All the good things and the bad things that will be

I just got in the mail a notification that my son's school is going to be having sex ed classes for the fifth graders. And information on how to opt him out of taking this sex ed.

I feel so sorry for the parents who choose to opt out, and for their children.

My kids have known the mechanics of sex for years, from when they each first asked about how a baby gets into a woman's stomach. We started with the very basics, answering the questions they had, and as they asked more questions I gave more answers and some context. I have found some of these conversations to be hilarious and some to be just interesting, but I feel so glad that my kids know that I will always answer them truthfully when they ask me how something works.

I understand that some of us are afraid to talk about sex with our kids. But sex is part of how the physical world works, so they need to know about it. If you start early enough, it's all just the mechanics anyway, nothing at all to feel weird about, like you're explaining how a steam engine works.

Being afraid to talk to your kids about sex is like being afraid to talk to your kids about math: you might feel a little weird about it, but you do it anyway because you know they need to know. And if you feel like you don't know what to say, you find some books to help you start the conversation.

I understand that some people might not agree with everything a school sex ed program is teaching, but opting their kids out steals a huge opportunity from the parent to open up a conversation about what they think. And to have their kids know what the general culture thinks about sex, and explain how they agree or disagree with a little bit or some or all of that. Their kids will eventually hear everything they'd hear in a sex ed class, but if parents don't take the opportunity to talk about it with their kids, they lose the chance.

I'm guessing my fifth grader will know most of what this class is going to teach him already, but I'm glad he's taking it because it gives us another chance to talk about it. And who knows what I haven't realized I didn't cover that the class will talk about? Super opportunity for honesty, communication, and trust with my son.

Talking about the mechanics of sex, and later when they're older about the ethics and emotions of sex, is also part of teaching your kids how great and useful and healthy their bodies are. And what they're worth (both your kids and their bodies).

So. If the idea of talking about sex with your child is making you feel anxious, or like you want to dodge the conversation, think about why. How did you learn about sex? How do you feel about that? (I did not have the best first few conversations about sex, and I wish they'd been different.) Do you wish a caring adult had been more open or neutral or guiding or something else? Then, look at the opportunity you have to give your own child an easier learning path about what they need to know about sex. You can give them what you didn't get, or what you wish you'd gotten, because you are just that awesome. Take a few deep breaths first. And don't worry about saying "the right thing," because this isn't a one-shot conversation. They'll keep asking questions and you will keep telling them what they need to know, for years. (Unlike the steam engine conversation, which probably will only happen a couple of times.)

Hugs all around. How much talking about the mechanics have you done already with your kids? Was it as tough or as easy as you thought it would be?

24 thoughts on “All the good things and the bad things that will be”

  1. Talking openly about your kids is the single most important thing you can do to protect them from molestation. Knowing what their bodies are and do gives them power. And knowing they can talk with you about sex means the “this is shameful don’t tell anyone or you’ll pay” promise from an abuser loses its power over them. I can’t urge you strongly enough, moms, to be sure your kids, boys and girls, know as much as they can understand about their bodies and their right to control them.

