When I was about 14, my mom came into my room to give me the talk. It went something like, “There’s a lot of boys in this neighborhood. Keep your legs closed.”
That was it. It was woefully insufficient. Like many kids in the 90s, it was up to me to learn about sex. This was before Wikipedia, so my sex education came from an ancient collection of encyclopedias, Teen and Cosmo magazines, HBO’s Real Sex, gossip, and trial and error.
Now as a mother of two children, I know I have to do better for them. I have to give them the sex talk I wish I’d had: one that educates them about their bodies, focuses on holistic health, and is founded on respect for themselves and others. So here’s my 10-part plan.
1. I will teach anatomy without shame.
Children should know their own anatomy. I don’t want to create a tone of mystery that suggests I’m embarrassed and they should be too, so I don’t shy away from using terms such as penis and vagina. Educating children about their bodies and creating a shame-free atmosphere helps to protect them from molestation. Moreover, this sets the foundation for them to have ownership of their bodies which is crucial to make healthy decisions about their sex lives when they’re older.
2. I will provide age-appropriate books with technical and detailed information presented before puberty.
I will give my kids books about their bodies and sex long before puberty so that when they become curious about the details, we have a quality resource to turn to written on their level. Books like these are important because far too many adults still think women pee from their vaginas.
3. I will discuss physical health.
Sex talks shouldn’t be just telling girls how not to get pregnant. They should talk about the normal functioning of the sex organs. I just think of the years of pain I could have avoided if only one adult had explicitly talked to me about what periods should be like. Everyone, including my doctors, avoided talking about blood as if it were an unmentionable subject, and I suffered because of it. So for my kids, I want them to know what normal is, plus I will include information about hygiene and self-check cancer screenings.
4. I will focus heavily on emotional health.
I will tell my kids that while sex is a physical act, it has a very high emotional component they might not expect. I will explain that sex can be complicated because relationships can be complicated. I will tell them that being discerning about who they date, what that person believes, and how that person treats them will likely lead to be better outcomes overall. For example, men who can’t handle periods, tampons, and pads and who make you feel gross for normal, healthy bodily functions aren’t who I’d recommend. Further, I’ll be sure to share that people who make them feel bad in general aren’t worth their time in friendships or relationships.
5. I will discuss sexual attraction in an inclusive manner.
I will explicitly state that I am supportive of them for whomever they date regardless differences in race, gender, or religion. I want my children to know my love is unconditional and they don’t need to hide themselves from me. Plus, I know that family support can mean life or death for LGBT kids.
6. I will talk about consent and rape.
I will explain that no one ever has to have sex. They will know that you can say no at any point, and sex is never owed. They will also know the legal ramifications of the age of consent and that they can end up having to register as a sex offender for life if they break the law, even if the person willingly participated.
7. I will talk about sex and technology.
I have no idea what will exist when my kids are teenagers, but I will be knowledgeable about the platforms and be prepared to discuss whatever sexting looks like at that time.
8. I will talk about different birth control options.
For both my son and daughter, I will explain that there are different birth control options each with their own benefits and challenges, but that the best birth control is one that is used properly. I will also explain that both people involved are responsible for birth control. It’s not just a woman’s job not to get pregnant.
9. I will set expectations grounded in support not judgement.
I will not tell my children not to have sex. I will tell them I expect them to respect themselves and to use protection to reduce the chance for STDs. I will expect them to get regularly tested for STDs. I will let them know they can come to me to arrange for any medical care needed.
10. I will provide a trusted adult as a resource.
I know talking to me might be awkward, so my kids will have trusted adults who they can more easily talk to. I will remind them of that resource, and I will have that resource approach them.
I do not think all of this will be easy, and it clearly won’t be a single talk. I wasn’t raised to talk so openly about these things, but I’d rather provide my children with quality information rather than letting them deal with the consequences of my inaction.
Ladies, how did you do the sex talk?