Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let Me Tell You about the Birds and the Bees

Awhile back, my husband and I were comparing notes on the respective sex talks we had received during adolescence. I wish I could share the one he got from his grandfather because we couldn't breathe from laughing. I'm trying to keep this site PG-rated, though.

As for me, my mother claims to have given me a clinical explanation when I was about 4, though I've forgotten. I do remember asking after a church sermon, at the age of 8 or 9, what circumcision was. She provided a very thorough explanation -- replete with illustrations. After that, I never asked about any new words from church again.

In 7th grade, my mom called me downstairs one night because my dad had something to say. At first, I thought I was in trouble because I noticed two dining chairs placed opposite each other. My dad was in one, and I was ushered into the other. A nearby lamp completed what at first glance appeared to be an interrogation scene. However, my fears were allayed as my mom sat to the side, smiling and nodding encouragingly. Then my dad flushed as he haltingly delivered what appeared to be a speech he'd considered for quite awhile.

", uh..." he fumbled for words. Then I guess determination gripped him, and the words kind of rushed out. "Well, I know your mom's talked to you, but she wants me to give you a guy's're getting to be a young lady now, and you're body is changing, and boys are going to notice you...."

The whole time, my dad just got redder and redder as he stumbled through his speech. To this day, I'm not even quite sure what he said after that because I was distracted by the beads of sweat forming on his brow and my mother's supportive gesticulations.

Finally, he asked, "Do you have any questions?"

I had only one -- "Can I fall through the floor now?" But I didn't ask it. Instead, I think I just shook my head before being allowed run far, far away.

So anyway, those are the major explanations I got. My mom is very frank, so I imagine her explanation when I was little was quite good. Therefore, it's a pity I don't remember it, especially since my kids are at an age when they should probably start getting some talks of their own.

In talking to other moms, I'm finding that most people want to postpone The Talk as long as possible. A lot of parents seem uncomfortable talking about it because (consciously or subconsciously) they feel it's a dirty, secret subject. Some moms have even implied to me that kids lose their innocence by knowing about it. However, in the discomforting event that questions should arise, most moms recommend two major strategies:

Strategy 1: Deflect. Provide an excuse like "Oh, we'll talk about that later" or "You're too young for that." Then pray like the dickens the subject never comes up again
Strategy 2: Answer questions truthfully, but provide as little information as possible.
To be honest, I tried both of these methods this past summer when I got my first sex question. My middle child asked how he was born. I'm not particularly prudish, but I froze because I had no idea what to say. At first, I tried Strategy 1. That didn't work. He really wanted to know. So then I tried Strategy 2. I told him about the hospital and the birthing tub and midwife and so on. He didn't come back after that, so I thought that was the end of it. Afterwards, though, I felt I'd really botched the job, and I realized that I didn't know how to explain the birds and the bees comfortably.

My background is in instructional design, so I fell back on what I know. The first thing I did was set some goals and objectives for The Talk. What did I want to achieve? I decided on these things:

  • Open communications -- for Pete's sake, I definitely do not want their best source of info to be the pervs in the backseat of the bus!
  • Accurate understanding
  • The preservation of innocence and purity
  • A healthy attitude about enjoying sex one day, God's way

Next, I read a bunch of books on how to do it properly. Well, not It, It. I already have three kids, so I've got that part down. I mean The Talk. How to do The Talk.

Focus on the Family recommended a book that I found particularly helpful. It's called How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child's Sexual Character. The authors Stan and Brenna Jones approach sex education from a Christian perspective, so you may or may not agree with everything in it, but it provided some bits of advice that I thought were excellent.

  1. First things first. Parents have to address their own inadequacies in terms of understanding the clinical aspects of sex as well as misunderstandings regarding what the Bible actually says about it.
  2. For me, the most helpful advice was to tie every instance of sex ed to the attitudes and behaviors you want to foster. The physical mechanics are easy to grasp, but molding a healthy attitude toward sex takes constant work. As a Christian, this means explaining how God intends sex to be enjoyed. 
  3. Start sex education as early as possible. This doesn't mean teaching them what sex is necessarily, but commonsense stuff like: 
    • The parts of their body (the right names!) 
    • How wonderful and special every single body part is because God made it
    • Which body parts can be touched by other people and which are private. 
  4. Welcome questions and use them as teaching opportunities to not just teach facts, but to shape their attitudes and morals as well. This made a lot of sense to me. Deflection (Strategy 1) teaches children not to ask questions. They may even learn that sex is bad or wrong or shameful somehow. 
  5. If your child asks a question, provide 30% more information than he/she is asking. The idea is to explain sex accurately so that the child doesn't fill in gaps by himself. This can lead to the kid having some really weird misconceptions.

About a week after finishing all my books, my son (thankfully) returned to ask yet again how he was born. Curious, I asked him if he remembered about the hospital and so on. He exclaimed, "Yes, but I want to know HOW I was born."

Clearly, The Strategies weren't working, so I decided to trust Stan and Brenna. I explained about my uterus and the birthing canal and the whole nine yards. We talked about how wonderful God is to make mommies in such a way that they can give birth, and so on. That did the trick. He had some wacky ideas I had to clear up (like a trapdoor in the back of my belly), but surprisingly, it was much easier than I thought it would be. At least, he went away satisfied with that explanation. Even better, it's been months and I haven't heard that question since!

How about you parents out there? How do you treat your children's curiosity about the birds and the bees? Has anything worked really well for you in terms of educating your children?


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