Sex and Kids: A Practical Question

June 8, 2004 | 19 comments
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Last night, Melissa and I watched the new version of Peter Pan. We wanted to see if it was appropriate viewing for the family; though a marvelous film, we decided it wasn’t. This version very clearly turns the tale into a coming-of-age/growing-up/sexual-awakening story, and while we both thought it was told with terrific humor, great sensitivity and tact, and wonderful visuals, we agreed that it was probably too much for our oldest–Megan, who will be 8 in August. Maybe when she’s 10 or so. Anyway, in coming to this conclusion, we found ourselves wondering about how, and when, we should have “the sex talk” with Megan. We both agree that we wanted her to learn about such matters from us before any one else, but we also don’t want to rush things she isn’t ready to handle, just to make sure she gets it from us first. We talked about our own experiences with learning the facts of life–Melissa’s parents never gave her “the talk,” but instead gave her a book when she was 11 or so, and told her to come to them if she had any questions; my father, by contrast, very emphatically sat me down one evening and solemnly related the whole business to me in fairly explicit detail (my memory of this talk has grown rather humorous as the years have gone by). It is something Melissa and I will probably discuss quite a bit over the summer–Megan goes into third grade next year. So anyway, I open the thread to any and all who wish to comment, but I’d especially be interested in the experiences of parents who have passed, or reached, or nearly reached, this point in their children’s development. When did you tell your kids about sex? And how did you do it? I’m quite interested to learn.

19 Responses to Sex and Kids: A Practical Question

  1. lyle on June 8, 2004 at 1:01 pm

    I don’t have kids Russell, but we are on the same wavelength. I’ve been reading a little about the Pope’s theology of the Body (very LDS-esque, i.e. pro-sex, pro-marriage, pro-sex for fun inside marriage is great). I posted a humorous dialogue [my personal blog, link in address line]; and you might not have to worry. My dialogue posits that the kid actually approaches the parents to tell them she already knows about Sex & wants them to know. :)

  2. Chad Too on June 8, 2004 at 1:16 pm

    I got “the talk” at age 11, the morning after I accidentally walked in on my parents making love. It was dark and I didn’t see anything (I didn’t even realize they they were doing) but they didn’t know that. Next morning, “Chad, let’s go to your room and talk for a minute…”

  3. Kingsley on June 8, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    Oh man, was my first “sex talk” a disaster. I vaguely remember an anatomy book with skinless models showing the ovaries, testicles, etc., plus a (to my mind) hopeless tangle of blue & red veins, & my father’s very sober expression as he delivered an address more appropriate for a fledgling medical student than an eight-year-old obsessed with G.I. Joe toys–funny funny. My brothers & I came to a realistic idea of sex gradually, as we heard it from the lips of our worldly elementary school friends: we got almost nothing from our parents. Part of the problem was that they hit us with it before we felt really curious about it; another part was their textbook-style explanation. I wonder now if they would’ve been more effective if they’d waited for some hint from us that we were starting to wonder about stuff, rather than arbitrarily choosing a “good age” to drop the bomb.

  4. Anna on June 8, 2004 at 2:01 pm

    I don’t believe one single “talk” will do it in today’s world. With my daughters (now 12 and 15) I started with the very basics when they were about 5 and just added more information bit by bit when I thought they were ready. I tried to combine the anatomical aspects, shall we say, with the moral and religious issues. But you can’t gloss over the physical things—I think it took three or four talks (at least one with diagrams!) for my girls to grasp the concept of menstruation, for example.

    I used to volunteer at the elementary school and I’ll tell you that the kids on the playground were certainly talking about sex by the 3rd grade. Some girls hit puberty by that age now. I think they need to have the information sooner rather than later to combat the conflicting messages they will get from their peers.

