahead in the teenage years- realistic ideas about female bodies, awareness of safe sex, respect for sexual partners, comfort with own sexuality and body…..

      I also sporadically just flat-out ask him if he has any questions about sex. Usually the answer is no, to which I respond with an open offer to come back to me if he thinks of anything.

      So the biology of menstruation, sex, contraception and babies is pretty much de-mystified in our house, which is great.

      What I have found though, is that I get asked OTHER types of questions that I have to think on my feet to answer, such as ‘do you like having sex with Dad’?

      I think I was ill-prepared for that one.

      Maybe our kids are just always going to push us out of our comfort zone- they probably have an in-built radar for it.

  6. Lovely piece, and I really enjoyed reading it.

    I don’t, however, think you necessarily did your daughters any favours by describing birth as “excruciating”. People’s experiences vary; for some that’s true (maybe it was true for their mother?), but others wouldn’t describe it like that. It sounds like they’re young and probably they won’t remember, but I wonder if you may have frightened them more than was necessary.

    • Thanks, QoB!

      I appreciate your comment and note. First off, I was attempting to be funny in the article, sorry if that didn’t come across. Secondly, I was unaware that some folks experience a (natural) painless child birth. As a guy, I really can’t way in on it, but from most of the birth stories and friends (mid-wives and doulas among them) I’ve discussed the matter with, all have had varying degrees (you’re right) of pain. But some pretty good pain in most cases. I felt it was fair of me to explain that it was a painful experience (had I not, I feel I might have had a fair number of people pointing out my lack of empathy). And, thirdly, I said I was prone to hyperbole. I also think it’s fair of me to hope that my five year old is thinking of things other than birthing babies for the next few years. They have heard their birth stories, with less hyperbole and more facts, many times. In the next few years they will continue to hear them as well as the wonderful experience of parenthood (and read many blogs about our misadventures), so I am sure I haven’t done any lasting damage in discouraging them from becoming mothers in the future.

      Thanks again for the comment.

    • I was going to say something like this. Often time the reason birth is painful has to do with fear, and fear of pain. Fear is taught to us as girls from a very young age. I understand why a father or parent would want to say something like this, though. You just don’t want your girl to rush into something, so you want her to be afraid of it.

      My mom didn’t hide the pain part of it, but she was much more gentle describing it. she said something like, “It hurts, then it’s a lot of work, then it’s over, and I had you to make it all worth it.” She made it seem beautiful, not horrifying.

      • EXACTLY. That was the one thing that I wanted to comment on too, and I’m glad it was brought up. My mother had me & my 3 siblings all naturally but I was still terrified of the idea of birthing a baby for most of my life, as a child growing up is influenced by everything around them and not just their parents. The vast majority of our world teaches that childbirth is terrifying, excruciating and horrendous, to be dealt with only by drugs, surgery, and/or vein-popping screaming.

        It took a whole lot of research, classes and methods to un-learn all of that and deal with it from a more practical standpoint–working with your body, understanding what is happening and leaving the debilitating fear behind. I had a wonderful unmedicated birth that, while it wasn’t a walk in the park, it was nothing I couldn’t handle, and not nearly as bad as the rest of the world had lead me to believe. I wouldn’t have traded that incredible experience for anything. Part of that was luck, but I also very strongly believe that part of it was not being terrified and tense and panicked.

        Not that we want every little girl to think giving birth is pain-free, but a healthy dose of “you’re strong, don’t be afraid, you can do it” is the loudest message we should be sending.

        With that said, it sounds like your 2 little girls have some good parents looking after them and they will make informed decisions about when and if they want to become mommas. And you might be surprised at how thrilled you’ll be when they finally do… as well-adjusted young women starting families & giving you grandkids? They might be more embarassed by you bringing up the topic by then 🙂

  7. “It doesn’t take any love at all to make a baby.”

    that is so important. and thank you for putting into words what squicks me out so much about the “mommy+daddy+love=baby” narrative (well, one of the many things).

    • Great point, even as a parent in a ‘typical’ nuclear family, our narrative was a bit more complicated-

      Boy + Girl + love + fuckin’ lots + lotsa party drugs + forgot to take the one pill I should have been taking = WTF!?? = freakout = baby

      My child has a stable home life and is deeply loved and wanted.

      I have always felt funny about how there seems to be an unspoken link drawn between whether a child was planned and how much they are loved and wanted.

  8. I know you’re just joking around, by why would you want to wait to talk? The stuff kids pick up on their own is simply atrocious, and they start sharing misinformation years sooner than you would believe.

    If you’re too tongue tied, there’s all sorts of great children’s books out there to help. When I was a wee one I was entranced by Lennart Nilsson’s Life book. My mom has a whole box of crooked blobby crayon fetus drawings based on it.

