Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How to Talk to Your Kids about Sex (Without Ever Having "The Talk")

In our family, we've never had The Talk. We've just answered questions.

Dozens of small conversations feel a lot more natural, and the kids know the topic is open so they can come back when they want to know more.

Also, the longer I've been at this parenting gig, the more I realize my kids don't remember 70% of what I say the first time (I'm being extremely generous with that figure.) So it's probably better if I repeat myself a little, anyway.

Our 6 kids are all fully aware of where babies come from, but we have never had 'the sex talk' with any of them. If you are looking for a natural, non-awkward method for talking to kids about sex, this is it. Includes tips for when and how to answer questions about sex, as well as what to do if your kids aren’t asking about the birds and the bees yet. #parentingtips #kids

When Kids Ask a Question About Sex

Whenever my kids ask about babies, bodies, or sex, I have a favorite two-part response: "That's a good question. What do you think?"

I say "that's a good question" because I hope it'll make them feel more confident in coming back with something else, especially further down the road when they're older and they might feel embarrassed.

I like asking "what do you think?" because it's a perfect way to find out what they're actually asking. I can't overstate the importance of figuring out what their question really is before diving into an answer.

One time my 9-year-old asked if you could do anything to avoid getting pregnant. Because I forgot to have her clarify her question, I started rambling on about birth control... and only later did I realize that the poor kid was probably lying in her bed worried that at age 9 she was going to spontaneously have a baby.

If you have to think about how to answer or you just need some time to breathe into a paper bag first, it's easy to say, "That's a good question. Let's talk about it at bedtime (or whenever.)" My older kids are fond of asking detailed questions at dinnertime with their 4-year-old sister at the table, so I use this line all the time.

The Best Answers are 20 Words or Less

I try not to make my kids drink from a fire hose. My rule of thumb is to try and use 20 words or less.

Once I find out what they're asking, I answer their question, just their question, and nothing but their question. If they want to ask a follow-up, either right then or after they've had a few days to think about it, they know where I live.

In my experience with my own kids, there are 3 questions about sex and babies, and they come in this order: where do babies come from, what makes a baby grow, and how do you make a baby?

1. Where do babies come from?

This is an easy one. If it's their first question, they mean it literally: they just want to know about physical location.

We used to say "mom's tummy," but later on it confused them when we started talking about a uterus. So now we just say 'uterus' at the get-go and life is simpler.

They're usually cool with that for a couple of years before they want to know more about what makes the baby grow in the first place.

2. What makes a baby grow?

This is also pretty easy. They're not even asking about sex, they're just wondering if a baby spontaneously grows, or what?

We used to give the old "daddy plants a seed in mommy that turns into a baby" metaphor but that backfired like no one's business. Turns out my kids thought that the mom swallowed dirt and a literal seed (unfortunately, we'd also said that the baby grew in its mom's 'tummy' so this made total sense to them!)

Eventually, we just had to say "Sorry, but forget everything we told you" and then introduce the concept of sperm and eggs. It's not hard to explain what sperm and eggs are in 20 words or less, so I don't know why we even bothered with that "seed" nonsense in the first place. (Sorry older kids, you were our guinea pigs.)

3. How do you make a baby?

By the time they ask how in the world the sperm and the egg actually get together, our kids already know about the differences between male and female anatomy.

So with that background information already in place, they're ready for a simple explanation of the mechanics of sex. In 20 words or less, of course.

I think it's important to answer this question before they start hearing sex talk at school, gone through puberty, or had a chance to get ideas that sex is a topic that's gross, taboo, exciting, or mortifying to talk to your parents about. We've done it around age 8 with our kids, and their response is usually:

"Do you and Dad do that?"


"Huh. That's kind of weird."

There's no judgment or awkwardness in their voice, it just is what it is. We ask if they have any more questions, which they usually don't, and they skip away to play. (In a few days, though, they've had some time to think about it and are back asking for clarification.)

If you're still having heart palpitations at the idea or don't have a clue what words you might use, a good resource is {affiliate linkTalk to Me First by Deborah Roffman. You might have to adjust it to your family's values, but the information is definitely applicable for every parent.

What If My Kids Don't Ask Questions?

In our house, the questions about babies and sex usually come when I'm pregnant. Lucky for us, I'm pregnant every 2 to 3 years so they have plenty of opportunities to wonder "Hey, where do babies come from, anyway?"

If they don't ask, though, you might want to give them a nudge by saying something like:
  • Did you hear your aunt is having a baby? What do you think makes her belly get bigger like that?
  • Look at this drawing I found on BabyCenter of a baby growing in its mom. Isn't it interesting? Do you ever wonder how that baby got in there?
  • I heard them talking about sex in that TV show. What do you think they meant?
Also, the news is a great conversation-starter for older kids. I never realized what a politicized topic sex is until we started listening to NPR in the car with my 11-year-old. We've had conversations about abortion, teen pregnancy, AIDS, and birth control because of questions spurred by a story on NPR.

When those issues come up, they've been golden opportunities to go beyond just dispensing information to talking more in-depth about our family's values about sex.