  5. Kingsley on June 8, 2004 at 2:20 pm

    Anna: Yes, it seems the modern parent’s responsibility has more to do with countering bad ideas about sex (e.g. as provided by the Disney Channel of all places) with good ideas about sex, rather than simply technical info. about sex, which can be heard on any playground.

  6. Measure on June 8, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    I was married to a woman who suffered from childhood sexual abuse from a step-grandfather. Based on this experience it is my theory that children should be told as much about sex as they can understand, as soon as possible.

    In my ex-wife’s case, the sex talk would have helped her to understand why her grandfather was doing what he was, and given her more tools to tell her parents about it.

    As it was, the abuse went on for a year before her parents found out about it by finding pictures of the activities.

  7. Matt Jacobsen on June 8, 2004 at 4:57 pm

    I’ll second Anna’s comment about going in stages. A simple familiarity with anatomy can come as soon as a child learns all the body parts, but it doesn’t have to include sex. Be ready to answer questions in an honest way, while letting your child determine how detailed to get by their further questions.

    I feel that it is also important to keep tabs on what your child talks about with friends. Children don’t always come to you first with questions, and once the subject comes up I don’t know how you can make it just go away. I am all too aware of the dirty jokes my friends told around the lunch table, or the magazine someone would find and share, starting in the 2nd grade (in SLC of all places). This was several years before any sex talk with parents. It was pretty ridiculous when the time came for the maturation program at school or the talk with dad.

  8. Nathan on June 8, 2004 at 5:14 pm

    Mebbe I was in a particularly Gentile environment, but when I came home from school in first grade spouting helf-truths I’d learned on the playground, my parents scrambled to make up for it. Unfortunately, my father was WAAAY too serious — it was more like being called to the principal’s office.

    So with my kids, I start telling them when they’re six, before they hit first grade. I say “start telling them,” because obviously it’s a long learning process to really understand it all (I’m still learning!), but the gist of the first sit-down about it — with both me and my wife, which I think is important — is “Sex makes baby. It’s a great thing. But we don’t make fun of it, just like we don’t make fun of Jesus.”

    And then I make sure to have at least an annual conversation with them after that, both to a) catch up with what they may have learned elsewhere, and b) to let them know that I’m the go-to guy for questions.

  9. Nathan on June 8, 2004 at 5:16 pm

    Jeez. “Sex makee baby.” You’d think I were Tarzan…

  10. Kingsley on June 8, 2004 at 5:26 pm

    Actually, Nathan, “Sex makes baby. It’s a great thing. But we don’t make fun of it, just like we don’t make fun of Jesus,” would be a wonderful, world-saving mantra for the MTV generation, not to mention six-year-olds. The problem is, speaking of the former group now, that the truths you express, & the words you express them in, are too deep, not too Tarzan-ish, for them to comprehend …

  11. Ann on June 8, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    If she’s going in third grade, she may have already heard stuff and just not asked you about it. Get a plan, quick. Keep it basic, for now…but not as basic as if she was six.

    I first heard “where babies come from” when I was in first grade, from a who was just a year older. It was not a positive experience.

  12. Jennifer L on June 8, 2004 at 11:21 pm

    I’m sure most of you have heard of Richard & Linda Eyre and their books. Well, they wrote a book called “How to Talk to Your Child About Sex.” It’s great. It deals with everything from the time a child can talk until graduation from high school. They basically do the big talk at age 8. They make it real special. Take the child out to a restaurant or some other special place with just Mom & Dad. Before age 8, they’ll have talked about the differences between boys and girls, that babies come from a special hug that they’ll learn more about when they’re age 8, etc. They talk about age 8 being ideal because the child is still open to learning from their parents. They’re usually not cynical or embarassed, etc. Then they continue to have followup discussions through the rest of the growing up years. Their book offers all sorts of dialogues and other useful info. Helped me to have the big talk with my daughter when she was 8.