  2. Goodness, I can’t remember how many conversations on this we’ve had. Mr G was utterly disgusted by the mechanics for a long time, and insisted that adoption was the only way he’d have kids. Okay, then! That shifted through to ‘yeah, maybe’ to ‘hmm, probably but SO not yet’ to ‘okay, definitely, but still not yet… it’s too awkward to even date!’.Mr B was more intrigued than disgusted, but embarasses easily, so he tends to dance around the subject at the edges, and then duck out when you notice he’s getting close. Skittish, that one. Not A Conversation For Mom, is his tone. But we make sure he has good access to information.
    Miss M has only talked in gneralities, and Miss R thinks it’s weird. They’re into puberty books like crazy though. So, that will come, too.
    They’ve all read the books (we have several, going up the age levels). That’s one thing my mom did, was make sure there was easy access to private-reading material at any age level. She left it on the shelf OUTSIDE her bedroom in the hallway, where it was easily ‘snuck off the shelf’, and easily monitored for what books went missing, when. I had no idea she did that on purpose, just like I had no idea that she didn’t *ACTUALLY* drink coffee every night at 1 AM when I was coming home from parties in high school. It was just ‘what she did’ – she’d end up puttering over her coffee while I made a late night snack and we ended up chatting for hours… it was years before I realized that was on purpose. :d’oh: Clueless, what can I say?
    Anyway, we also do rely on the UU/UCC OWL curriculum (Our Whole Lives), which is integrated sexuality classes for different age groups. My kids’ understanding of power, identity, sexuality, consent, all that, nicely tied in with the curriculum. Wish I’d had that, because well, talking with my mom about it was a little squidgy. I knew I could ask anything, but sometimes just getting over the ew-factor to ask was too much. Okay, plus I had a horrible history to overcome, which makes it hard for me to read whether my response is typical/normal or not.
    Books, conversations, curriculum, all together make for a good combo, IMHO. Oh, and our kids’ school has very limited sex ed so far. They’re really great on everything else, but strongly think sexuality ed should come from home. My kids have a good grounding, at least, and peers at church who have the same context, so they have people to feel at home with, in conversation, too.

  3. My mother-the-PA used to break out her anatomy textbooks when we asked where babies came from. (And some less technical ones when we were really small.) My Bug (4) has asked a little and we’ve told him honestly but frankly, his attention span is pretty short.That said, I volunteered for PP in grad school and they had me putting together sex-ed kits and there were things in there that I *still* don’t know what they are. I guess I’ve never needed those particular protective devices. Or whatever.

  4. My parents were very embarassed and from an early age I intuited that there were questions I didn’t want to ask. I resolved that as a parent this was something I would do differently. My kids are 4 and 7 and they know about the mechanics. We have The Usborne Book of Knowledge and my daughter loves to look at the pages of how a baby is made and how a baby is born. I love that we already have something so clear and graphic (sort of) in regular rotation, and hope we can keep this a conversation without embarassment for as long as possible.

  5. @Bo, true for some, but there’s some variety there. Like me, who was still trapped by the threats and secrecy – but the honest conversations rather than giving me power to protect myself (there was far too much finesse on the part of the abuser for me to escape), the truth and trust gave me power to recover and heal to a level most people *without* that honesty don’t reach for another decade or two past where I am now (and I’ve been here for a decade already). Honest open trusting conversation might not protect your child from abuse, but it will do them no harm and great good if they ever are abused.It makes the lies a lie, and gives them back the truth. It still took therapy to get here, but so much less than most!

  6. My son has known the mechanics since his little sister was born (age 4) because he had millions of questions. I never answered more than he was asking, but since he is naturally curious, over time he eventually came to the “but how does the cell from the Dad actually get IN the Mom?” Since we speak German, we’re lucky enough to have access to lots of books for kids that are very frank in their discussions of bodies and sex…since German culture is more ok with nudity, the books literally have cartoon illustration of Mom and Dad standing around naked brushing their teeth…then a little flap door on their abdomens can be opened to show the reproductive organs, which I find vaguely hilarious for some reason.I actually think this is the easy part. The feelings and ethics of sex are much harder to discuss, in some ways, especially because I want to be “sex positive” and encourage my kids to (when they are OLDER of course) have healthy and happy sex lives, but balance that out with discussions of safety, respect and self-respect. Fine lines and all that.

  7. My parents never told me about sex, ever, except not to do it until I was married. I learned the mechanics from crass bullies who enjoyed watching me get sick. :-/ My schools were private and didn’t offer sex ed…That being said, I would probably still opt my kids out of sex ed classes unless I’ve had a chance to look at the curriculum. I just don’t trust others to teach my children about those things. We’ve already started talking about how things work with our children (from around 2 years old at an appropriate level) and we are going to make sure they know all about it…but I feel like it’s something I should teach my children, not strangers. As much as by the time they reach the age that they would have sex ed, they should know all about it and nothing should be new, I just don’t feel comfortable with it. Maybe I’ll change my mind by then, our oldest is only 4.
    (I’ll have to look up the Usborne book of Knowledge mentioned above, sounds like something I’d like to have in our collection.)

