It happened earlier in the summer at the dinner table. My husband was at work; it was just me and the three boys eating together. There was conversation as usual, and we veered into the realm of making babies.
I was nonplussed; we’d talked about this before. My boys love hearing stories of their birth, my older boys were present for the homebirth of my youngest son and, feeling like a fairly cool mom when it comes to sexuality, I chatted away with them. Until my oldest asked:
“But how does the sperm get to the egg?”
And I answered this, sort of. And then heard this:
“No, but how does the daddy’s sperm get into the mommy’s body to reach the egg?” Looking directly at me.
I am embarrassed to confess it, but I continued to be evasive and I did not answer his question. For the first time, I was unsure how to. Sure, my two younger boys were there, and I wasn’t sure everyone needed to be in on this conversation at the same level. And sure, there was my friend who, being a fairly groovy mom herself, told her young children precisely how the sperm gets to the egg, only to have her 6 year old daughter burst into tears of fear at the thought of a penis entering her vagina.
But the basic truth is, I wasn’t able to comfortably answer my son’s questions because doing so wasn’t as natural as I had assumed it would be, and I hadn’t prepared myself otherwise. He had never asked such pointed questions before, and I suspect he had overheard kids at school talking about this, and he wanted to either confirm or learn more about it with me. This made my evasion all the worse, because the very last thing I want to do is leave my kids’ sexual education to the schoolyard.
Intuition having failed me, I sat on this paltry exchange for a bit. Then I pulled myself together and did what I always do when I’m unsure of something: research. I read some recommended book lists and book reviews, and then reserved several texts from the library.
And I tried again.
For those of you who, like me, may not be quite as cool as you think you are when it comes to talking about sex with your kids, here are some tips gleaned from my recent trip down this road:
1. Review the text yourself first. See if it’s appropriate for your child’s age and both of your temperaments. Some books depict quite traditional views about sex that may not reflect either your outlook or your life. Some may have too much or too little information for your needs. Hunt around for the right tone.
2. Check out the illustrations. Cartoon representations fill the pages of many of these books. Playful is good, I guess, but I found some of these pics quite garish and didn’t want to share them.
3. Read everything. I almost always love reading to my kids, but I do not like reading comics. My middle son knew I was just reading the text of one of the sex ed books and not the bubbles above the cartoon figures – these comments were mostly exclamations and short quips that I felt added nothing to the book and were tedious to repeat. Upon being specifically asked though, I complied and read these silly captions. The result was one boy’s infectious laughter that soon had his brothers in stitches, even the newly-turned three year old who probably doesn’t know why he’s laughing and doesn’t care. Neither do I, come to think of it. A room of laughing boys is a precious thing.
4. Get comfortable. This is harder for some of us than others, but the more at ease we are with what we’re reading (and learning -I got a bit of a refresher from these books too – it’s been awhile since I’ve thought about vas deferens), the more at ease our kids will be.
As it turned out, I was quite comfortable talking about sex with my boys once I had some good tools, a.k.a. books. Having some guidance on how to do this, along with the shared context of our reading together, has greased the wheels of conversation nicely for us. I’m hopeful (but not cocky) that in the future, I won’t be caught unprepared when called upon to be a source of information and guidance about sex. But if I am, I know what to do. I do so love a good book.
ps. At the moment, we’re reading It’s So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie Harris. If you know of a good title, please share it.