A few years ago I asked my children to rate (on a scale of 1 to 10) my openness in talking to them about sexual health and intimacy. One of my boys generously gave me a three! This didn’t come as any great shock. I knew I had work to do. Somehow I needed to find a way to make “the talk” occur naturally and regularly in our home.
I realized that if I wanted to protect my children from negative influences in the media (pornography included) I had to become the go-to-expert on sex —at least in the eyes of my children. If I wasn’t willing to discuss sex comfortably in our home then how could I not expect my kids to see media as the gauge for what is and isn’t appropriate.
In this blog post I am going to share four practical ways I am using right now to improve my ability to talk openly with my kids about sexual health.
#1 I’m partnering with public education
It’s spring and that means that elementary schools across this country have begun units on sexual health in the classroom. This year I have decided to actively participate. No, I’m not attending class, but I am fully engaged in my child’s learning.
I told my kids at the beginning of the year I was really looking forward to this unit of study and asked them each to let me know when their teachers were gearing up to address this subject. I am thrilled to report that my 13-year-old son came to me a few weeks ago and told me exactly what was up.
When I inquired further my son told me that his grade-8 unit on sexual health would take place once a week over the next six to eight weeks. Awesome! This would give us plenty of time to review at home what was discussed in class. If you think about it, a few forty-minute sessions at school could raise way more questions than answers. It’s best for parents to be ready to fill in the missing pieces.
#2 I’m positioning myself as the expert
A few days later I found a quiet moment to prep him for the upcoming class discussion. We read together the list of the key topics that might be addressed:
- Discussions about sexual activity
- Gender identity, sexual orientation, and self-concept
- Decision-making and contraception
- Relationships and intimacy
First, I made sure my son understood the vocabulary we were using. For example, contraception is a pretty big concept for a kid. We reviewed where babies come from. We discussed that sometimes couples want to avoid pregnancy when they have sex. I also mentioned briefly what a condom is and how it is used.
We also talked about dating. I asked him why he thought people like to date and why it’s important not to date too early. We talked about sex as one of the greatest emotional commitments you make.
I also asked him why he thought teens often feel pressure to have sex early —long before they are emotionally ready for it. Finally, we talked about marriage and why sex is an important ingredient in a happy marriage. I assured him that his dad and I like to have sex with each other. That got a little smile from him!
If you don’t know what your child’s health curriculum is, look it up. Or better yet speak directly with your child’s teacher and ask how he/she will approach the subject. By having an open dialogue about sexual health at home, your child will naturally see you as the expert. And if something doesn’t line up quite right at school, your child will be more likely to come to you with questions.
#3 I’m sharing my awe of the amazing human body
My son’s teacher recently had students fill out a diagram of the female body. The following week they would be quizzed on it. They had also talked about periods and pregnancy.
Knowing this was a lot to take in, I was sure he had questions. But would he be able to articulate them? —Probably not. Instead of prodding him awkwardly for information I exclaimed, “That’s so amazing!” Then went to find our big book of human anatomy.
His eyes widened as I placed a very scientific looking book on the floor in front of us. It was filled with muscular and skeletal diagrams. I joked that grandma had given it to me years earlier in hopes that one of our kids would be inspired to go into medicine.
We opened to the index to find out which pages detailed the female reproductive system. With the book open, we spent time trying to recall all the terms he had learned in class —ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, etc. We also discovered that our book had a lot of words in it that were new to both of us!
Because I remained upbeat and excited to talk about these things so did he. Having the book was far less relevant than my attitude. We openly discussed how the fertilized egg plants itself in the uterus and begins the process of cell division.
This was not our first attempt at this discussion, but it was probably our best. I’ll admit, I have failed epically on other occasions. It felt good to redeem myself. My son was fascinated at a scientific level; he was learning and we were bonding at the same time!
#4 I’m staying one step ahead of the teacher
Then we turned the page to the male reproductive system. My approach is to have my children learn from me what is normal and natural for both male and female physiology. This leaves less chance for them to feel confused, embarrassed or caught off guard in the classroom. I want them to feel confident they can ask me anything. I remind them constantly information found online or told them by friends can be misleading and often very risky.
We talked about erections, wet dreams, and ejaculations. To emphasize how normal these things are I mentioned even little baby boys have erections. He thought it was quite funny when I told him about the times his dad or I changed the boys’ diapers and an untimely erection meant that a fountain of pee shot straight up in the air!
I explained that when a boy’s body starts to produce sperm it wants to find a way to relieve itself. And not unlike how the egg is released through a girl’s menstrual cycle, boys have nocturnal emissions —or what we call wet dreams— and the sperm/seaman is released through ejaculation.
Imagining what might be discussed next in class I alerted my son that his teacher might mention masturbation. I asked him if he knew what that was. I took his blank stare back as an indication that some explanation was necessary. I kept it to a minimum and said that masturbation is when a boy makes himself ejaculate. I promised him his dad wanted to talk with him more about this very soon —man-to-man!
I knew from previous experience with the school that my son’s teacher might tell him it’s common for boys to masturbate to porn. So I decided to speak directly about this, too. I reminded my son that just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s wise. Then we reviewed several of the risks of using pornography, including addiction.
Besides talking to my son, I made a point to speak with his teacher earlier in the school year. I told her that I was generally happy with the school curriculum, but I was disappointed that it didn’t address pornography as a health concern. I followed up with a few articles and links to Fight The New Drug.
The following video discusses how schools could take a leadership role in discussing porn and the brain science of addiction:
I don’t have to ask my kids anymore to rate my ability to speak about sex. I know that I am doing great. I can tell by the way my children respond to these conversations. When I suggest having some one-on-one chat time, they are eager to participate. I now understand the more we can talk about sex respectfully in our home, the more easily we can counter the negative influence that come at our kids through the media.
But just to ease any doubters among you, I asked my 13-year-old this week how his experience learning about sexual health this year compared to last year. He thought for a moment and said, “This year is way better because I actually understand what we are talking about.” Then I asked him if he thought the difference was because he had a new teacher, or did it have anything to do with our conversations at home. He didn’t hesitate for a moment…
“…It’s because of what you’ve taught me MOM!”
You can do this!
You are not alone if you feel squeamish talking about sex with your kids. For many of us we didn’t grow up in a home where this occurred naturally. Getting started was by far my biggest challenge. However, once I became comfortable my kids could look forward to our time together no matter the topic. What I needed was to find my groove. For me it came by approaching our “talks” with genuine love and enthusiasm. Each parent will have a unique style but every parent and child can have this experience together!
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