  8. We haven’t had the conversation yet about the specifics of the mechanics. We’ve gotten to the brink with the younger (7) son asking questions, answered honestly. (As in, we got to “the sperm comes out of the penis” but he did not ask whether it flew from there.) He has not asked much in the last few years but we also have lots of books around and I suspect he looks at them when he is curious.The older one is a bit of a pickle…he’s a blabbermouth and immature.(I trust this community to know that I adore him but these are just who he is right now.) He is not very good at keeping things to himself, and he’s grossed out by girls right now. He is in 3rd grade and making huge strides but we are still watching. We have told him–for more reasons than this one–that we have some big discussions coming up but we need to be sure he’s ready for them.
    Another blog I read (71 Toes) mentions that they have the Facts of Life talk on the 8th birthday and for excellent reasons. Especially if my older matures enough, we may do the same for the younger, who has his own issues, but oversharing is not one of them. 🙂
    I learned from another fifth grader. I never once thought to question her, I just assumed she was right. I remember zero conversations with my parents about this; I never asked, they never volunteered, though again…lots of books around the house. So I am still formulating how I want this to go. Thanks for getting me started thinking about it.

  9. This is one of those parenting things that I feel very strongly about (as in: feel very strongly about having frank, open conversations with my kids), but have NO idea how to do so. I was pulled out of sex ed in school, got it at church (sex is only for marriage; if you have sex you will get pregnant – that was it). I got the mechanics of menstruation from my mom, but that was it.I also had negative sexual experiences as a child (how’s that for a euphemism?) and so my early knowledge of it was that it was bad and shameful and all that stuff. Exactly the opposite of what I want my kids to think and feel.
    Do you or any commenters have recommendations for good resources for age appropriate discussions? Right now my oldest is just 2.75, and I’ve not talked much about it simply because I’m not sure how.

  10. I’m pretty comfortable discussing mechanics, and have done so pretty extensively with our 7 and 8 year olds. I bought It’s So Amazing a couple of years ago when my older one started pestering her younger brother to take his pants off so she could take a look at his differentiated parts. We used those as jumping off points — we’d read 3 or 4 pages an evening and then I’d ask her if she had questions about what we’d just read. Once we’d read the whole book together, I let her have it and I know she pored over it for months, and occasionally had questions. I got It’s Not The Stork for the younger one (who is either less interested, or less inclined to discuss these things with me) and did a similar thing, but as far as I know, he’s not re-read it on his own at all. Chalk it up to different levels of interest in the human body, actually.Funny story: We had actually just started this whole process of reading It’s So Amazing when I found I was pregnant with a very-much-unplanned baby brother. I’d been telling my daughter — who had been asking and ASKING — for years that we weren’t having any more babies. So first of all, when we told the kids I was pregnant, they didn’t believe us. And then she immediately says, “I thought you weren’t going to have any more babies” and my husband, Captain LackOfFilter says, “well, we didn’t exactly INTEND to”. She sat on that one a few days, then started asking exactly how THAT happened (we’ve mostly discussed just mechanics at this point, right?) by accident and I referred to the bit in the book that says It’s Fun and Sometimes People Do It Just For Fun and that was the end of THAT.
    Except that a few days after that, she comes up to me with her favorite It’s So Amazing book with the page open to the ever so brief bit about barrier birth controls (condoms are mentioned by name) and says in her I Am Serious Voice: “Mom. You know about these? The condoms? You and Daddy need to get some of THOSE.” HAhahahaha. (NOW you tell me, kid.)

