Sunday, July 19, 2009

The sex talk

“How long does it take to mate?”

Yo-Yo was washing the dishes, his forearms resting on the edge of the sink, his washcloth slowly swishing over the supper plates. I was cleaning up the kitchen, wiping the tables and scrubbing the stove, suddenly deeply grateful that I had an activity to busy my hands with.

“It’s called ‘having sex’ when you are talking about people mating. Only animals mate,” I corrected him. (I thought I had explained the terminology to him before, but maybe I had missed that part.) “How long does it take? Well, it depends, but anywhere from a couple minutes to twenty minutes or so.”

“But how does the sperm get into the woman?” Now I knew I had explained that many, many times. We’ve read books, watched The Miracle of Life movie (the kids cheered when the little spermie finally reached the egg), and I’ve explained everything, ever since they were little. In fact, Yo-Yo’s first official sex talk came about when he was just a toddler. He asked my father, a science teacher, how babies were made, or at least that’s what my father thought Yo-Yo asked. My father promptly gave him the Jr. Version of the Sex Talk, complete with all the correct terminology, and then Yo-Yo pattered on out to the kitchen where my mother and I were talking and asked my mom the very same thing. Without missing a beat in our conversation, my mother pulled out a handkerchief and began folding it this way and that way till she ended up with a little hanky baby lying in a hanky hammock, one of the many games she kept stuffed up her sleeve to entertain the kiddies; this one happened to be called—you guessed it—“Making A Baby.” As my father observed the baby making demo, it dawned on him that Yo-Yo hadn't been asking how babies were made—all he wanted was for Dad to make him a doll baby out of a hanky (which Dad didn’t know how to do)!

Even though the Facts of Life had been explained to Yo-Yo repeatedly, I also knew that it takes awhile for information to sink in. What he gleans from the sex talk at age two is very different from what he gleans at age six, or age nine. So I explained again. Briefly.

“Does it feel good?”

At times like this I try not to think too hard; I just talk, letting the words spill out, making me sound more confident even if I’m not feeling particularly confident. “Oh yes, it feels good.”

As I made my laps around the kitchen table, I could see Mr. Handsome standing by the bathroom sink, his ears straining to catch every word of our conversation.

“How often do you have to mate, I mean, have sex?”

“People do it all the time, not just to make babies.”

“Do you and Papa still do it?”

“Of course! People do it even when they can’t have children anymore. Grandmommy and Granddaddy still have sex!”

Yo-Yo was silent, pondering this incredible piece of information. Mr. Handsome had moved into the hallway and had seemingly frozen in place. He was staring fixedly out the window in the classic I-don’t-see-you-so-you-don’t-see-me pose, hardly breathing. As for me, I was starting to get a little concerned. I had just told my pre-pubescent son that sex felt good and that everyone did it, not the exact message I was aiming for. But then Yo-Yo said, “Is it scary the first time you have sex? Isn’t it weird?”

Ah-ha! Just the lead I was needing. “Yes, in some ways it is. But see, sex is meant to be for a husband and wife, two people who love each other very much. It’s not just something that you do with anybody because then it can be weird, and hurtful. When it’s with your spouse though, your best friend, it’s something special that you share with no one else. I have lots of friends, but I don’t have sex with any of them, only with Papa and he’s my best friend. It’s one of the very special things about our relationship.” I had a feeling this conversation would bear repeating, many times over.

“Does it seem weird to you, this sex thing?” I asked Yo-Yo.

“No, not really,” he paused, and then, “Yeah, a little bit...”

“You’re still young,” I said. “But you’ll soon start to think about it a lot. It’s perfectly normal for boys to wonder about it and think about it.”

Mr. Handsome had retreated to the bathroom again. Later he told me that Miss Becca Boo, who had been quietly listening as Yo-Yo and I talked, entered the bathroom and asked Mr. Handsome, a mischievous grin on her face, “Papa, does mating feel good?” Mr. Handsome tried to evade her question, but after she asked him for the third time, he mumbled yes, and fled.


