Having the sex talk with my sons: ‘You mean people do that on purpose?’
Chatting with your children about sex and growing up shouldn’t be an ordeal
It did cross my mind, fleetingly, that having six sons and one daughter meant I would only have to do “the talk” once, presuming the boys would be more comfortable speaking to their father about these things. It was a baton, I imagined, I’d be happy to pass on, with memories of my own childhood talk still etched clearly in my mind.
In those days, the first you learned of anything was in school – the playground most likely. It was followed up by the official talk in school, where boys were sent to one room and girls another. Anyone who giggled nervously was singled out, promptly humiliated and put outside. We tried our best to keep blushing to a minimum and not make a sound.
But there was further embarrassment to come, when you went home and had to discuss it with your own parents. “Well, what did you learn?” my mother asked as she shuffled nervously, pretending to make a cheese sandwich.
“I learned that when the sperm and ovum meet, a baby is made,” I replied, trying to sound as nonchalant as I could. I failed to add that they hadn’t explained how the sperm and ovum actually got together.
But it was grand because Paula, from the other class, knew everything and she filled us in during little break the next day.
And so I grew up learning bits from classmates, science class and teen magazines. The world didn’t cave in, but I knew I wanted things to be different when it came to chatting about sex and growing up with my own children.
As it turns out, it was much easier than I imagined and sometimes even happened by accident.
She knew having babies was natural, nothing to fear and nothing to be coy or embarrassed about
I had opted not to view any birth videos before having my first child. Ignorance was bliss, I figured. So, first time round, was the epidural. But, after having my daughter, I was in complete awe of the whole birth process, and my previous reluctance to witness other births became, instead, a fascination.
Every pregnancy and birthing programme I could find, I watched – with my little girl. Some felt it was inappropriate to allow her watch these programmes with me. But she loved them as much as her mother, watching and waiting to find out if baby was a girl or a boy. She saw it for what it was: biology. She knew the exit routes, traditional and surgical. She wasn’t yet curious about the entrance route. I was guided by her reactions and she by mine. She knew having babies was natural, nothing to fear and nothing to be coy or embarrassed about.
And so it continued. I was guided by her as she grew and asked questions, and I answered them in an age-appropriate manner. And because things were openly discussed, there was never any real embarrassment or awkwardness.
Job done, I thought. Himself will chat to the rest, I figured.
Except it didn’t quite work out that way. Whenever there were questions asked, they were directed my way. We didn’t need to have the same bits, it appeared.
Curiosity kept the conversations going, except when it didn’t and I realised one child, who was about to have “the talk” in school, had never really asked the questions I was used to.
Recoiled in horror
So it was up to me to address it before someone else did. As I discussed the ins and outs with him, he visibly recoiled in horror. “What?” he said. “You mean people do that on purpose?”
It’s hard to keep a straight face when greeted with such trauma.
The commotion about sex education teaching practices across the water, and the stirrings and disquiet that is bubbling here, is enough to make me certain that I want to be the one who teaches my children. I don’t want them having a restricted view of growing up, sex and sexuality. Outside influences are strong, something recent referendums taught me.
Opportunities for open, natural discussions are plentiful – from news stories to car chats
During the marriage equality referendum, a poster caught the attention of one of my younger children. “Mum, you have to vote no,” he told me. “It says voting yes will destroy the family.” I promptly clarified the situation for him and took the opportunity to discuss same-sex couples. Kids are smart – they see love for what it is.
And opportunities for open, natural discussions are plentiful – from news stories to car chats.
The latest to have the school talk took it in his stride. He had lots of questions. I was experienced and ready.
“Mum, will my penis really double in size by the time I’m an adult?” he asked.
“Ahem,” I spluttered, choking on my tea, “you’ll have to ask your dad that one.”