  11. My parents did a horrible job with this by not talking about it ever. I remember it took me a couple weeks to even tell my mom when I got my first period, and I told her by whispering “I might need some of thoses” when we were standing in the pad/tampon aisle on our weekly grocery trip. That was pretty much all I got. I also remember my brother and I finding The Joy of Sex locked up in a filing cabinet underneath a bunch of paperwork. So, you can imagine how I felt that sex was shameful/secret/etc. – still have issues in this area.I plan on following what most have said here – be open and frank with any questions I get at an age appropriate level. My son is only 2.5, so nothing yet.

  12. i recently heard a psychologist saythat young women become more choosey about their sex partners, and even postpone their first sexual experiences, if their mothers have talked to them openly about sex. That includes the emotional side of sex, and not only the mecchanisms. Imagine this would also be beneficial for boys.

  13. We used correct term from the get go. I remember once in the tub, younger son pointed to his nipples and called them “knuckles” and was corrected by his older brother. The boy walked around for ages saying “I have BOTH nipples and knuckles!”I remember thinking the first sex-ed mechanics conversation was a bit like talking about dinosaurs or planets. The comments were “oh” and “ok” and that was that. They weren’t embarrassed because no one had yet told them they should be. I like all the books by Robbie Harris and have them all available.
    My son went to The Class in 5th grade too. He’d had the Unitarian Our Whole Lives (OWL) class, so I thought he already knew anything they’d teach at school. So after it, I asked him if he’d learned anything. Without missing a beat he patted his chin, chest and crotch saying “I’m going to get more hair here, here and here” then patted his head and said “and I might lose it here.” Then walked out of the room.
    He’ll take the middle school OWL class next winter and his brother will be ready for the 4-5th grade class. We’ll take them all through to high school.
    I often point out media portrayals of women and explain why the media uses scantily clad women to sell things. I also take advantage of things they hear on the news to open conversations that are tough(abuse, rape, shootings). Some conversations are accidentally opened. Just the other day I had to explain that “screw it” was not an appropriate exclamation. I go ahead and give the true explanations of all profanity to help curb its use! It loses its “umph” when you know the technical meaning.
    Parents have to look for openers sometimes. If they haven’t asked you by age ten, you really really need to start the conversation yourself. Any later and it will be too late and they won’t want to talk about it. I suggest car rides or other settings where you’re together but busy if you find them tough face to face.

  14. My son, now 9, asked how babies are made exactly once. He was around 5 or 6. I told him, using all the correct names, in a couple of sentences. I asked if he had any questions, and he said, “No mom, that’s mating! That’s what animals do!” (He is a big fan of Nature Videos.) I clarified that it was pretty much the same thing. He stared at me for a while, until he finally declared, “I don’t believe you.”

  15. I’m ashamed to admit that I passed by a few “teachable moments” when my son was younger. He’s 7 now and hasn’t asked in a while. I did tell him when he was 4 or 5 and he asked about babies, that a cell from the daddy combines with a cell from the mommy and a baby grows inside the mommy. Little engineer that he is, he asked “Well, how does the cell get into the mommy? A pipe?!” After I nearly lost it from holding in laughter, I shamefully passed over that perfectly teachable moment. PARENTING FAIL.He does know that his testicles eventually will make stuff that helps make a baby, but he does not yet know the mechanics. I don’t know why my husband and I are squeamish about this conversation. That’s our problem and we need to get over it quick.
    Here is how I learned about it. As a kid, I knew there was this mystical conversation about the “birds and the bees” also known as “The Facts of Life” (not the TV show). I had no idea that the conversation was about reproduction. I don’t ever really remember being curious about how babies were made. I think I just thought that if a man and woman hugged and kissed a lot they’d make a baby. So when I was in 4th grade, I kept nagging my mom to have this conversation with me. She decided to tell me in the car while we were on our way to the grocery store. I remember being grossed out and couldn’t even look at her.
    This is why I agree it’s important to explain it in age appropriate ways to your kids before they are old enough to be embarrassed. Now, I just need to follow my own advice!

