I talked about sex with my kids… and possibly scarred them for life

Guest post by Jenn

I always thought that when it came to the talk, I’d be super fly about it — I wasn’t going to be one of those moms who used words like “hoohah” and “doodad.” Nor was I going to fill my children’s heads with lies that involved storks or magic fairy dust. I pride myself on being an unconventional and deeply honest mom.

Fast forward to when my kids were eight and five, respectively, and we had the talk. Let me tell you — it was harder than I thought. Using the appropriate words was a cinch, but getting down to the mechanics of it was a challenge. Answering where a baby comes from is easy, but answering the hows of it can be a little more complicated.

The two catalysts that lead up to the actual conversation were as follows.

The first involves my son. He was five years old when he came walking into my bedroom one day, stark naked, and with his little hand cupped around his balls and asked, “Mom, what are these for?”

Welcome to the real joys of parenthood.

What would you have done? If you’re anything remotely like me you would have hurled yourself onto the floor in a giggling fit of hilarity. At least, that’s what I wanted to do. Fortunately, I approached the matter with a little more maturity and decorum. I simply and gently explained that they’re for holding “these tiny little things called sperm… that are kind of like tadpoles” and “they’re very important in helping to make babies.”

In hindsight, I can see how that might have been totally freaky for a five-year-old. A look of grossed-out horror came across his face, and he screamed, “EWW! They’re in there now?!”

That time, I did laugh. Then I assured him that there were no sperm swimming around in his balls just yet, and that he didn’t need to worry about it for many years. Relieved that he was tadpole-free, he turned and walked back into the simplicity of childhood.

The second catalyst involves my daughter, who is too smart for her own good — simple as that. I’d already explained to her where babies come from, and that it takes boy parts and girl parts to get the job done. She was fine with this elementary knowledge for a few years, but eventually reached a point where that song and dance wasn’t good enough anymore. She knew there was more to the story, and by golly, she wanted to know.

The three of us were in the car on the way to the post office when out of nowhere my daughter asked — without any shred of apprehension, mind you — exactly how a man’s penis and a woman’s vagina make a baby.

Cue inner monologue: What the fuck, kiddo? We went from singing with the Wiggles to inquiring about the physical methodology of sexual reproduction?

Of course, I recognized that this was the moment of truth — do or die. The little lovely lady had cleverly, and I’m sure quite purposefully, constructed her question when there was absolutely no possibility of escape. I had to face it. I’m not sure how, but I could tell she meant business this time. Her eyes were practically screaming, “and woman, don’t you dare feed me the same ol’ crap anymore.”

I had been so cool and on point in the past, but I fumbled to find the right words in that moment. Maybe it was because my son was right there, or maybe it was because I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be. Either way, it took me a couple of seconds to form my thoughts in such a way as to not scar them for life. I don’t remember what I said verbatim, but it went down a little something like this:

“Okay. You know how a boy has a penis and a girl has a vagina? And you remember that I told you that both parts are needed to make a baby? Well, when a boy and a girl love each other and they decide they want to have sex to show each other their love, the boy puts his penis inside the girl’s vagina. And you know how we’ve talked about boys having sperm? Well, the sperm comes from inside the penis and when they have sex, the sperm is put into the girl’s vagina. Then the sperm swim to find an egg inside the girl. When the sperm reach the egg that’s how a baby is made. That’s how a girl gets pregnant.”

True, it was a somewhat dumbed-down, candy-coated, not-entirely-medically-accurate version, but it was still fairly sufficient in accuracy for their ears.

The car fell silent. As I looked in the rear-view mirror to see their faces, my poor son had an expression that I can only assume was related to repugnance. Considering his mortified face, the silence, and his young age, I’m convinced that I might have planted a seed of celibacy in him.

My girl, however, was in deep contemplative mode. Naturally. I could see that her wheels were turning, but I swear to Almighty I was not prepared in the least for what came next.

“But mom, I’m confused. How come the boy can’t just stick his penis in the girl’s mouth and put the sperm in there so she can get pregnant?”

Then I crashed the car and we all died.