  13. Jennifer L on June 8, 2004 at 11:24 pm

    Guess I neglected to say how I did this. My daughter had started having more of an interest in where babies come from. I kept putting her off saying it would be part of a special talk that we would have. Finally I was ready, and one night before she went to bed we just sat there and talked about it. Mostly, she just asked lots and lots of questions to which I answered. She was fairly interested and not really embarassed. She just thought the whole thing was gross. Now, at age 11, she is embarassed to talk about it much AND still thinks it’s gross. :-)

  14. Trevor on June 9, 2004 at 12:06 am

    I read somewhere recently that it’s good to talk to your children about it at several stages of their youth/pre-adult life, with the first one being before they are accountable. That made sense to me – if they’re going to be accountable for something, they ought to know a little about it. I discussed it with my wife and she agreed. Our oldest child is 7 and will be turning 8 in September, so I guess we’d better start thinking about it. :)

  15. Trevor on June 9, 2004 at 12:18 am

    I just found where I had read that. It’s from a book that apparently just came out (I haven’t seen it yet but will probably buy it when I do). It says “The four most critical times that teaching is needed are: (1) before the age of accountability; (2) before puberty; (3) before dating; and (4) before marriage.” The book is called “And They Were Not Ashamed,” and there is a web site for it at http://www.strengtheningmarriage.com (which is where I read the quote). I originally found out about the book and web site from an article in Meridian Magazine some time ago ( http://www.ldsmag.com/familyconnections/040217intimacy.html )

  16. lyle on June 9, 2004 at 11:46 am

    hm…perhaps we are all onto sex these days. Meridian today has a nice article by Los Brotherson (good family, fairly articulate) that discusses sex ed & the kids.

    (note this is not the same link as Trevor’s)

    http://www.ldsmag.com/familyconnections/040609intimacy.html

  17. Gary Cooper on June 9, 2004 at 12:24 pm

    Okay, folks, I don’t mean to turn the conversation here negative, because I’ve enjoyed the comments so far, but here’s a tough one. I just found out that my little 6 year old nephew has been sexually molested by a relative of ours. This has been devastating to his family, who are not members of the Church (though my sister is a devout Christian). I had a long conversation with my sister on this, and she asked me for advice on how to talk to her son about this, etc. Any one have any advice on this one? What do you do when the subject of sex has been introduced way, way to early for a child, and in some horrible way?

  18. lyle on June 9, 2004 at 12:43 pm

    Pray. Pray some more. Stop praying & realize that w/o some hefty intervention via the atonement…your Nephew will never be the same; nor family relations…even your own family will be faced with whether or trust other family members with babysitting, etc.

    Sum: Pray. Read a few books. Don’t make too big a deal of it…unless the Child does/wants to. If you make it the end of the world…the kid will too. It sucks, but with any luck…reassurance that the kid is NOT at fault, God still loves them, their family still loves them & everything will be ok (and then wait for when it is not & be willing to help then…).

    my two cents. of course, i’m not a counselor & my only experience is having been jilted at the St. George Temple altar several years ago because my bride to be wasn’t ready to deal with holy sex, having been abused in such an unoly manner as a child (oh, and having dated 2-3 other women abused as kids besides here. Basically, i educated myself alot on abuse because I had to).

  19. cooper on June 9, 2004 at 12:58 pm

    Gary the same thing happened to friends of ours. First off, seek the advice of professionals – not just any professinal though. There are some loonies out there. Call your local office of LDS Social Services. See if there is someone they recommend for this particular situation. Secondly, the child should be made aware that they did nothing wrong. This can be a traumatic experience for the whole family with the result being a lot of anger. The child should never be made to feel that it is their fault that the family is angry at this person. It is a good time to reinforce being responsible for our actions.

    Keep in mind also that this child is still very young. Given proper care and attention this incident could fade to black very quickly. However, there are certain factors that must be dealt with: was it a one time event, or was it repeated over a length of time? These questions need to be addressed because the longer something like this goes on the worse it can be for the child.

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