Talking about sex comes easily (for the most part) to me, not because of the amount of sexual experiences I’ve had, but because of how my parents talked about it, calmly and candidly. When I was growing up, we all walked around in the buff, parents included. Body changes were noted and celebrated. We have a photo marking my brother’s first shave, and my father brought me a red rose when I got my period. I was thrilled with that rose, but its specialness grew over time as I learned from my peers how unusual and totally cool it was for my father to give me a gift commemorating a key step in the awkward transformation from girlchild to woman.

I don’t remember ever not knowing about sex. It was never a mystery. I mean, I didn’t know know about it (in fact, I was quite innocent), but the biological facts were made clear, and because of my wealth of information, I unintentionally found myself taking the role of sex teacher among my girlfriends.

Even as an adult, I find myself enlightening people in matters regarding sexuality, not because I’m any more enlightened than the next person, but because I have a knack for opening my mouth and matter-of-factly spewing forth all sorts of hush-hush information. I’ve read books on dating and sex out loud to my teenage foster daughters and to my little sister (through Big Brother Big Sister). I’ve taught a Sunday school class on sexuality to a bunch of girls (didn’t go over so well, thanks to some difficult personalities). Heck, I even gave a talk on Valentine’s Day to an auditorium filled with highschool students, and at one point in my speech, I had one of the students deliver a black “Red Hot Lover” balloon with red chili peppers on it to a flustered Mr. Handsome!

Perhaps the most involved, the most personal, I’ve been when it comes to sharing about sexuality was with the group of highschool girls that I mentored for about four years. We met at my home every other week, lit candles, ate dessert, and spent hours talking about life, sex, boys, relationships, and love. It wasn’t always easy to say the things I needed to say, but I did it anyway, because the girls wanted—needed—me to. They were respectful and deeply appreciative (as were their parents), and that helped ease my discomfort.

Talking to my own children is a new twist on the same old sex talk, but even for me, a person who has talked her fool head off on the subject, there is still some of that classic nervousness, that tightening of the chest, that pit in the stomach.

However, the fact is, if kids don’t learn about sex from their parents, then they’ll learn it somewhere else. I don’t know about you, but when I stop to think who the other teachers might possibly be, I realize that I better speak up, and quick, regardless of how much I might blush and stutter.

That’s my approach, anyway. What’s yours?

About One Year Ago: Alfredo Sauce.


  1. I tip my hat in awe and admiration to you, m'dear. And to your parents for raising you the way they did.

    If we all were given the chance to be introduced to and educated regarding sex the way you were, if we all had had the opportunity to experience someone with your willingness to share with us as teenagers, and, most importantly, to have had the open family communication as you have with your children, the world would be a much better place containing many, many less screwed up people. And I sincerely mean that.

  2. My 19 year old claims her father and I are too old to have sex and she doesn't want to think about us everrrrr doing it. Let's just put me out to pasture already, right? Good grief, I'm 38...not 97!

  3. interesting timing, this post, as hubz informed me earlier today that fuzz (d-10) had been trying to ask him and spaz (s-13) about how babies were made and would i please talk to her about it.

    our approach: we're more open about it than our parents were, but not as open as we probably should be. i try to drop little bits of age-appropriate information here and there as opportunities arise (but i know i've let a lot of opportunities go by, too), but we wait to drop the "big bomb" until the kid is 9-11 yrs old, and that is done in a private discussion with the same-gender parent. hence my mandate to talk with fuzz. then we try very hard to remain open to discussion as needed thru'out the teen & preteen years.

    altho it was my responsibility in the beginning, hubz has had some really good talks about sex with our 18-y/o daughter-- many more than i have and probably many more than he's ever been able to have w/our 21-y/o son. (i think with her, he is motivated by fatherly protectiveness!)

    yay for the opportunity to talk w/your kids about the dangers of casual sex while they are still young enough to really listen to you and before they have had a chance to be inundated with the hollywood point of view.

  4. I think you did (and have been doing) a great job talking to your kids about sex. My mom is a nurse, so I was educated early with proper terminology and knew she was open to me asking questions along the way. We are open with our kids when questions are asked. Since ours are pretty young still (the oldest is 6), it's often a matter of trying to figure out exactly what they want to know and providing that information instead of giving too much too soon. I absolutely want my kids to hear about sex from us and nowhere else...even if talking about it freaks me out a bit.

  5. My parents were always very forthcoming with sex information. I am deeply grateful that they used proper terminology instead of nicknaming body parts and that I knew I was always free to ask them questions.
    I'm several years away from babies, but I fully intend to make sex a subject which is not taboo in our home. I want our children getting their information from us thankyouverymuch.

  6. I loved that story - I can just see Mr. Handsome non-chalontly leaning out of the bathroom and then blushing at Miss Becca-Boo's question. :) I had a good laugh.

    We use the same approach as you, except for our first talk I got to elaborate on our pastors grandson's explanation, which was very short and direct. I think he went for shock value but it didn't seem to phase my girls to badly. I don't know how much they remember but I'm sure the talk will be repeated.

    I like the way you put it. Your kitchen table must be really clean after all that wiping. He he!

  7. I just stumbled across your blog today (found a link on another blog, on a post about tomato sauce. . .), and spent way too much time reading! I sure enjoyed this entry. As mom to two boys (9 & 11) so far I've been the one to answer questions and give information. I think my husband would be surprised (and a little dismayed)) at how often the boys bring up questions, and how matter-of-fact they are about accepting the answers. I get the feeling his family was much less up-front about it than mine was! LOL

  8. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeek! I'm feeling faint.

    I loved reading your approach and I hope I've got a little time. I grew up in a home where it was really never talked about...

    It's so important though, this I do know. Thanks for sending this link my way!

  9. Wow. This is awesome. I clicked on your link from Meg's (SortaCrunchy) blog out of curiosity. We only have girls, but we told the older 2 about sex pretty early. #3 creeped up on me--she just turned 5 and I don't think I've told her much of anything. I'm with you--I'd much rather them learn it from us than somewhere else.

    p.s. I wrote a book about sex (Is That All He Thinks About?) if you ever need more reading material on it. :)

  10. what a great post! Saw this recommended by Kate - I guess I've never read your whole blog.

    So far we've just talked about sex to the age level of the child, just answering questions. Our daughter is 6 now and she's never asked specifically where babies come from. Do you think I should bring it up?

  11. Margo, Sometimes kids don't ask because they sense the parent would be uncomfortable, and sometimes kids don't ask because they haven't really thought about it yet. You get to be the judge of that, lucky you! (You could always ask her and see what she says. Have a pen close by, though---her answer is bound to be funny and you'll probably want to write it down.)

  12. I loved this article and how you presented the sex talk in an age appropriate manner. Your son asked the questions and you gave honest answers appropriately based on his age and maturity level. I think kids start asking about babies and sex when they are ready to hear the answers. Although you may not give the kind of detailed answer to a two-year old as you might an older child, those questions should be answered honestly and forthright. If a parent's answers are vague and incomplete, the child will definitely learn from other places, but in addition, I think they would lose their trust in that parent that couldn't give them a straight answer. And a loss of trust generally means a loss of communication between parent and child.

  13. I just found your blog and love it!

    I love this, I love it for the candidness and openess. I grew up in a home where my parents still to this day, say they only "kiss". (and never french) That was my sex ed.

    I don't want my kids to grow up that way.
    My husband had the talk with my oldest, when fishing...I also thought I'd gone through it with him but he didn't remember. I think the talk needs to be done a few times growing up, they are kids, they move on so quickly.

    I do remember when I found out how babies are conceived, (from my brother) I tattled on him and then when mom and dad quietly confirmed it, (because they were cornered) I said, "You mean Grandma and Grandpa did that 10 times?" (they had 10 children) I was royally disgusted. Nothing else explained.

    Thanks for posting this.

    This is a book I like very much. It's simple. I've seen so many that are an inch thick. That's too much!

    Nice to "meet" you!

  14. Thanks so much for this narrative of this conversation! I've always wondered how people/parents do this conversation, because I don't believe anyone in my family growing up ever talked about it, and Catholic school in the 1970's didn't help at all.

    This is one of the best blogs I have read on the topic! Great modelling, thank you!

    Now, to make up for missed opportunities with my 10 and 7 yr old children......