Beyond the Birds and the Bees
It is always with great relief that moms and dads report back that explaining the birds and the bees to their elementary school age child wasn’t that bad. And despite their six year old’s exclamation of “Eewww, gross!” at the mention of the man putting his penis the woman’s vagina, Mom could breathe again.
That was the beginning. As kids’ bodies grow, so do their feelings— physical and emotional—their cognition, and their exposure to a world that includes sex. And there is much more than the “basic recipe” for making babies that they will come to know and experience, sooner or later. Beginning sometimes as early as fourth grade, playground chatter goes beyond who won at handball. Our sex saturated culture begins to infiltrate our kids’ lives. Older siblings share their teenage adventures. Supermarket tabloids, bus benches, and YouTube all trumpet a life beyond the nest and the hive.
Hopefully, beginning at your child’s earliest age you paved the roads of communication between you. You have been talking about health, safety, respect for bodies, friendships, other relationships…and where babies come from. She comes to you with her questions, observations, and tales about all kinds of things. You are her welcoming, non-judgmental fact checker. Of course, there are those kids who just don’t talk, and getting the conversation going is like tooth extraction. And know that as kids get older, some might even feel more comfortable talking about sex, new feelings and first time experiences with other trusted adults—a teacher, a relative, a friend’s parent.
As much as your kids act like they know it all, that “know-it-all-ness” often masks ignorance or embarrassment in talking about that. So, ignore the eye rolls and groans and keep trying. It may be a one way conversation at first, but they really do listen.
The discussion about sex and sexual behavior is ongoing. There will be many opportunities for conversations that will arise from movies, from song lyrics, from billboards. Take advantage when you can. But remember, these are not lectures. Just like you tuned out your parents, so will your kids tune you out.
Sex is a huge topic with so many tributaries and so much nuance. It must not stand alone; it needs to be viewed in the context of relationships. So your many conversations with your growing child will include not only the facts and mechanics of sex and bodies, but also friendships of all kinds, dating, communication, loyalty, self-respect, peer pressure, to name just a few. It’s complicated.
As kids approach middle school age, the questions they wonder might surprise you. In a recent NY Times article, Let’s Talk (Frankly) About Sex (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/magazine/lets-talk-frankly-about-sex.html ), the sex education teacher quoted a girl who wondered if a man could put a tampon in his penis. Whether your child has shown an interest in things sexual or not, your conversations need to go beyond the birds and the bees. Knowing the facts about maturing bodies (male and female), about STD’s, about contraception, about what sex is and is not, about sexual behavior, and about sexual orientation is crucial.
First, you need to know the facts. Take advantage of the many online resources and educate yourself about sex in today’s world before jumping in.
While it is tempting, it is important not to focus only on the warnings and caveats about sex. Kids also need to know that good sex is pleasurable and feels good. Mature people have sex as a way to express their love and closeness.
Here are just a few of the real questions parents have shared that their children asked. They are meant to open your eyes.
- How long does sex take?
- Does it hurt?
- What is French kissing?
- What is a blow job?
- What is cum?
- Can you get pregnant if you are wearing clothes?
- How do you know if you’re pregnant?
- How do gay/lesbian people have sex?
- How do gay/lesbian people make a baby?
- How does birth control work?
Beyond the facts and how-to’s, (which you know or can find out online), here are some thoughts to share with your child.
First kisses are precious. Don’t be eager to have the experience of kissing for the sake of saying you have had the experience. You will always and forever remember your first kiss. (I once heard a woman say, “Don’t let the bottle, in Spin the Bottle, make your decision for you.”)
You have rights over your own body. You have the right to say NO to anything that hurts you physically or emotionally, and you should never allow yourself to be bullied into doing anything. Alcohol and drugs eliminate most people’s ability to say NO.
Porn is not real sex. In porn there are no relationships or genuine emotions. It is not real. What you see in porn is not commonly done. And porn is often violent and misogynistic.
Sex is not a way to make somebody love you. It is not a test of your love for your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Sex is not a leisure activity.
Sex and sexual behavior is part of a loving relationship between two people. It is something both partners should want to do and should not result from pressure by either person.
Your first time having sex is and should be special. You will never ever forget your first time. It is not just something on your to-do list to check off.
Sex is physical and emotional. And sex can complicate a relationship because of the feelings involved. With teens, one or both partners may not be emotionally ready for all the feelings that go along with sexualizing their relationship. The feelings that come after sex can actually change the relationship…and not necessarily for the better.
Your child has permission not to date, not to have a boy/girlfriend, not to have sex. Some kids feel they are supposed to be in the dating mode. And many are just not ready. Let them know it is just fine with you. There is no hurry. It just might be permission they need.
In addition, there are some realities middle school age kids need to know:
- Sex means different things to different people. But sex does include vaginal sex, anal sex, oral sex, and mutual masturbation. It’s all sex.
- You can get pregnant the first or every time you have sex. While usually women get pregnant during the middle of their menstrual cycle, it can happen at any time, even when you are actually having your period.
- There are more than 25 types of STD’s (sexually transmitted diseases). STD’s can be contracted from vaginal intercourse, anal intercourse, and some kinds from oral sex. You can get an STD even the first time!
Remember to leave the door open for questions and to answer honestly the ones that are asked.
As your teen grows and branches out, so might her questions. Get ready for the more challenging questions like How do I know if I’m ready for sex? Or How do you know when you are really in love?
Doesn’t this make Where do babies come from? sound easy?