When I finally contained my laughter and composed my thoughts, I gave her the simplest and most accurate explanation I could think of on the spot: “Because the eggs aren’t stored in a girls mouth.”

No, not really, but I literally had to slap my hand over my mouth to keep from spewing laughter. I already suffer from severe inappropriate moments of giggles, but this was more than I could take. With only one hand on the wheel, my body convulsed with silent waves of shrieking. I consider it one of my greatest driving achievements thus far in maintaining focus long enough to not careen off the road.

When I finally contained my laughter and composed my thoughts, I gave her the simplest and most accurate explanation I could think of on the spot: “Because the eggs aren’t stored in a girls mouth.”

And with that the car fell silent once more and it has never been spoken of again — at least not to the extent of those details.

The lesson here is pretty obvious. It’s all well and good to be open and honest with your children. I encourage it wholeheartedly and I still have conversations that make me wince. However, I must warn you: if you do, you have got to be prepared for those uncomfortable, unimaginable, sometimes horrifying, can’t-make-this-shit-up moments when you wish to hell you would have stuck with the lies of storks and magic fairy dust.

Comments on I talked about sex with my kids… and possibly scarred them for life

  1. And that is almost exactly how my mum did it, and I’m ever so grateful. She even went into the semi-specifics of STDs.

    So, I was scarred for quite a while, I think I was four when I really got it. On the upside, I avoided all of that crazy high-school drama. I was able to explore my sexuality by myself without fear, and completely avoided any pregnancy scares or that awkward first time moment. It’s worked on all of my siblings as well, so far. (I’m the eldest of four.)

    I know exactly what I’m doing for my future kids. ;D

  2. I grew up on a horse ranch, so my father decided that the best way to inform me about the “facts of life” was when we took our female horse to get bred by a stallion. If anyone here has seen horses mating you know that it is the most terrifying, un-romantic, un-human-like thing nature has to offer. My dad took me to see this, and said “this is how babies are made, your mom and I did this to make you and your sister.” Ummm…talk about scarred for life. Did I mention I was 6 years old at the time? Luckily I was also allowed to watch R rated movies so I figured out eventually that human sex is slightly different than horse sex.

  3. I think it might be better to only tell as much of the truth as they are ready to hear. So maybe “Those things are called testes and they make the hormones that tell your body to grow like a boy instead of like a girl. When you’re grown up they help with making babies too.” or something like that would have been a little more comfortable. But I’m sure its a lot harder to think of a “true but appropriate” answer when your kid says this instead of when you’re sitting at your computer reading about somebody else’s kid. 😉 I think I’m going to try “That’s a good question! What do you think they’re for?” as a stock answer for situations like this.

  4. I was about five when I was enlightened on the how-to of having babies and immediately asked whether I could have one. My mother told me I had to grow a lot before I could. My response – “Couldn’t I just have a little one this size? (Holding up fingers 3 inches apart) That would fit in, wouldn’t it?”

  5. I hope I’m half as eloquent when it comes time to have “the talk” with my kid. Good job!

    My two-year old is pretty fascinated with his balls right now, but so far – thank goodness – he hasn’t asked what they are FOR.

  6. I have a feeling that this will be my similar story when it comes time to tell my son about sex and babies. I always hated that “when two people love each other very much magical fairy dust” kind of story. I think it’s better to be honest.

  7. We went through something similar with my partner’s 10 year old son pretty recently.

    I work for an HIV clinic and he and his father came to bring me lunch one day. Upon seeing the condoms in their wrappers, he asked if they were candy. I told him that no, they aren’t candy, they’re used for safety and to stop from getting pregnant.
    Since we decided, as a team along with his mother, that we were to answer his questions with age-appropriate honesty, his dad then decided to open one up show him what it looked like, at which point, the boy turned bright red and said “Let me guess, that goes on your crotch!”…. I nearly died!

    Later that day in the car, the boy was sitting behind his father and pulling on his dad’s ears playfully. His dad said something along the lines of “Stop or you’ll stretch out my ears!”

    The kid then replied, and I quote, “Maybe you should do that to your wiener so it fits into those plastic things at Sandy’s work!”

