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Take responsibility for talking to your kids about sex, before cutting them off from information that could save their lives

I chatted with two parents, Sandy, who has a nine-year-old boy, and Emily, who has an 11-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, to find out how they’re handling the big questions and conversations.

Is there a right age to start talking to your kids?

Emily: I’ve found that questions about sex are often embedded in questions about relationships, so there’s no “start” time. Questions that start with: “Why don’t I have a penis?” or “Why does Sophie have a brown baby?” can end up in long discussions about gender, artificial insemination or kissing with tongue. It’s hard to know where you are going to end up. I try to answer directly, without shame or embarrassment.

Sandy: My son was three when he first started asking questions. He was easily satisfied with simple answers like: “Babies come from mommy’s tummy”. At four, he asked me, while watching a nature programme about mating season, whether his dad and I had mated to make him, and what that entailed exactly.

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I explained in detail with the correct anatomy. My philosophy has always been honest and accurate information. I believe in question-driven, age-appropriate chats. Answer the question as simply, but as correctly, as possible.

Have you made use of any books to help you with these discussions?

Emily: I’ve used books. My favourites have been Babette Cole’s Mommy Laid an Egg and Hair in Funny Places. I’ve also discovered the value of funny YouTube clips. Eddie Izzard on puberty and Uncle Andy from Weeds on masturbation, for example. Basically, what I look for is correct information without drama, lots of humour without moralising.

Sandy: I first made use of a book for my son when he got curious about what a vagina looks like. I also figured it would be a good idea to have a book lying around for when the questions started to embarrass him.

My test for any books relating to my child is to check the masturbation section. If I’m happy with the way they handle that, that it’s natural and without shame, then the book will probably work for me.

Have you ever had to explain the sexualisation of something familiar to your kid?

Emily: I did once have to explain to my daughter that I couldn’t wear a black, shiny leather corset to her birthday party.

Sandy: My son found a photo of Emma Watson while he was Googling  Harry Potter. He saw a picture of her with some exposed boob and wanted to see what she looked like naked. I realised this when he started asking me to spell out “naked”.

We don’t mind him being curious about naked bodies. It’s totally natural. But going to online search for it is not a good idea. We talked about the fact that the picture he found of her was tasteful and that she had chosen to participate in a photo shoot that was beautiful. We also spoke about avoiding the photos made without permission and that were not real.

What are the main sex topics you would like to broach with your kid?

Emily: Body image and confidence is a constant conversation. Relationships, same-sex and heterosexual, appear to need constant revisiting as each child develops a deeper understanding of relationships in general.

Contraceptives and safety is not something I’ve completely addressed yet, and the big hairy monster in my head right now is porn.

Sandy: We’ve already broached sex, same sex relationships and body image. We’ve also spoken about HIV with regards to blood and bodily fluids in general. But we haven’t spoken yet about contraceptives.

I’ll broach the subject when my son decides he no longer wants to adopt children to avoid having sex. He’s still at that stage where the thought is totally gross.

Whose responsibility is your kid’s sex education?

Emily: It’s me and their dad. But, in reality, it’s also their friends, especially the slightly older friends, TV, Instagram and so on. On a national scale? That’s a tricky question. I’m not keen for people with very strict moral agendas to be talking to my kids.

Sandy: I believe it’s ultimately my responsibility or at least our family’s. There’s been no talk of it at school yet, at least not via the teachers, but I imagine there will be. Great sex education at school would be ideal so that the kids with crazy religious or super-conservative parents can benefit from honest and clear information.

What has been your trickiest sex convo moment yet?

Emily: I was sitting at the the table with my very conservative aunt, uncle and cousin talking about children and family, when the subject of artificial insemination came up.

My son said: “I have a question. My mom says sex is very nice. So, why would someone have a baby without having sex?”

Cue awkward silence from my family who all look at me, followed by much discussion in the kitchen about my “sex positive” parenting choices.

Sandy: My son jumped into the car after school the other day and, with some pride, told me that he knew a sign for sex. When I asked him what he meant, he raised his hand to his mouth, made the ‘peace sign’ with his forefinger and middle finger, and wiggled his tongue in between the two fingers. I had to point out that that was not a sign for sex, and that it’s probably not one he should be showing off.

I thought I could just let it rest there but he wanted to know what it was a sign for, if not sex. When I told him I wasn’t comfortable talking it about right at that moment, he reminded me that I’d told him that if he needed information – about anything – and asked for it, I would be honest with him.

So I told him what it was a sign of and that it was very pleasurable for women to experience this. He carried on like I’d described Armageddon and that was the last of it.

Article by: Dorothy Black for Change Exchange