Talking about sex with your kid is a weird thing, an awkward dance. What’s too little? What’s too much? What’s age appropriate? I know for a fact there is such a thing as being too close-mouthed about the subject, but is also definitely such a thing as being too open, as well. How do you find the balance?
In the moment, it’s so overwhelming, and there is often no time to prepare. Talking to your kid about their body, or about sex, it’s not really something you can plan ahead for. Something comes up, and that’s your moment to stop and talk about it… there’s no time to go research and read a barrage of parenting articles and books before coming back to the topic at hand.
It’s so unique to each situation, to each child, that to try to create a blueprint would be impossible.
Early on with Rory, I decided I wanted to encourage her to ask questions. Because all kids have them, and if they aren’t asking their parents, they are probably asking their friends, and getting answers that may or may not be factual or appropriate.
So, I decided, I would answer any questions she had. I would make it safe for her to ask questions, even if they were awkward or scary. “If she asks, I will answer, and I will do so honestly and openly, without going overboard on details.” That was my commitment to myself, and to her.
Seemed like a solid plan to me.
The only problem was that I couldn’t have possibly predicted just how many questions this damn child would ask.
The other day, for example, as we stood in the kitchen, she asked me point blank if I had ever had sex with a particular guy, a man she knows and loves, whom we still see, and whom I dated for six months.
“Why do you want to know?” I tried, stalling, and hoping that I could talk her out of even wanting the information.
“I’ve been holding this in for a month,” she replied. “It’s heavy in my brain, Mom! I just didn’t know when a good time was to ask.”
“Some questions are personal, Rory,” I hedged. “I mean, you don’t really need to know that.”
“I know. But I’m curious,” she paused, then rushed on. “Also, one time I came into the room, and he moved the sheet over himself real fast. I think you guys were naked.”
When I was a kid, I remember being curious, and having similar questions. Once, I actually walked in on my mom having sex with her boyfriend, when I was probably a year of so younger than Rory is now. She yelled at me to get out, and I am positive we never talked about it ever again. I definitely knew what they were doing, but it never would have crossed my mind to ask her questions about it, even though I certainly had them. It was like a secret we just silently agreed to never talk about again, but it was there. And it was weird to ignore it.
“You really want the answer to this question? You should check in with yourself and make sure,” I said hesitantly, still hoping for a miracle.
“Ok. Yes, Rory, we had sex.”
“Ugh…but just that once, right?”
I could not keep a straight face as a burst out laughing, sarcastically replying, “Yep definitely. Just that one time,” doubling over at the waist.
It took a few minutes to come back from that, but it felt good to laugh.
Afterward, I explained a little further. I reminded her that we had cared quite a lot for each other, and had a romantic relationship, for a good amount of time.
“And,” I said, “there was a sexual component to that relationship. A very healthy, normal, sexual component, between two adults who cared about each other.”
“Are you done with the questions now, child?”
“But what about STD’s?” she blurted out.
Oh dear lord, I thought.
Apparently, it was going to be one of those nights.
I made sure that she knew the correct definition of the term she had just thrown at me, then we very lightly and briefly touched on the scientific facts to answer her question, of condoms, STD screenings, and safe sex.
“Any more questions?” I asked, with that slightly narrowed Mom gaze that begs the answer is no. Enough for tonight, please child. Mommy needs a break.
And off we went to watch a movie on the couch, as if it had never happened.
– – –
Should I have allowed a question about whether or not I have had sex with a specific person that she knows and loves? Should I have answered that? I still don’t know.
But, here’s the thing: I want my daughter to have an open and curious attitude toward her body, and toward sex. I want her to know that it is healthy, and normal. I don’t want her to feel shame around these (very taboo, especially for girls) topics. And if I want her to be open and curious, and not feel shame, I think I have to allow her to ask questions, and not let her see any shame or horror on my part when she does.
Right? I hope so.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not easy, at all. I really didn’t want to answer that question. When I did answer, I definitely didn’t go into details. If she would have asked, I would have drawn a line.
But, surprisingly, I’m finding that I can trust her to not ask about things she isn’t emotionally and mentally ready for. She knows her own boundaries. She doesn’t ask things just for shock value. The environment of openness paired with natural, age-appropriate restrictions is organically creating a filter where she only asks questions that she is ready to hear the answer to.
Kind a cool process, really. At least when we aren’t in the painfully awkward real time moments of it.