You know that talk you’ve been wanting to have with your kid but keep avoiding for one reason after another – no privacy; no time; uncertain how to begin; embarrassment; fear of not having the answers? Yes – I am talking about sex talks! And you are not alone. Avoidance is a common response to fear. Ironically, I DID feel alone when it came to sex talks with my kids but not for the same reason. I was that odd parent who relished talking about this stuff. I jumped at opportunities, created teachable moments in unexpected places to ensure my two boys had a fountain of knowledge and comfort to optimize sexual health, a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, that is safe, consensual, and free of discrimination and violence.
Not only did I seize occasions to share nuggets of developmentally appropriate information wherever I could, I looked to create them everywhere. At four years old, when my son mistook an emergency tampon stashed in a kitchen junk drawer for a mysterious new candy, his disappointing “what’s this?” after unwrapping it led to his first, albeit simple and brief, conversation about girls and periods. Dinner table conversations frequently incorporated a fact or two about some aspect of sexual health despite the eye rolls and quiet mutterings, “ugh, not again” from one kid or another. And still, I marched on.
While talking about this stuff was my jam, I realized it would be beneficial if my husband got in on the game as well. I felt that if our boys heard a thing or two about sex from their other parent, they would see this wasn’t exclusively my territory and that their father was another trustworthy person they could talk to about “sensitive” topics. With a little persuasion and a lot of cheerleading from me, my husband rolled up his proverbial sleeves and climbed the stairs to our older son’s bedroom.
He entered our son’s room and proceeded to have a heart-to-heart talk about the metamorphosis that our gangly tween would likely begin in the not-too-distant future and the feelings and emotions he might experience as he enters puberty. Feeling pretty smug about having shared such intimate information with our son, my husband concluded the discussion with the common “Is there anything you want to ask me?” After a lengthy pause and with a wrinkled brow, our son replied, “Yeah dad. Who do you think is a better pitcher, Tim Lincecum or Jon Lester?”
This favorite family anecdote serves as a wonderful reminder that we parents can get worked up about having conversations with our kids that are practically never as big a deal as we anticipate. How does worrying serve us and our kids? Bottom line, it doesn’t. To help work past these common worries, here are 10 tips to make conversations with our kids about sex easier than you think:
- Keep it brief. The reality is that many tweens and teens have shorter attention spans and lose interest when too much information is shared at once, especially when we parents are the messenger. Many of these talks will be impromptu, sparked by a news item on the radio for example, or an event at school your child shares with you.
- Validate their questions. Using a normal tone, acknowledge what they are asking is a good question. This reassures them that you are open to their questions, regardless of how off guard you might actually be.
- Keep the conversation at their level. Launching into a scientific explanation may be appropriate for some kids, and will fly over the heads of others. Knowing where your child is developmentally will help you tailor conversations that satisfy their curiosity without boring them with more information than they can comprehend.
- It’s okay not to know all the answers. There will be questions for which you legitimately do not have an answer. Saying, “I’m not sure, let me get back to you on that” is perfectly acceptable and makes you even more accessible by sharing your honesty. Just be sure to circle back with an answer after you figure it out.
- Up the frequency. Many brief conversations rather than a single “talk” is the way to go. No cram sessions where you have to remember EVERYTHING feels like a huge relief. More frequent talks also normalizes sex talks so they are less awkward and taboo.
- Verify that your words make sense. Asking your child follow-up questions about your conversation is a great opportunity to clarify if needed.
- Use the environment as conversation prompts. Opportunities to open a conversation are everywhere if you keep your eyes and ears open. I asked my son if he knew the purpose of a product being touted when a commercial for Kyleena came on during a television show we were watching. (Incidentally, it is a brand of an intrauterine device, a long-acting, reversible birth control method that is placed inside a woman’s uterus.) Once you open your eyes and ears, you will notice that there are ample opportunities to (courageously) start addressing a variety of important subjects that are not being broached elsewhere.
- Find settings free of distraction. The car is an example of a great distraction-free place to have these conversations. With both driver and passenger facing forward it is easier to avoid eye contact for the embarrassed tween (or parent) and offers a golden opportunity.
- Timing is key. You’ve heard that a poorly timed joke can land flat? Well, hereto timing is a factor in a successful discussion. If one or both of you are tired, rushed, or hangry for example, it is not an ideal time.
- Embrace the opportunity to be your child’s guide. Your kids are going to get sex information from a variety of places and the one they really want to hear it from is you, their trusted parent. You are perfectly equipped for this role and have nothing to lose. What are your waiting for?