In summary, I've been pleasantly surprised to find that talking to my kids about the birds and the bees isn't the terribly awkward ordeal it's made out to be. And it's gotten more comfortable with practice (again, sorry first kids.)

In fact, sometimes it's even funny.

Once when I was pregnant, my daughter asked how a baby comes out. When we told her, she burst out laughing, thinking we were joking.

We assured her we were actually serious, and she put her spoon down on the table and yelled, "What?!" Phillip gave me a sideways look and whispered, "See? It's a little weird."

Click to Share:
Unremarkable Files


Queen Mom Jen said...

Oh this is good, good stuff! I do the same thing. Lots of little conversations rather than dropping the whole deal in a day long conversation, open communication seems to work best for us.

Cyndi said...

My kids went to a Christian school that did "the Talk" with them in sixth grade. My daughter asked me what a condom was, and after I explained it, she got a horrified look on her face and said "You DID that? You...and Dad...and the CONDOM?" I said she made it sound like a third party!

Jenny Evans said...

That is too funny. I love how kids put things sometimes.

I had a really funny health teacher in high school. He used to call abstinence "The Big A, Baby!" with his hands up over his head like he was doing the YMCA dance.

Crystal @Sosomom said...

This is a really great post. I have never actually had to explain how the egg and spend get together. You see, we have cattle. My kids have participated in choosing bull semen from a catalog, watching cows be insemination, and occasionally the job of the clean up bull. They have also all pulled a calf by age 8. Those skinny arms can come in handy. However, my oldest once asked if I had to lock the baby clean after it was born.

Jenny Evans said...

I suppose I could have written this post to say "Or just move to a farm." Because they learn it all!

Rosie said...

Good stuff! And I'm kind of hoping that the mechanics can be explained by the animals around us, too ;) We've talked about the sperm and eggs but nobody's asked yet *how* the sperm actually gets from the daddy to the mommy... I'll try to remember 20 words or less!

Anonymous said...

Swallowed an actual seed and dirt!! Bwahahahaha!!

Moderate Mum said...

My parents did this with me. I don't think it was a conscious choice, they just didn't have the time to sit and have a big heart to heart. As a result sex and relationships were not a big deal and I learned at a pace that was good for me.

Budget Splurge Beauty said...

This is all really great advice. I appreciate the straightforward approach as well. I didn't get it growing up and ended up being very ignorant for a long time lol. Also, I had a giggle at your daughter's reaction to how a baby is born.

JOhn Adams said...

Your points about answering in 20 words and waiting until later if you need time to think are great. Also love the idea of really figuring out what you're being asked first. Personally, I have no trouble to my kids about sex. It's my wife who struggles with it, although when she does, she's much better than she realises. #truthabout

Unknown said...

Hmmm we've yet to directly talk about sex to our 6 year old because the subject hasn't actually been broached directly. I wasn't ready until I read this; now I'd like to think I'd be more confident and will definitely be using the 20 words and waiting tip. Thanks! #truthabout

Anonymous said...

Thank you this is brilliant. My son found out about sex from another child but luckily he then spoke to me about it and we had a good chat. My parents were very open with me and I've learnt it's the best policy. xx

mumturnedmom said...

This is brilliant! I'm not very good at these conversations and have left a lot of it to my husband. I have promised to take the lead when my daughter starts asking questions if he deals with the boys! We have a couple of books, and have started the more detailed conversation with our eldest now, but I will check out the book you recommend too. I'm going to take your advice the next time I get asked a tricky question. Turn it around and stick to 20 words or less! #thetruthabout

Unknown said...

These are good tips - I'm definitely making notes Jenny! I've kind of dodged a bullet here so far as the subject hasn't really come up (no pun intended!). Thanks for linking up to this week's #thetruthabout :-)

Unknown said...

AuntSue I was ten when my mother was expecting my little brother. We only had one bathroom for many years, so she was in the bathtub one day when I got home from school and I needed to be in there. After looking at her very pregnant belly, I asked her how the baby would get out. She told me the doctor had a special door he opened.(and no, she never had a c-section) Hmmmm. I spent a lot of time looking for that door! Interestingly, my fourth baby decided he wanted that special doctor door. After every contraction he would push himself up and away from my pelvic bones. He finally got his way.(he did have a really big bony head) We think he must have left a note, because the next two babies never even got near the regular exit, and held onto my ribs until we had to use the doctor door for them!

Jenny Evans said...

A door, eh? That certainly sounds like a more civilized way to have a baby!

Chaun said...

I loved this post! It also reminded me of after the maturation program I had back in 5th grade (everything about that was shocking so I focused way more on my cookie instead). When I came home, my mom sat me down and said "So I forgot how it worked. Tell me what you learned." I gave her a half baked lesson from my 10 year old memory and she figured that was good enough! Never talked about it again hahahaha. My mind was absolutely blown when I was 14 and finally figured out why there were differences between boys and girls :) So anyway - my childhood "sex talk" example didn't really work out, but does make for good grounds how to change it up with my own kids!