    I ERUPTED with laughter. I love moments like those.

  8. I read lots of books on the subject (started with one for kids and worked my way up later on). They had them at the library and my mother was also happy to provide (books of all kinds always). Then we had the subject in school first in 4th then in 6th grade and while my mother did offer to talk to me about all of it some time in there, I totally turned her down. I was MUCH more comfortable reading about it!

    Now, I’m kind of medically literate and have also always been likely to answer all questions to the best of my knowledge, so I guess future kind of mine will be scared off by blunt overinformation?

    I do think that for more involved questions it’s ok to say: That takes a bit longer to explain, is it ok if we talk about it tonight when we have more time (and are alone)? (Or something like that.)

  9. As a kid your daughters age, I thought the SAME THING. I was homeschooled and my parents taught me to read “early”, couple that with an itching curiousity and I already had gathered some vague facts of life at 8 and wondered the same thing.However, my parents had me under strict instructions not to ask about sex until I was 13.

    Which meant at ten I found the puberty section at the public library and figured it out for myself :-p

  10. I think kids are ready for the answer to any question they ask. Maybe not “the whole truth” but some condensed age-appropriate version of the truth. I honestly doubt there are many kids today who don’t know what sex is before they are 12.

  11. I have to disagree. Do you know that a lot of kids are having sex–especially oral sex–by age 12? Or that girls are menstruating earlier and earlier? My aunt started her period at age 9 and thought she was dying b/c no one had told her about it. My Mom told me where babies come from just like the description in this article when I was about five and I think her openness really helped me to be safe. Too many kids get their information from other kids, TV, the internet, etc. and I’d rather be the first, best source of that information.

    • Chante,

      I think the fact that my mom wasn’t honest with me has been a catalyst for my being so honest with my kids. As I responded above, my daughter, 13, has a friend who still thinks a girl can get pregnant from drinking sperm. I mean, seriously.
      This fear that parents have with truth does nothing but a huge disservice to our kids -second only to the lies they hear from other children.

      For a while, my daughter and I did do a webisode series on how parents can be honest with their children. Together, we spoke about drugs, religion, bullying..and had planned on more, but life sort of distracted us. But the reason we did it is because, as a mom, I knew parents struggled to be honest; and, as a kid, she knew kids were often left in the dark. I’m not saying my way is the best way to parent, but I do believe that honesty between parent & child builds strength and trust, which I never had (and still don’t have) with my mom. My daughter does come to me, literally, for everything. Some of the conversations are haaaaaarrrd. But I value that she knows she can come to me.

  12. I have to disagree too. My niece is 10 and all the girls in her class are already passing around inaccurate information.

    My niece (who lives with us) and I have had multiple talks about sex this year, especially since her other aunt just had a baby. As to the “how does the baby get in there”, at one point I ended up drawing a uterus on some scrap paper.

  13. I completely disagree with you about “waiting until they are 12.” I taught 6th grade last year and teach 7th grade this year, so I work with kids that are in the 11-13 year old range. I can assure you that 12 year olds know WAY more about sex, where babies come from, blow jobs, birth control and everything else we wish they didn’t know about by that age than you and I did at 11 or even 15. If you wait till age 12 to have “the talk,” you’re leaving the door WIDE open for your kids to hear stuff from their friends and be misinformed. Maybe 5 is a bit too young to explain to a boy what other duties his penis has other than pee-peeing, but 8 is not too young to explain the facts to a girl. Girls are maturing much faster these days, and an 11 year old who is capable of having her period and therefore getting pregnant needs to be informed before that possibility even presents itself. I would much rather know that my son heard the facts from his dad and I at a young age than from his peers in the locker room during gym class. Just something to keep in mind.

  14. If your kids are asking, then they’re ready. I think parents have an obligation to be honest and in this day age, I mean, children know a lot more than most parents give them credit for.
    For what it’s worth, my kids, 10 & 13, have never seen an R-rated movie. They don’t watch MTV or VH1 or any stations other than what we’ve programed on the television (Discovery, Disney, Nick, stuff like that). Yet, they’re inquisitive and always have been.

