The Hardest Conversation
When they were growing up, most modern parents were told that sex was dirty, bad, or wrong, and little more. They vowed not to be so negative and moralistic with their own children in hopes of helping them develop healthier sexual attitudes and keeping those all-important lines of communication open.
Some parents did manage to teach “penis” or “vagina” while helping their toddlers to learn the names of parts of the body. Some managed to respond to their preschoolers' “Where do babies come from?” questions with answers about Daddy's seeds and Mommy's egg. A few parents even explained to their five-year-olds how the baby gets out of Mommy's tummy. But when six-year-olds asked how Daddy put the seed inside Mommy in the first place, most parents postponed further discussion until later. In too many families, “later” never arrived.
Surveyed tweens say parents influence them more about dating and sex than friends. Although most adolescent respondents would prefer to talk to their parents, they report that they usually end up talking to their friends, so it is very important that you keep the channels of communication open.
There are some excellent books for kids of all ages (see Appendix B), and it is a good idea to buy at least one for your child. However, she needs to be able to ask questions, discuss concerns, and share her thoughts about sexual matters with a trusted adult. She may think that being handed a book means that you expect her to learn on her own. One possibility is to read the book together, perhaps taking turns reading sections aloud. As awkward as you and your child may feel, she will probably begin asking questions. As you answer, conversing will get easier. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.Education as Part of Life
Another approach to sex education is to integrate it into your daily household conversation. This may be the best approach for a tween who is too uncomfortable to hear or remember much from a single sit-down conversation. Presenting information in bits and pieces can also establish sex as something that can be freely discussed. Here are some ideas:
When you see an ad for deodorant on TV, are picking up some antiperspirant at the store, or are perspiring on a hot summer's day, comment that soon your child will perspire a lot and need deodorant, too. Explain that during puberty the hair under the arms begins to grow and the sweat glands produce more sweat.
When taking your tween for a haircut or helping her comb her hair, take the opportunity to mention that during puberty the hair on the rest of her body will begin to change by growing longer and thicker. Like many girls, she may want to shave off the hair that grows on her legs. Alert her that when the hair grows back in it will be darker and coarser, and she'll probably feel obligated to continue shaving regularly. So she should consider carefully before shaving for the first time. Boys confront the same dilemma during puberty. They end up with dark stubble shortly after shaving their beard and moustache for the first time.
When changing your son's sheets, tell him that he shouldn't be surprised if he awakens one morning to find them wet. Explain that about a year after a boy's penis and testicles start to grow, his body begins making sperm and it is common to have wet dreams. That means that while a boy is asleep and dreaming his penis has an erection and ejaculates sperm, which is a clear, sticky substance. Once his body is producing sperm, if he were to have intercourse with a girl who has gone through puberty, they could produce a baby.
When your daughter is washing her face or hair, comment that when she enters puberty they both will get oilier. She'll have to wash more frequently, her hair to keep it shiny and her skin to keep from getting acne.
When folding your daughter's underwear, tell her not to be surprised if she finds a bit of blood in it one day, because that is what happens when girls turn into women. It is called having a menstrual period. It doesn't hurt, though some girls get a bit of a tummy ache. She will need to let you know so you can give her some sanitary napkins to wear so her clothes don't get messy.
Besides encouraging questions and conversation, another advantage to dispensing information gradually is that you can pre-plan what you want to say.