Talking to your children about sex doesn’t have to be awkward.
It all started with a Big Bang.
I was watching the Big Bang Theory with my twin twelve-year-old sons and my partner. There was a scene that had a few sexual references. The boys both laughed. My partner turned to me, embarrassed, and whispered to me to switch the channel. “They shouldn’t be watching this.”
We kept it on and watched in awkward silence. The boys continued to laugh.
That night, my partner asked me if it was appropriate to watch. Big Bang is only rated PG, but there were sexual innuendos. Did the children understand these? Were they mature enough to keep watching? Why did we feel so awkward watching it with them?
I guess it was time to find out. We needed to sit down with them and have “the talk.”
The Birds and the bees
Yes — the talk. The embarrassing moment in a young child’s life when their parent sits them down and attempt to explain sex to them. It can be quite uncomfortable — not many children enjoy hearing their parents talk about sex.
I somehow avoided the talk with my parents. Sex was never discussed in our home. As a teenager, I didn’t have an open relationship with my parents, where we discussed matters regarding sex or relationships. Maybe they assumed I would learn what I needed to know at school.
School however wasn’t much better. Sex Education was covered in just one period. All I can recall is a Science teacher demonstrating to a class of giggling teenagers how to put a condom on a banana. There was little more than that.
I guess, bananas need to practice safe sex?
The rest of my sexual knowledge came from older kids at school. Call it my schoolground education. It wasn’t very accurate and wildly exaggerated, but that was how I learnt about the birds and the bees.
It served me well enough in later life. None of my fruit ever got impregnated.
Now my children were twelve — I wanted them to be educated about sex. I just wasn’t sure what was appropriate to discuss.
Did I need to show them how to put on a condom? To talk about STD’s and teenage pregnancies? Were they too young? What age is considered appropriate to discuss these things?
Sex Education — what is the school’s role?
I decided to do some research. Things have evolved since my student days, and I wanted to see if the role the school played in educating pupils about sex had expanded.
From my state government website, I found:
Sex education for a primary school child mostly occurs in the way we talk about body parts and body functions, how we teach children to care for, respect and protect their bodies, and when we prepare our children for puberty.
That seemed a good start. I read on and found they would learn about the physical aspects of sex. Reproductive organs and the body. It would be covered over a few weeks — so was far more in-depth than the forty-five-minute lesson I had.
After their first week of Sex Education, they were given homework. I was overseas at the time, so my partner — who is their stepmother — reviewed it.
First question: “What is the purpose of pubic hair?”
My son had answered, “To make you more attractive for sex.”
My partner was embarrassed. Firstly at having to discuss this topic with her stepson and secondly for not knowing the actual answer.
(She need not have been, I had to google the answer also. And I bet you’ll google it now).
There was no reason to be embarrassed — it should have been no different if she was asked to check a Physics question — but it did highlight some of the challenges with talking about sex. The default feeling by parents and children is that of embarrassment. Yet it needn’t be.
It was time to move past this and commence discussions with our children. Add our input in addition to what their school was teaching them.
Let’s talk about sex.
I sat down with my sons and asked them if they knew about sex. Their predictable response was a chorus of “Dad! We don’t want to talk about it!!”
Once they got over that initial embarrassed reaction — and they realised we were going to talk about it — they showed a surprisingly mature approach. They had learnt a lot already and knew the ins and outs, so to speak.
But I felt that school had only covered the physical aspects of sex. Isn’t there an obligation to talk about the emotional side? The non-physical elements of sex?
We discussed the need to respect women. Not to make inappropriate comments. Not to think of anyone as sex objects. Treat people with respect. All of this seems obvious but sadly is often ignored.
To us- we felt this was an important component of Sex Education, and I felt school wasn’t covering it. Poor sexual behaviour can start on an innocent level.
They told me about a friend of theirs who had just broken up with his girlfriend. Given they were only twelve, the relationship wasn’t very serious. However, the young girl was heartbroken and sent a string of messages begging to get back together and saying how much she “liked” him.
He then shared the messages with his friends — including my sons. They laughed but deleted the messages.
And so we discussed this. I was proud they had deleted the messages and not responded to the group chat but was disappointed they found it funny. We spoke again about respect, and they agreed it wasn’t respectful to share these messages or find entertainment in it.
Sex Education is not just educating about sex.
Since that conversation, we have continued to talk about this side of sex education.
Our “Home School” Sex Education Class discussions have included :
- Social Media — what is and isn’t appropriate to post.
- Friends — what you can tell them and what should be kept private.
- Parents — we are here to discuss anything. Answer any question. Relationships, friendships, how to interact with someone they are romantically interested in. It may not be cool to have a chat with stepmom or dad — but we encourage it.
- Respect — for others and themselves.
- Differences in gender identity and sexual orientation — to appreciate that everyone is different and what that means.
- Honesty — conversations don’t have to be awkward.
- Bananas — fruit doesn’t need to wear condoms.
We are still working through some of these, but we hope in time, these talks will develop them from giggling twelve-year-olds into respectful and educated young men. And that they will be able to have mature conversations with us.
I have also learned a lot from this.
Talking about sex with your children doesn’t have to be awkward.