    I certainly respect every parents decision, but I would much rather the truth come from me than some made up stories from the school play ground and trust me, it does happen. My daughter, now 13, still has a friend in 7th grade who believes a girl can get pregnant if she drinks sperm.
    In 4th grade she asked me what a “slut” was because she’d heard her friend say it at school.
    I fully believe that as a parent, it is my responsibility to make sure to arm them with facts -along with pinky swears that they don’t tell anyone else..because, as I told them, it’s a parents job to tell their kids the truth, not another child. So far, so good.

    True, every kid is different. Some kids aren’t ready at 5 or 7, but mine were. I would hope that each parent would gauge the appropriateness of such honesty based on the maturity of their children. I’d like to point out, too, that being honest, even when it’s uncomfortable as hell (and even being honest about that fact), builds trust, which is so vital as they enter the teen years. My son is only 10, but my 13 year old daughter can (and does) talk to me about any and everything. She knows she has that trust and respect and that no matter what, I’m going to be straight with her. To me, that’s a priceless gift for parent and child.

  15. “where did i come from” by peter mayle. i may only have a 9 month old but i do have a copy of that book on my shelf. there’s pictures, great explanations, and it goes into fetal development and birth at the end- all very appropriate for young ones.
    there are pictures of a naked man and woman, but they’re cartoony and cute!

    • Ugh. My parents showed me the animated movie made from that book. I think I would’ve been better off not watching an animated couple have sex. I’m sure reading the book is a better route than watching the movie!

  16. My mom told me the medical truth behind how babies are made when she got pregnant with my sister. I was 2-3 and she had this book called “A doctor talks to 5-8 Year Olds” that she gave to me at that point. Shortly after that we were in a cafeteria style restaurant and my mom got a salad with alfalfa sprouts. I shouted out “Mom, those look just like sperms!” loud enough for everyone to hear. lol

  17. Children need to know the truth, but they don’t necessarily need to know ALL of the truth.

    I naively asked my mother, when I was about 5, where babies come from. She told me. Everything. In excruciating detail, including a rather mentally scarring description of the sex act.

    I know that she chose to do it that way because she was told half-truths and fairy tales, and I’m not saying the fact that I stayed a virgin until I was 22 is necessarily a bad thing, but still – I don’t believe it was the right choice.

    When my daughter has asked me questions about sex, I tend to give her the basic details – truthfully – and then ask her if she wants or needs a more detailed answer. I can’t tell if that’s the right answer or not, but it’s what feels right to me. I also cheated a bit by taking a mother-daughter ‘sex education’ class with her when she was 10 or 11. I personally recommend this approach.

  18. I love this! I am reading a book right now called “Raising Freethinkers.” My fiance and I are non-religious and it is about raising children in a non-religious house. Anyhow, I just read that chapter that addresses this issue and this is how it suggested handling it. Blunt and factual a little at a time. Thumbs up!

  19. Guh totally spurted a drink out of my nose laughing. Best question ever! Hahaa.

    My mother’s parents actually got her a book (from God knows where) that explained the process with kid friendly illustrations and everything. It explained how men and women have different parts, what they were for, etc. It kind of glossed over the actual act of sex with “a really good hug” or something along those lines. I always remember that the part about them loving each other very much had an illustration of the people in a bubble bath. Makes me laugh to think about it now.

    I am totally going to have to find that book. My parents decided to have “the talk” with me when I accidentally downloaded porn on to my grandparents computer. I think my mom was ready to die from horror. I think I scarred my dad for life because he had no idea how to approach the subject. xD Ah the good times of childhood.

    • I think that book is the one mentioned a few posts above – ‘Where did I come from?’…there is a second one called ‘What’s happening to me?’.
      We had those in our houes when we were growing up and loved reading them…I still have them and plan to let my soon-to-be child read them too. 🙂

  20. That is probably the hardest I’ve laughed in a long time. I have an always be honest police when it comes to my kid, but then again he is only 9 months.
    My niece and I went through something similar when talking about how babies get into the world. Her mom had told her that you basically had to poop the baby out, and I accidentally told her where it comes out. I had never seen a six year old look so horrified in my life 😛

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