Friday, March 04, 2011

Let's Talk about Sex

There. I said it. Sex sex sex. I wonder how many porn spammers I will get for that.

When I was 8 years old I learned about sex from my friends at a slumber party. Needless to say, their half-informed explanations were full of shock-value and slim on age-appropriateness or context. I was deeply disturbed. A few years later my parents signed the permission form for me to participate in the school's sex ed program, telling me to come to them if I had any questions. Beyond embarrassing; I never went to them. And that was the extent of my education until high school, when my friends started experimenting and my church leaders danced around the topic, some coming more to the point than others. Then I grew up and learned a little more from married friends and some well-recommended books. And that was that.

I'd like to do a little better for my own girls. With Hazel starting school this year, this has been weighing on my mind for several months. We all know how playground talk goes - kids with older siblings or unfiltered parents learn shocking words and start throwing them around, either inferring or inventing meanings for them. Then other kids start repeating them, and no one knows what they're talking about except that they are dirty, taboo or funny in some way. It starts with "bathroom talk." And quickly escalates from there.

Just the other day, Hazel told me over dinner, "Mom, 'balls' is another word for bottom."

Ah. "Who told you that and what exactly did they say?"

"Genny* told me. She just said, 'Balls is another word for bottom.'"

Aha. Genny has an older brother. Well I couldn't let it go at that, and I certainly wasn't going to ignore or negativize the topic. But, as usual, I am navigating uncharted waters, so I just delved in and explained as matter-of-factly as possible what it really means. Though we are without brothers, the girls are familiar with boy anatomy from cousin babies so we started there and concluded with the explanation that while "balls" is not a bad word, it's not polite to talk about people's private parts except in our family, so she shouldn't repeat whatever Genny was saying.

One conversation down, infinity to go.

A few weeks ago I saw a Real Families, Real Answers episode about pornography. In it, Rick Schatz of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families said, regarding talking to children about sex/internet safety/pornography:
Decide what you think is the right age to talk about it. Then subtract three years, and you'll only be one year late.

Which only confirms what I already knew, which is that with her 6th birthday coming up, it's time to begin and maintain an open dialogue about sex with Hazel. I don't think it's hard. At this age, it is not embarrassing or even very detailed. In fact, a few years ago when she asked about babies, I told her everything in a true but simple way. But it's been awhile. And, with her away from me most days, around numerous adults I don't know, I also need to talk to her about what is and isn't OK for adults to do. Heaven forbid someone tries to touch her inappropriately, and it will most likely never happen, but shame on me if it does and I haven't talked to her about it. I hesitate because who wants to put suspicion in a 5-year-old's mind, and suggest she can't trust her teachers? Who wants to tell her some adults are bad, and they might be ones in her life? Not me, but who wants their child left unprotected, even in the name of innocence? Like I said, this has been weighing on me.

And while they are young now, 10 years goes fast, and I need to establish openness, honesty, expectations, and moral principles way, way earlier than they may need them. Which means now. Which means saying the "S" word. And even more that I rarely say out loud. I find this, this and this helpful, for starters. If anyone has a good book on the topic, please recommend it.

I'm just beginning this road, or rather, this one lane on the mega-wide highway of parenting. And although it's not as urgent right now as dealing with tantrums, power struggles, and mealtimes, with its far-reaching implications, it is even more crucial.

And don't even get me started on slumber parties.

(*Her name's not really Genny.)


JillEE said...

My heart skipped a beat thinking about these future conversations. Sounds like you have a great plan and attitude. I can't believe kids Hazel's age are saying "balls." Man, they grow up way too fast.

alison said...

I love the book "Where Babies Come From" by Brad Wilcox. It treats the topic in a sacred, but also straightforward way. There's a Q&A in the back of the book, to be read by children old enough for that part (my 9 year-old read it to himself and then we talked about it afterwards). I borrowed it from a friend, so I'm not sure where it's sold. Good luck; you're definitely the most-qualified for this discussion w/ your kids! :)

It does not, however, mention child abuse.

Lindsay said...

I love the way you handled the "balls" conversation. For someone wading through uncharted territory, you're sure doing an excellent job so far!

Rachel said...

Kari, loved the post. And if you're looking for books that empower in this subject matter, you MUST read, "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin De Becker. Seriously, you will never regret it.

Rachel said...

p.s. i just quoted you and linked to this post in my own post. thanks for the inspiration. :)

Heather M. said...

While I have never used a book to navigate this territory, I have maintained an open and honest dialogue since my kids were teeny. So far it's working. My teen and I have very open discussions about things, and even her friends will talk to me about stuff. It's coming along with the younger one, too. I am the biggest proponent of laying it all out there, talking age-appropriately early, and using any opportunity that comes your way (like you did with "balls"). if you keep it up, you should be in fine shape come the teen years. And you know me, I'm not the most conservative person, so everything is on the table. So far, the teen makes very good choices. I can only hope it keeps up the way it has. You are starting out exactly where you should be. Just keep it up. You'll be happy you did. :)

Emily said...

This is the one thing I most dread but also most want to get absolutely right, if you can ever get anything absolutely right in parenting.

For sexual abuse/assault, my parents used the Safety Kids series. We sang songs to learn our phone number, what to do if we get lost, and about the "uh-oh feeling." I also remember my dad laying one of our bathing suits on his torso, which we thought was sooooo funny, and telling us that no one should ever touch us in the bathing suit area, and what we should do if anyone ever tried to. I think I was like 10 for that lesson.

As for sex ed, I will never let my children take sex ed classes at school. I know some teachers do a good job, but I was absolutely TRAUMATIZED by my health class sophomore year. And my teacher was LDS! Whatever formal instruction my kids are going to get about sex is going to come from me. But that's just me.

Great post!

P.S. One thing I wish someone had taught me by the time I hit junior high was what to do about sexual harassment. There were some nasty guys in my school and I never knew how to respond to their lewd comments.

GR82BAMOM said...

I really appreciate this post and all these great ideas. We sort of had "the baby" talk last summer when Liam insisted that he wanted a real baby "to stay here with our family." When he suggested that we make one, I told him that he couldn't because he was too young and not married. Daddy and mommy can make one. All he said was that he thought it was a great idea and just left it at that. Every now and again he will remember and ask for a baby and I remind him that we have to wait for Heavenly Father to send one to us through mommy and daddy. Then just yesterday we had to have a short talk on appropriateness. He's super excited about his latest new underwear and pulled his pants right down for my mother to see. Without being too scandalous over it, we just reminded him that it is private and not for showing. Other than that, we haven't really touched on anything else. I figured he was still too young, but maybe I should at least be ready for whenever the time comes.

Cecily said...

I totally agree with this post and hope you keep writing down your experiences on this topic. For my 3-yr-old, modesty is already a huge issue, but I haven't known what to do about the "why is it important?" questions. She simply isn't satisfied with her body being "special" and I'm thinking I need to become more open with her, but she's three!!!!

Thank you so much for the resources and for the awesome post!!

Mia said...

I'm with Emily, this is the one areas of parenting I really want to get right. I want to say and do all the things that will help us have an open dialog. I want to teach them what they need to know with out scaring them or being too blasé. I am very conscious about taking opportunities as they arise for teaching moments. We have both boys and girls, so the kids get the basic differences in anatomy, but their understanding only goes as far as boys stand to pee and girls sit... Thanks for this post. I needed a little push, because we are already dealing with crushes and things like that. While it may be innocent for years now, I don't want to be naive or unprepared.

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