The birds & the bees, but make it Gen Z.
The antiquated iteration of the ‘ol “birds and bees” spiel you may have received as a kid has certainly been ruled out of the sex talk lexicon. What with The Internet, social media, streaming networks, etc., it would be near impossible to shelter contemporary children from all-things-sex. But nonetheless, knowing how to breach the topic can be...difficult, at best. How young is too young? How old is too old? How anatomical should you get? Maybe you ought to make a Powerpoint deck?
Of course, there are no state-issued rules and guidelines available to guarantee the ideal sex talk with your children—in fact, many states try to avoid the subject altogether. But there are small pieces of information compiled from parents, psychologists, and school counselors throughout the years that might help to alleviate some of the supreme discomfort that accompanies saying the word “vagina” several times to your kid. As a starting place, we’ve gone ahead and answered some of your most pivotal FAQs in the hopes of helping you avoid relying on the “stork” euphemism at all costs.
When should I start talking to my kids about sex?
The mantra goes “early and often” but that still begs the question, how early, and how often? While children all mature at different ages, it’s unlikely that your preschooler will be ready to fully grasp the concept of sex. That said, this is a great age to help kids understand their bodies anatomically, and to help them grow comfortable using the proper vocabulary words (yes, penis). Throughout elementary school, while it may seem early to address full-on intercourse, be sure you’re talking about puberty, and the changing of your children’s bodies. Whether at the end of elementary school or the beginning of middle school, this will evolve naturally into conversations about sex. In some cases, that’ll mean using discussions of period flow, and in others, masturbation, as a foray into larger sex talks. But either way, you’ll want to make sure your children are processing this information as they learn to navigate their own aging bodies.
Should I discuss all types of sex?
The short answer is: yes. We’re talking vaginal intercourse, oral sex, anal sex, self-pleasure. Be careful not to assume heterosexuality, and take a broad approach here. Odds are, if your child doesn’t learn about anal from you, there will be a whole lot of misguided Google queries punched in later on. Plus, it often goes overlooked that most of the risks we associate with vaginal penetration are just as present in oral or anal sex: HIV/AIDS, Herpes, Chlamydia, the list goes on.
How do I actually...bring it up?
While some kids will come forward and ask you directly, this is certainly not to be counted upon. Fortunately, life itself provides plenty of available transitions and teachable moments. Wait for a cultural opportunity, then weigh in. Do you have a friend or a family member that’s pregnant? Do birth control or condom ads play while you’re watching TV together? Is there a romantic plotline in a film or a book you’re consuming together? Use these opportunities to jump in and ask your kids what they already know. Do you know what’s happening right now? Do you know why you’d need a condom? Do you know how she got pregnant? See where they’re at––and if they seem open to discussing––then go from there.
Should I address pleasure?
Understandably so, your child may not be quite ready to learn the ins and outs of orgasm. That said, love and pleasure are both important parts of the conversation here. Whether or not you’re passing along a manual to the G-spot, you want to make sure your kids understand that sex is intended to be a pleasurable experience for men and women. And that it’s generally an act of love, not mere reproductive efficiency. Surely, there will need to be some clarification down the line (perhaps with your help, or maybe of their own volition), but for now, make sure that on a top-level, pleasure and love are part of the narrative here.
What about contraceptives?
Yes. Absolutely yes. Again, you need not go into unnecessary specifics when a child feels too young to make sense of the details, but be sure that any conversation you’re entertaining around sex includes the importance of using contraceptive options, and eludes to the consequences when you choose not to/ No matter how young, it’s ideal for you child to understand that sex and contraceptives go hand in hand.
What shouldn’t I do?
While every sex talk will be different, make sure you haven’t framed your version around “don’ts.” We know you want to police how young your kids have sex, who they have sex with, and how they approach it. They’re your kids. This is natural. But creating a dialogue around sex that’s riddled with negatives rather than positives will keep your children from asking you questions as they come up in their own lives.
What if I’m embarrassed? What if my child is embarrassed?
Let’s just get this out of the way: You are certainly going to be embarrassed. So is your child. This conversation will be near impossible if you don’t enter it with the full knowledge that some discomfort awaits you. But don’t let that stop you! In fact, the longer you wait, the odds are, the more uncomfortable you’ll feel. If you have an open dialogue about sex early on, you’ll never hit that insurmountable preteen brick wall, where the word “penis” is enough to send your daughter into anaphylactic shock. Plow through your embarrassment –– we assure you it’ll be worth your while.