    • Thanks, Kaete.

      The point of the story wasn’t that I don’t want to discuss it, but that I was blind-sided by the question. My daughters are 8 and 5 now, and I wasn’t expecting the question right then while driving home.

      We actually, as many of you have also noted, have a very honest and factual home. My daughters don’t use “cutesy” terms for body parts, nor are they or my wife and I squeamish about discussing bodies, body functions, or reproduction. We’re comfortable with our bodies and have no problems with discussing them.

      I’ll also be completely honest and say I also want my girls to be kids for as absolutely long as possible and don’t want them to start fixating on “grown up” things or topics. So, the notion of sex popping up on my kids radar doesn’t really thrill me. Maybe I’m wrong in this idealistic notion of letting them stay children, liking children things, and not growing up too soon. But, if that’s my biggest mistake as a parent, I’ll take it.

      I’m a biologist by education and training and my girls have seen puppies being born, etc. I have no problem telling my girls, and have since, that a baby is made when a sperm and an egg are joined in the mother’s womb and form a zygote, which grows into a fetus, and then into a baby. That wasn’t the question, the question was how does it get in there. I have no problem telling them that the father puts the sperm in the mother. However, my daughters question was much more pointed at that time, and I was taken by surprise.

  9. thanks for the thoughtful, and obviously loving piece Mark. I’d say to go with your instincts on when is right to have the talk with your daughters.
    I’ll share something though in case it helps, which is that I wish someone had given me at least a basic version of “the talk” by about the age of your eldest daughter. It was that age that I was molested by a family friend, and having very limited understanding of how a baby gets inside I convinced myself that I was pregnant by just having been touched. It was a very painful time for me that could have been *far* less traumatic if I had had a simple, straightforward education on how one actually gets pregnant.
    It’s fairly obvious you’re a lot more involved in your kids’ lives (you write a blog about parenting!), but perhaps consider a talk sooner than later (ten years was probably a joke, I get it). Maybe when the time comes it could incorporate setting boundaries, saying “no”, why those places on our bodies are special could be a segue to the reproduction topic. though, yea, I wouldn’t want to start them off scared.
    Thanks for the honest piece. You sound like an awesome dad.

  10. It’s really hard when kids blindside you with those kinds of questions. I’m a big fan of the line, “that’s a really good question! Let me think about it a little & then we can talk.” However, I’ve only used this on older kids (8+), not sure how it would work on the little ones who may not grasp the concept of “later” very well.

  11. I love hearing from Dads on OBF! Great piece – well written and well thought out besides being funny! It’s great that you have an awareness not only of how this discussion will affect your daughter’s attitudes about love, sex, and family, but also about politics and their worth as full humans. My parents used the “when a mommy and daddy love each other” bit when we were very young, plus the seed/water/flower analogy, but it didn’t take long for them to explain the nuances of biology and the different kinds of families that exist – and embarrassing (thought appreciated) offers of condoms and BC pills. (Though not, as my dad later admitted he wanted, a fishbowl full of prophylactics on the mantle.)

  12. This is a great book to help explain: How Babies Are Made

    It starts out with how plants reproduce, then animals, then people. It’s scientific, but not over the heads of most kids. Pictures are realistic without being graphic. I think for some parents who feel less comfortable with it, it might be easier to read from a book.

  13. I loved this. It made me smile. I am the oldest of five, four of us being girls with a much younger brother. We used to blind side my dad with this kind of stuff all the time. I now have a daughter of my own and hope that my husband and myself will know the right thing to say when the time comes. My brother is 18 years younger than I am and has often caught me off guard with these types of questions, he also asked me “how she got in there” when I was pregnant, I wish I had thought to explain it less scientific. I also loved when you wrote “babies aren’t made out of love, but love is certainly a (the?) main component of a family” why didn’t I think of that! Well said!

  14. Yeah, I remember asking my mom about this when I was 10 (and had been taunted by a former friend at school, “I bet you don’t even know what sex is!”); she was very cool, as I recall, and my dad took my sisters downstairs to play while Mom pulled out her Our Bodies, Ourselves book–a very handy resource for explaining the process. I don’t know whether she felt she did an adequate job, but what adults perceive as “adequate” and what kids are happy with are two totally different things, as my 2 year old teaches me every day.

  15. i taught preschool and feel like i mastered the avoidance-of-the-question, which i was asked surprisingly often by kids between 3-6yrs old. i didn’t want to lie, or overshare to kids whose parents have the right to answer openly, vaguely, or however they feel is appropriate for that age.

    the first time i was asked, i paused in shock…but i played it off like i was thinking reeeeeally hard about the answer and came up with “hrmmmm…i don’t HAVE any babies, maybe you should ask your mommy/daddy when you get home!”

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