Sex Talk With Our Kids Should Start Right After Potty Training

Adriana Velez The Stir Exclusive

sex talk with kidsI found out about sex on the school bus. I was about eight or nine years old, when my friend told me. "Did you know? Men stick their thingies inside ladies' privates -- for fun?!?" Naturally I was horrified. "EWW! Why? Grownups are so weird!" It was at least another year before my mother gave me the sex talk. She was thorough -- she borrowed slides and a projector from the library so I could see exactly how babies are made and what my reproductive organs look like. It still seemed insane that people would have intercourse for fun (haha, little did I know), but at least now I could see a practical purpose behind this "bizarre" act.

Well now it's my turn to do the sex talk with my son, and I don't know where to start. What's the right age -- and what do you say? I talked with sex educator and author of Talk to Me First Deborah Roffman to get the scoop on talking with kids about sex.

Roffman suggests starting a different conversation with your child at each developmental stage. They're ready for certain pieces of the sex story at different ages. So give them only what they're ready for -- don't make it any more complicated than it needs to be.

Age four: This age is concerned about origins. They want to know where they came from, what "before I was born" really means. This is a question of geography, so the answer is, mommy's uterus. Roffman says it's important to distinguish the uterus from the stomach/tummy to avoid confusion (food mixing with babies, etc.).

Age five: These kids are concerned about movement through time and space, so their big question is, "How did I get from mom's uterus out to the world?' This is when you introduce the vagina as a connecting space to the outside world.

Age six: Now kids are wondering about cause and effect. What caused me to be in my mom's uterus? This is when you introduce the sperm and the egg coming together, and the body parts that make conception happen. Keep it simple.

Age seven, eight: This is when kids start talking about sex as a pleasurable act on the playground, so you want to make sure they have accurate information before this point, if possible. And you want them to know what you think about sex by this point. One way to frame this is, "Sex is a very special way that grownups want to be physically close to each other." You're putting sex in context: It's about making babies, and it's about physical closeness just for grownups.

All this time I thought I was supposed to wait for my son to ask the right questions. I also assumed he should hear it from his father, but no. Roffman says both parents should be open to giving the sex talk to kids of either gender. The important thing is that you need to get ahead of the questions, ahead of the media, and ahead of the playground talk. Get there first.

"Parents shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. You should be afraid NOT to talk about it," Roffman adds. Using your child's developmental stages creates a framework that should liberate you from the awkward uncertainty of having these conversations. But you'll also need to leave your grown-up emotions and hangups about sex out of it.

"Kids pick up on anxiety, and it becomes a learned association. They sense you're anxious, but they don't know why." This can be confusing for kids, and eventually they'll internalize that anxiety about sex. Roffman urges parents to relax. It's information. The most important thing is that kids see you as accessible, willing to talk with them about anything, including sex.

Roffman has more tips and tools, including a list of books about sex for kids, on her website.

Have you talked about sex with your kids yet?

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kid health, sex & dating