I Had the Sex Talk With My Tween and Lived to Tell the Tale

I like to think that we have an open home, that no subject is taboo, and my children can come to me with anything. That's the type of home I was raised in, and one I passionately try to replicate for my kids. But nothing really prepared me for talking to my 10-year-old son about sex. I've known we've needed to have the conversation for some time, but I just kept putting it off. I kept finding excuses — there's no one to occupy my younger kids, so they'll walk in on the conversation (not true: an episode of Bunk'd on Disney could do that), "vacation starts tomorrow and he'll be uncomfortable around grandma and grandpa after just having this conversation" (also no excuse, because it should be an open dialogue). If there was an excuse, I found it.

But I realized that sex needed to be an evolving conversation, so he'd understand it as something that can and should be discussed openly and continually. It also needed to be a conversation that was held in concert with what he'd be learning in school, as in our school, fifth graders participate in health class, which is just a fancy way of saying sex ed.

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Stocksnap | Mikael Kristenson

Our first opportunity came at what appeared to be the most unlikely time, but ended up being the perfect time — at night, in the car. Without ever having to look each other in the eye, and obscured by darkness, I introduced him to the concept of puberty. We discussed the changes your body goes through, the need for deodorant, hair growing under his arms and in his pubic area, thoughts changing, etc. There were a few nervous giggles in the backseat, a few "Mom, stop talking" requests, but mostly I heard "uh huh" and "oh."

When I asked if there was anything else he wanted to discuss, he said he'd heard enough. Proud of myself for making it through step one without laughing or immediately shutting down, I told him this was only the first part of our conversation, but I wanted him to feel comfortable coming to me if he had any additional questions. He then requested that I turn the radio up and we sang along to some Bruno Mars for the rest of our trip.

Fast forward a month, and I began to feel the pressure of the looming health class weighing on me. Again I found every excuse to put off the conversation — I was too tired to start discussing something so important, he needed to go to bed for an early school activity, my husband was traveling and I wanted him to be home for this. It was time for the real sex talk — you know, the "where do babies come from, but for real" talk.

This time I armed myself with support in the form of It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families ($13), a fabulous book that plain, simply, and scientifically explains the birds and the bees with detailed illustrations and cartoons designed to capture kids' attention. Though he protested at first, I was insistent that we needed to have this conversation, and we needed to have it now. I ensured that the younger kids were occupied in another room (thanks Disney Channel!), closed the door, and took a deep breath.

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Stocksnap | Mikael Kristenson

I'm still not sure what came over me, but suddenly everything started naturally pouring out of me. I was clinical in discussing the mechanics. I was goofy in discussing some the feelings we have. I was serious in discussing consent and protection. And I was pleading in discussing the importance of keeping this an ongoing conversation. We laughed at some of the stories he'd heard from friends with older siblings. We cringed together at the idea of having to sit through this conversation more at school. And we may have diverged in our expressions a bit when it occurred to him that mom and dad did this.

Forty-five minutes later, we emerged from his room and both went back to our lives — he joined his sister and brother on the couch to watch Liv and Maddie, I gave my husband the thumbs up, and went to sign permission forms for upcoming field trips. In the following weeks, a few questions came up, but mainly it seemed he wanted to debunk stories he was hearing from his friends. He didn't open up too much when health class finally came around, but he did tell me he already knew everything they taught him thanks to our conversation (save how to put on a condom, which they seem to have demonstrated on a banana, just like they do in the movies).

I'm certainly no expert on the subject, but having survived teaching one kid about the birds and the bees, here are few tips I have that may help other nervous parents:

  1. Don't keep putting it off. There's no perfect time to have a serious talk and the more you put it off, the more likely your child is to hear misinformation from kids who are either trying to scare them or just don't know what they're talking about themselves.
  2. Have backup. Though we didn't sit down and read through every page of It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families together, having it at my fingertips so I could show him an image of what ovaries and fallopian tubes are certainly helped. I also greatly appreciated the fact that the book and its companion It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health ($13) address heterosexuality, homosexuality, abortion, adoption, and more in nonjudgemental ways. The diagrams and cartoons also feature people of various sizes, shapes, colors, and disabilities to create a truly universal feel to the subject.
  3. Just talk. Unless you're a doctor or an educator, talking about sex and our bodies may not come naturally to you (it didn't for me), but if you appear to be uncomfortable, your child will sense it and could believe the subject is taboo. Use the real words and just talk through it.
  4. Cars are the perfect place for uncomfortable conversations. I didn't plan on having our puberty talk in the car, but the word came up in conversation and I realized my son didn't know what it meant. The cover of darkness and the necessity of me keeping my eyes on the road turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Truth be told, you're trapped in a moving vehicle, so there's no escaping the conversation, and there's no awkwardness of trying to figure out where to look!
  5. Remember it is an ongoing conversation. Sure you can tell your kids everything all at once. But I chose to save some discussions for later. I'm hoping that in doing so, my son will realize that we can talk about sex and feelings openly and that it isn't a one-off lecture.