I Had the Sex Talk With My 6-Year-Old & I Have No Regrets


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It came up in a weird way. We were talking about animals, because we always talk about animals, because we homeschool and because science. My sons were 6, 4, and 2 years old, and the oldest was asking about mammalian reproduction. I explained that most mammals went into estrus once or twice a year, during which they were open to mating with a male, and from that mating, they would have a baby. Species usually went into estrus at the same time, I said, so that’s why baby antelope were all born at the same time of the year. My oldest son wrinkled his nose. “But babies are born all year, and humans are mammals,” he said. “So humans don’t go into estrus?”

 
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“No, we don’t,” I said. And I took a deep breath. Because I’d prepared for this moment; I’d read books about this moment; I’d fostered body positivity for this moment; I'd encouraged my sons to call their genitalia by its real name rather than something cutesy in preparation for this moment: the moment when they actually learned about sex.

I wasn’t going to hide it. I learned about sex on the playground, a garbled version that didn’t make it clear sex required a man and a woman, or penis-in-vagina. A shockingly sheltered 12, I still wasn’t quite sure that sex was the one and true and only way to have a baby. Sex ed from my parents and Catholic school consisted of “don’t do it,” which even then I suspected wasn’t healthy and knew wasn’t helpful. No one was around to answer my questions. No one was there to help me through decision-making about my own sexual choices. 

I didn’t want that for my sons. I didn’t want them to think sex was dirty or confusing, or that they couldn’t ask me questions about it. My kids were going to be sex-positive: to view sex as good -- important and serious, but good -- and nothing to be ashamed of. So I’d read books. I’d read internet articles. I’d dealt with hearing the word “penis” sixty million times a day. But when the serendipitous moment came, I panicked.

I think everyone does, no matter how sex-positive you are.

“We don’t go into estrus because humans get something called a period,” I said nervously. “You know how I have a uterus inside me for babies to grow?” My oldest nodded. My middle son pursed his lips. The baby wandered off. 

“Well, every month, that uterus gets ready for a baby. It makes a soft, nutrient-rich lining perfect for the baby to grow. But do I get a baby in my tummy every month?”

“Noooooooooo!” my 6-year-old laughed.

“Right. So that lining has to go somewhere. So it comes out of my vagina. That’s called getting your period. It happens to almost every woman every month.”

“I know how the baby gets there,” my oldest volunteered.

“How?” I asked, with not a little trepidation.

“I saw it on a documentary about lions. The male lion gets on top of the female lion. So I guess Daddy gets on top of you.”

Stupid nature documentaries. 

“Not quite,” I said. “The male has to put his penis into the female’s vagina and release a special fluid that contains something called sperm. The sperm travels into the woman’s uterus where it meets her egg” -- I cut him off, because I knew what he was going to say -- “which is a cell, not an egg like a chicken. Then when the sperm and egg meet, the cell forms the beginnings of a new baby. Do you have any questions?”

“That sounds gross,” my 6-year-old said.

“It’s called sex. People like it a lot when they get older.”

“Okay. Do you want to play Legos?”

And that’s it. No one blushed. No one freaked out. No one ran out of the room in tears, or felt fear at the power of their own genitals, or left confused. This is sex. This is the mechanics, and this is what it does. I didn’t get into how it feels or anything, because hey -- the kid was 6. But he has a right to know about his own body. He has a right to know that babies don’t come from the stork or the cabbage patch, but from two (hopefully) loving people. I didn’t mention marriage, because people have babies outside of marriage. I just gave him the scientific facts behind human conception.

My 4-year-old? He wandered off to find his little brother, bored when I started talking about sperm.

But I firmly believe that my children have a right to these facts. Now that my son’s almost 8, of course he's picked up a kind of embarrassment about it; when we talked about Alexander Hamilton’s infidelity in Hamilton: An American Musical, he got a little red when I finally asked point-blank if he remembered what sex was. “Yes,” he said defensively, and changed the subject. I told him he could always come to me with questions, could always ask me things, and should never feel alone in it. With his face turned away from me, he nodded deeply, then reached out and took my hand. I squeezed. He squeezed back. My little boy, not quite a little boy anymore, but not alone with a headful of fear and questions. Never alone. And I’m proud of that.

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