  16. My parents were always very frank and age appropriate with us as littles. I feel like they really dropped the ball when we became pre-pubescent, though. Basically, we got trapped into long car rides, listening to the Dr. James Dobson tapes called “Preparing for Adolescence.” It was mortifying, and there was no discussion, just embarrassed silence. There were some strategically placed books in the house, too. I went to private Christian schools, so it was basically just Abstinence Only education, which I don’t think serves anyone very well.I’ve already started with my eldest (now 6). She started asking rather pointed questions when she was about 5. Since she’s watched SO many nature documentaries, it was easy to talk about in terms of “it’s kind of like the way animals mate, only much nicer for the Mommy and Daddy. People often do it just for fun.”
    My favorite moment was when she innocently asked if it tickles when the penis is in your vagina. “Sometimes!” I said blithely.
    They’ll be available to watch the birth of their little brother, so doubtless we will get to field a lot of questions after that, and also his anatomy will be scrutinized to no end.
    I don’t have any qualms about discussing the functional aspects of sex. Where I’m still finding my feet is how to talk about When To Do It And With Whom.

  17. Wow – lots of spammers on this thread. Great thread though! Our almost-6-year-old has a pretty good idea of the whole thing – we answer all his questions, which have not YET included the exact details of how the seed gets from the daddy into the mommy. He knows male and female body part names too. I’m sure we’ll soon be crossing the final bridge about the actual act of intercourse. 😉 I am going to ask him what HE thinks happens, and go from there…

  18. Opting out isn’t always about not wanting your child to learn. For my son who is very sensitive it was information overload. I had many age appropriate conversations with my son, and when he was 10 or 11, I bought him a book which he pored over. He had sex ed in the 4th grade and nearly fainted from the images. He had to go to the nurses office. He asked me to opt him out in 5th grade, because he was afraid he would faint again, and I did. He was finally ready in 6th grade, and we continue to talk about it periodically. Not all kids are ready for the information at the same time, so good to be tuned in to where they are at. As for how I found out, my older brother told me to spare me from my dad’s “talk,” which had freaked my brother out!

  19. That reminds me, when my daughter first asked me how babies are made it kind of startled me because I really wasn’t expecting that question. Again just like your son she was around 5 years old. I told her that when two people really love each other they can make a baby and that was the end of that discussion. Don;t ask me where I got that answer from but I think I heard it in a movie or something 🙂

  20. I would love it if my school district taught sex ed. Even at 5th grade. Especially at 5th grade. I use the technical terms for private parts and have been pretty frank when my son asked (last year at age 6). Demystification is the key! I’ll search for th eUsborne book- think he would benefit from it. Best to teach the mechanics and the emotions at every age so they can absorb new things as they mature. My school district isn’t even allowed to use the word ‘condom’ in health class. And no, I’m not in the bible belt, I’m in Las Vegas for cripes sake.

  21. If you go to youtube, you can find a video called “How to put on a sock”…and it’s really about putting on a condom, but it can be used in places and discussions where the word condom is not allowed. I found it kind of funny/appropriate.Do I really have to have this talk with my kids? Can’t I just make their dad do it? Isn’t this the kind of thing we figured out on our own and now with the internet, it should be even easier! No awkward trip to the card catalog and non-fiction book spying.
    And then do I tell them that I think this is something best reserved for marriage? Or at least, adulthood. Like…when you no longer live in my house and are financially self-supporting.

  22. I was really open about the mechanics from the beginning, but when my 7-year-old daughter began to ask more complicated questions about how babies are made, it brought up a lot of questions and feelings about her adoption and birth parents. For some (stupid) reason I had not anticipated that; I had segregated the two in my mind. But of course they are connected! So that has been interesting. I continue to answer everything I can as honestly as I can. Sometimes I just don’t have answers for her, which kills me. But sex and babies and birth and parents and relationships all go together. Which yes, is a pretty good reason to wait a while. 🙂

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