In the back of my mind, I’ve always felt that if I wasn’t in my current profession, I would absolutely love to be a sex health educator.
I remember being that kid — the one whose parents gave her all sorts of illustrated books geared at children illustrating your body and all the “special changes” it went through. I dutifully pointed out these pictures to any friend that came over for a playdate, much to their surprise, disgust or delight.
When I was in high school, I was the regional community service leader of a Jewish youth group. In between organizing canned food drives and playground clean-ups, I instituted a workshop on safe sex, complete with an accompanying VHS of a “90210″ episode on condoms. Hey! It was the mid-’90s and we were all for everything and anything Beverly Hills. #DylanAndKelly4Ever.
When I was teaching high school, I would have students come up to me after receiving a sex ed lecture asking if I could help them make an appointment with a local clinic just to get checked out. Hearing that one in four sexually active women have HPV really seemed to sink in (this was before the vaccine was regularly available).
So, when my son started asking about babies and where they came from, I met his questions with ease rather than the abject fear or embarrassment many parents experience. When he was around five-years-old, my son could give you a fairly decent description of how babies were made, and enjoyed talking about it to anyone who would listen. He knew that most women have eggs and most men have seeds and that the seeds needed to go into an egg to create baby. He had a pretty good handle on what a menstrual cycle was as well … thanks to being a young kid who didn’t bother knocking on bathroom doors and then made me promise I wasn’t dying because of all. the. blood.
I’ve found — especially with a naturally curious and question-laden kid — that the best way to tackle the birds and the bees is to be straightforward and honest in an age appropriate way. I also don’t offer more information than what is asked of me. I will answer every direct question, and provide some time for my son to mull over said answers. Sometimes he comes back with follow up questions, other times he’s content with the information I’ve imparted.
I should also note that as I start laying the groundwork for sexual health education, I’m also simultaneously talking about important things like consent. You can never start delving into this important topic early enough.
I’m starting with all of this now so that as my son gets older, he’ll hopefully feel like he can speak to me or his father about various things related to sexual activity and health. It might not always be a comfortable conversation, but I want to ensure that he’s getting factual information and not having to Google “can a girl get pregnant in a hot tub?” because he’s not sure where else to turn.
This is even more important in my mind because studies are showing that condom use has stalled in teens, and rates of use have even decreased in certain demographics. I know condoms aren’t super sexy, but neither is syphilis.
Thankfully, there are some great resources out there for parents (and kids/teens) when it comes to sex-ed.
For younger kids:
Picture books is where it’s at. They can help parents who may not be as comfortable initiating conversation, and who doesn’t love a good picture book?
- It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie H. Harris & Michael Emberley
- It’s So Amazing!: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris & Michael Emberley
- Where Did I Come From and What’s Happening To Me? A Guide To Puberty (both staples in my home growing up) by Peter Mayle.
For the pre-teen and teen set:
- Planned Parenthood is a treasure trove of useful data, support, and resources when it comes to educating the teenage crowd. PP has useful information for both parents and teens.
- For teens, there’s a digital tool called “Awkward or Not,” a quiz designed to help them feel more comfortable talking to their parents about sex and sexuality.
- “How To Talk With Your Parents About Sex” – a video with some do’s and don’ts on bringing up sexuality topics with parents.
- Videos for parents!
- There is even an app that both teens and parents can use to help spark conversation
- I also love that they provide information on how to discuss these topics with LGBTQ kids!
Still scared? It’s too scary to think about NOT talking to your children about these topics. Start young, start appropriately, and continue to follow up as needed so you’re sending sexually aware, smart, and educated young adults into the world.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto.