Disclaimer: This post might be considered by some to be “explicit” based on the subject matter, my apparent lack of understanding of it, or your potential belief that I should or shouldn’t have been part of the conversation. You can agree or disagree with our approach. This is just me describing our experience discussing an awkward topic with our kids. It’s possible you already know how some of this works. If so, great for you. If not, maybe you’ll learn something. Read on if you dare. Consider yourself warned.
Since the first post on this particular blog, almost 9 years ago, I’ve been waiting/dreading writing this one and I’m sure you’ve been waiting/dreading for just as long to read it. Julianna is about to turn 11 and Chloe is about to turn 10. In the spreadsheet of a kid’s life these days, it is pretty difficult to keep track of ALL the influences: you have your internet (which we do a pretty good job of monitoring/restricting), you have your bus rides to school, your recess, dance class, summer camp, TV shows and movies that you don’t always sit and watch, and many more. The reality is, no matter how good a relationship you have with your kids, no matter how good you feel about your level of communication, I suspect there is almost always more to the stories they know than they will ever tell. As a result, my wife and I have been cautiously waiting for the questions that are probably easy for THEM to ask and difficult for US to answer.
At the risk of sounding like the old man telling kids to “get off the lawn,” I will say that it is difficult to see the social, retail, and entertainment aspects of society these days and NOT compare them to what it was like for me growing up. You walk through a mall and every clothes store, even the ones designed for pre-teens, have mannequins dressed like they’re modeling for a Tumblr profile picture. Julianna has been asking for “belly shirts” for a few years.
Now, my wife and I have been very fortunate to have developed what I would classify as a really strong communication sense with our daughters. They generally do seem to ask us anything, no matter how “awkward,” and seem to trust us enough to know they’ll get truthful answers. This fact has contributed to my ever-growing sense that the talk about sex was coming soon. There have been a number of occasions over the last year or so when I’ve believed the conversation was on-deck ranging from passing questions and comments like this one from Chloe:
Daddy, I don’t want a baby. What do I have to do to make sure I don’t have one?
To this exchange more recently from Julianna after, at an order-at-the-counter style restaurant, we were assigned ticket number 59:
[Julianna starts giggling]
”What’s so funny?” (I say)
”59 is ten away from 69.” (She giggles)
”That’s good math but I don’t understand why that’s funny.” (I uncomfortably lie)
”It’s a sex number.” (She tells me)
”I don’t know what that means.” (I shit my pants)
”Neither do I but I heard someone say it on the bus.” (I feel a moment of relief as I play dumb and realize I won’t have to explain this one…just yet)
And then a few days ago, Chloe asks my wife, “how do babies get made?”
See, this is a very different semantic question than “where do babies come from?”
The latter is the one we’ve had to answer before with things like, “from a mommy’s belly.” The former is much trickier.
Well, my wife was able to punt until we could both be there (which we both believe is a healthy way to have the conversation). We had some schedule good-fortune to have a situation where Julianna was out at a friend’s house having a sleepover so we had some quality 1-kid time and figured it would be a good time to chat with Chloe so we waited for a nice, quiet time, and asked:
Chloe, Mommy mentioned that you had asked about how babies are made. Would you like to talk about that now, just the 3 of us?
My wife and I had done some research, read through some books, looked online, and spoken to other parents who have had “the conversation” already. We were ready.
Chloe answered, “no, I’m not ready to have the conversation just yet.” Well, fine. How about that? Crisis averted right? It’s likely she just wanted to watch an episode of one of her TV shows but we weren’t going to force the conversation. With that in mind, however, we knew that the toothpaste cap was off the tube and the conversation is happening soon, just not that night and not for Chloe.
Skip ahead 24 hours and now, we have a bit more schedule good-fortune because Chloe is out for the night and Julianna is alone with us. As you know, she’s a year older and we figured, the girls talk so much, it is probably just as much on her mind as it is on Chloe’s so we take a swing:
Julianna, we know it has come up in conversations, sort of, recently, and Mommy and I want to know if you are interested in learning about how babies are made?
I know how: sex
And this is how the real conversation begins. What follows is the way we chose to approach the topic. It might not be right for you but it seemed like what was right for Julianna. I hope you get a good laugh out of what happens next because it is funny, awkward, or both:
“What do you know about sex?”
She told us it was when two people kiss on the lips, “and like make out,” in a bed.
We agree with her and that’s the end of the conversation. Not.
