We’ve always had an open door policy in our house, which can result in a lack of privacy sometimes, especially in the bathroom. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, then, when just around three years old, my son wandered into the bathroom while I was changing a tampon, and immediately began questioning why I was bleeding
At first he thought I was hurt, so I quickly assuaged any fears, reassuring him that I was totally fine. But then, the questions began. I had handled the first 3 years alright, so I figured I had a grip on most of the tough situations we’d encounter. But when faced with the reality, I found myself flummoxed for a moment or two.
And then? I improvised. I explained to my almost-three year old that every month my body prepared itself to maybe have a baby. But, when that didn’t happen, it got rid of the comfortable padding that would have held the baby, and that’s what the blood was. I let him know that it didn’t hurt me, and it was perfectly normal. He seemed satisfied with my response, and I gave myself a pat on the back for managing to come up with a pretty good answer.
A few weeks later, I somehow managed to get a bloody nose, and my son immediately started peppering me with questions.
“So, does this mean you aren’t growing a baby in your nose?”
I realized I had a bit more work to do on the topic. However, I continued to operate under the method that I would happily answer any question that he asked, providing answers in age-appropriate terms and detail.
Finally, the day I had mentally prepared myself for came. We were driving somewhere, when my son’s little voice piped up from the back.
“But, where do babies come from?” he asked, as if we had been having a conversation the whole time.
I hemmed and hawed, trying to find the best way to phrase it all. And this is what came out:
“Well. Moms have eggs inside of them. And dads have seeds inside of them. The dad gives the mom some seeds, and they plant themselves in the eggs. When they come together like that, a baby starts growing.”
My answer seemed to satisfy him, and with only a few follow up questions, he was good. But we were nowhere near finished.
A few days later he was hanging out in the bathtub, and started poking around at his scrotum, and began asking some earnest questions again.
“What is this?”
“Um, your scrotum.”
“It, uh…” My mind drew a blank, until I remembered our conversation we had in the car only days before.
“Remember how I said that guys have seeds that they use to help make babies? When you get older, that’s where your seeds are stored.”
He thought that was the most awesome thing in the world, and promptly set about creating a pretty fabulous song all about his “seed store.”
All the information I’ve imparted to him backfired a bit when he was 4, when we explained to him that we decided not to have another child. My son, who would love to be a big brother, fixed us with a stare before stating, “But I know dad has more seeds in him. He just needs to put them in your egg – what’s the problem?”
We’ve had numerous conversations since that first one, oh-so-many years ago, and I’ve done my best to answer questions like why his penis sometimes gets “so hard I can shut my bedroom door with it!” mostly with a straight face. I’m glad that he feels secure coming to me with these questions, and truthfully, I hope he always feels that comfortable.
While I know that five and a half is light years away from fifteen, I have to hope that by setting up the nonjudgmental and open groundwork now, we’ll be providing a safe space for him to come to us later with questions or concerns. All of these thoughts came barreling back when I reviewed the new, nationwide survey on teenagers, parents, and talking about sex, compiled by Planned Parenthood.
The results are truly enlightening. The bottom line is that “Half of All Teens Feel Uncomfortable Talking to Their Parents About Sex While Only 19 Percent of Parents Feel the Same.” The survey goes on to reveal that while parents think they are providing nuanced information, their children are only receiving simple directives. However, the good news is that the vast majority of parents and teens talk to each other about sexuality. What really stood out to me was the data that revealed the importance of parent-teen communication. From the survey:
- Forty-six percent of teens report that parents are the biggest influence on their decisions about sex, while only 20 percent say their biggest influence is their friends (Alpert, 2000).
- Eighty percent of teens say it would be easier to delay sex if they could have more open conversations about it with their parents (Alpert, 2010).
- Teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sex, have fewer partners, and use condoms and other birth control when they do have sex (Guilamo-Ramos, 2010; Weinman, 2008).
One of the (many) helpful aspects to Planned Parenthood is the host of useful tools/tips for parents to use when talking to their teens about sex and sexuality.
While I may have some time before my son and I get into these types of conversations, I’m incredibly happy that we’re already laying the groundwork for them right now. What about you? Have you already been there/done that re: “the sex talk”? What challenges have you faced and how have you handled them?