Remember as a kid, one or both of your parents telling you to sit down before proceeding to deliver The One Big Talk?
No? You never got The One Big Talk? Instead you were handed pamphlets by the Girl Scouts of America? No? You never got the pamphlets?
You weren’t alone. A generation ago, doing and saying nothing to kids about sex was the order of the day.
I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. At least I got The One Big Talk. I remember squirming in my seat as I watched my father squirming in his, his discomfort being far greater than mine. He talked for over an hour, but the only thing I remember him saying was: “When it gets hard, don’t touch it. Eventually it’ll go down.” I learned independently, of course, that if I touched it all the time, it would go down as well, however in the process, I’d have a lot more fun. Following The One Big Talk, he never mentioned sex again.
I didn’t fault my father for his inability to talk about sex. I assumed his father never talked to him. At least my father was trying. He did his best.
A generation later, parents loosened up a little in talking to kids about sex. Instead of telling kids not to masturbate, for instance, parents doled out vague sorts of approval, explaining that “exploring one’s body is a private affair better carried out in your bedroom.” It was a step in the right direction, eliminating one point of shame, but like The One Big Talk, talk of masturbation usually occurred once. Once was enough it was assumed, to keep kids from doing whatever in front of Aunt Edna and Grandpa Grump.
Providing nothing more than The One Big Talk suggests sex is so unimportant it can be covered in an hour. Is that a message you really want to impart? In addition, covering sex once presumes we become knowledgeable about things after a single hearing. I don’t know about you, but I’m at best a two trial learner. The first time through, everything flies over my head.
“My son’s only nine,” a single mom recently told me. “We haven’t talked about sex yet because he hasn’t asked any questions. I guess I just want him to retain his innocence as long as possible. Is it okay to wait?”
I smiled, rolled up my sleeves, and told her I wanted to challenge a few of her assumptions.
First, “innocence,” as she was using the term, suggests that kids live in a state of pre-sexual bliss, shielded from sexual sin and corruption. In fact, the only time any of us were “pre-sexual” was before the eggs and sperm combined that launched us on our journeys. Kids and even infants are sexual beings and were from the very instant they were conceived. (“It’s a waterpark in here! And a hot tub combined!”) As nerve cells form and the brains grow bigger, the capacity to feel pleasure and excitement increases. If kids are breathing, they’re sexual. It’s our job to acknowledge kids’ pleasure and help them find appropriate paths to exploration.
Second, kids gobble up information that informs them about who they are. Nowhere is that truer than when the subject turns to sex. However, kids rarely instigate those conversations, tricking us into believing they’re either not ready to learn about sex or not interested. Once in a while we’ll field a question or two, but for the most part, kids remain mum on the subject of sex. Why? Because we don’t bring it up. Since we talk about everything else, kids conclude that there’s something different about sex—something that shouldn’t be talked about.
It’s our responsibility to initiate conversations about sex—not once—but over and over, just as we talk about everything else that’s important—like food, being kind to siblings, and baseball. Sometimes conversations will be sparked by something we and our kids read or see on TV. But most of the time, we need to break through our daily routines and say, “Let’s talk.” If we wait until we think they’re ready, we’ve waited too long. By then, they’ve already acquired lots of information—from friends, the Internet, and the school playground—some good and some not-so-good.
Third, talking to kids about sex should be fun! But it only gets that way when we relax into it through practice. Practice leads to competence, and competence leads to confidence. By initiating sexual conversations often, you’ll be amazed at how well your practice pays off, eventually broaching the subject with relaxed enthusiasm.
Start talking to kids about sex as soon as they come home from the hospital. Initiate often. Look for opportunities, and when you don’t find them, create them. If you do, you’ll dispense with the burden of The One Big Talk and share a lifetime of happiness, talking with kids about one of life’s greatest joys.