We tell her that we’re happy to have the conversation and that its ok to giggle because it can be funny and awkward to talk about but it is a serious topic and an important one. We also tell her that it is not her responsibility to tell her friends what she knows related to sex and that each parent decides when the right time to talk to their kids is about sex and so if she has any questions, we’re all ears but that it really isn’t something to discuss with anyone but us.
She understands (we think).
We start by explaining that a woman has ovaries, a part of the body that men don’t have and that ovaries produce an egg, once a month. Now, for whatever reason, I’m doing a lot of the explaining on this particular topic so I may have gotten some of of the biology wrong. I explain that once a month, when a young girl is old enough, one of those eggs comes out of an ovary and lands itself in a protective “blanket” like substance inside a woman’s uterus.
The egg just sits there, waiting, for some period of time. This time is when a woman is “ovulating,” and is the time when a woman is most likely to get pregnant. If she doesn’t get pregnant, her body gets rid of the egg and the protective “blanket” and this is called…
Julianna jumps in, “a period!”
We’re on fire! This is going great (I think).
We continue: so once a month, there’s a new egg that is ready and if nothing else happens, it gets kicked out of the woman’s body during her period. But, we explain, the egg is not enough. It needs something else to go from being an egg to eventually becoming a baby.
“What part do men have, that women don’t have?”
Yes, and what else?
Yes, and do you know the scientific/actual word for that?
So we explain about testicles and how they produce something called sperm and that in order to make a baby, a single sperm needs to meet up with the egg. Well, how does that happen?
We explain that while kissing on the lips, “and like make out,” is a form of sexual activity, when people talk about “having sex,” they aren’t really talking about that and they aren’t really talking about how babies get made. What we want to talk about is something called “sexual intercourse.”
Here is where it gets even more awkward (for you as the reader as well as for us as the parents in the moment):
She says, “oh, is it this,” and then she starts demonstrating something with her hands: you know the motion where you make the “ok” symbol with one hand your then proceed to stick your other index finger through the hole? Yeah, that one. She starts doing that to show us that she “knows” what we’re talking about. She is demonstrating this motion with a bit of a grin on her face.
I say, “do you actually know what that means?”
She says, “no.”
But she knows enough to know its related to sex right?
Well, I suppose we’re going to have to explain.
“So if we know that sperm is inside the man’s testicles and we know that the egg is waiting inside the woman’s uterus, we just have to figure out how to get them together.”
“A common way this happens is when a man’s penis goes into a woman’s vagina.”
[having a difficult time even typing that]
She giggles for a moment and then has a “Bruce Willis has been dead this whole time,” moment from the Sixth Sense and then starts laughing hysterically as she realizes what that hand motion she was doing earlier really means.
We all have a nice laugh at her realization.
We then go on to explain that once the penis is in the vagina, the penis does something called “ejaculation” and the sperm comes out of the testicles and essentially start swimming up on a “treasure hunt” to find the egg.
We explain that there is 1 egg and millions of sperm and all it takes is 1 of them to find the egg, and successfully get together and then, yada yada yada, 40 weeks later, baby!
And so she seems to understand the process and in that moment didn’t have any real questions. We then took the opportunity to add in some “rules.” We explained that it is a very special thing to do with someone else and that it should only be done (in no particular order), when two people are old enough, care about each other a whole lot, know exactly what they are doing, and both REALLY agree to having sex. We explained that it is a very special thing to share with someone and not something that should be shared lightly. We explained that the time that it is right for one person might not be the same time that it is right for another person and we should always be respectful.
And we explained some of the other risks. We didn’t want the conversation to be “over for good” or to be too heavy so we decided to wrap it up. My wife explained that as Julianna got older, when it was perhaps closer to the time when she might start to think about sex, we can talk more specifically about ways to be safe and protected along with other risks.
She nodded her head, seemed to be relatively engaged, and hopefully learned a thing or two (I know I did).
I don’t know what happens next.
As I alluded to earlier, one of our goals as parents has always been to maintain an open and honest relationship with our daughters so they always feel comfortable coming to speak with us about anything. The sex talk, while awkward at times, feels like it was really productive.
We’ll be checking in now, more regularly, to make sure if she has any questions, she asks and can get answers.
In the meantime, I’ll be over here, holding my breath and trying to not think about how my little girls aren’t so little anymore…
…and hoping I don’t have to talk to them about the number 59.