Years ago, I sat down one night with my daughter to start the talks about sex and what her middle school mind needed to know at that time. It went well. I felt mostly comfortable, I told her what I thought she needed to know, we had some back and forth discussion, and then…then she hit me with a question I wasn’t expecting at all. Funny enough, every time we had another similar conversation, this same question repeatedly got asked over and over again.
“Do you and daddy do that?”
Cue the crickets! I was ready for all the questions. The questions about how and why and where and what. What I wasn’t ready for, was her personal interest in my own sex life every time she learned something new.
So, my first goal here is to let you know to prepare for this question when you are having the talks. I wish someone would have told me that one. I did know it was a possibility obviously, but what I didn’t plan for ahead of time, was how I would answer these questions when she asked because I didn’t know the right thing to say. And of course, they are always going to ask the questions that we are not ready to answer right? Of all the questions they could ask, they zero in on the very one we have no answer for.
My other goal is to share some tips and tricks for exactly how to answer, or not answer, these questions when your kid next asks them during any puberty or sex related talks. Part of being a sex positive parent is proactively seeking out opportunities to have these talks with our kids along with being ok with answering all the questions our kids come up with. The key here though is how we answer them. Just because they ask, doesn’t mean they are owed an answer, but let me be more specific about this in particular.
There are a few ways to go about answering these very personal questions about your own sexual past or present.
First off, we want to avoid any shaming about any questions or discussions regarding sexuality and how our bodies grow. Please, let the first thing you say to your kids when they ask you any question about any of this be, “Thank you for asking that.” Or any version of this. “I’m so glad you asked me that.” “That was really brave of you to ask that question.” “I’m so happy you came to me with that question.” Do you see a theme building here? These comments encourage our kids to know that we are a safe place for their questions.
Next comes the part about what to share and how much to share. Let’s acknowledge that teaching our kids about sex and their bodies doesn’t necessarily need to incorporate any of our past experiences. Not all kids will ask or want to know anything about what their parents did when growing up, finding it totally gross and unthinkable to ask about. But some will. And it’s those kids that we need to be ready with some answers.
Not all questions need to be answered
Remember here that just because a kid asks a certain question, doesn’t mean they are owed the answer. This one is simple but easy to overlook, especially if we are nervous or a little uncomfortable having these questions. We also want to make sure we are an available resource to our kids to come back to for future questions or problems. Keeping some things private that you aren’t comfortable sharing, doesn’t have to be a deterrent for kids to come back to you for future questions. Don’t let your discomfort cause you to answer something you aren’t comfortable sharing with your child. It’s perfectly ok to tell your child that you don’t know how to answer that specific question right now and that you need some time to think about it.
Ask yourself this:
Do you feel obligated to answer your kids questions about the last time you had sex? Realistically, I can bet the answer is, “probably not.” If this sounds silly to you, it’s because it is. If your kid asks you a question about your sexual past, you are under no more obligation to answer a question about your past than you are to answer a question about your present. It seems easier to talk about sex when it is framed in a way that talks about what you did a long time ago. But when it comes to answering your kid’s personal questions about what you did last night…is it any different? If you don’t feel comfortable answering a question about what you did last night, you don’t have any more need to justify what you did years ago. The talks don’t have to be filled with personal information. It is very easy to reframe things and say something like, “When I was in high school, sure, there were people having sex.” See how this is different than, “When I was in high school, I had sex when I was 17.”? You can redirect your answer so that you are are still answering their questions, but maybe not in a personal way.
Privacy is a great lesson to teach our kids
During the talks, let’s also show our kids that talking about what you do with your partner is just between you and your partner and that is normal and healthy and what is expected in a respectful relationship. It is a very healthy thing to tell a child or teen that, “What happens between me and (insert partner’s name) is personal and private between the two of us and someday, you will respect your partner’s privacy the same way. “ This is really in response to detailed questions that a child may ask. We need to model and teach that what happens in a relationship between two people are between those two people and no one else. An easy way to shut down a persistent asker of personal questions is to say, “Just like you don’t want me asking you these questions someday about you and your partner, I am not ready to answer those questions about what (insert partner’s name) and myself do now.” These things are just private for the two of us and that is ok.
Bring it back to them
These conversations are teaching your kids how to someday have a healthy sexual relationship with a safe and respectful partner so let’s bring it back to them. If your kid is asking questions such as, “Did you wait?” Or “Did do you this?” Or “How old were you when…?” Bring it back to them. Ask them back, “How will knowing this help you to make your own decisions someday?” Because ultimately, isn’t that what it’s really about? We are talking to our children to help them make safe and healthy choices when the time is right for them. Your past choices have already been made. They aren’t necessarily going to help your kids make the right choice for themselves when the time comes.
What you should share
There is no right answer to this one as it is personal for each and every one of you. What is right for you will not be right for another and that is ok. Anything you are comfortable with sharing, please, share away. The conversations are way more real when you are relatable. If you want to share how old you were when you first had sex, share it. If you want to share a story about what you did, do it. Try to frame it in an age appropriate way where the information becomes relevant to what you are teaching, rather than just sharing stories about your own sexual past. Look for ways to make your personal stories meaningful to the lesson you are trying to convey.
Please don’t forget the good stuff
Even though you’re having the talks, don’t forget that these talks need to incorporate all the other good stuff too, that we sometimes forget about. DO share gooey details about things like how did you know you were in love, where did you go on your first date, how did you know that person was in love with you. The sex part of these conversations is over so quickly. Penis goes in the vagina, done! The ooey gooey details are the best part of these talks. Share what a respectful relationship is, what an unhealthy relationship is, how did you know someone wanted to kiss you, or how did you know you were ready to be kissed or take things farther.
Check in with your own past
If you have trauma or painful experiences in your past that could affect they way you are able to have these discussions, check in with yourself and ask for help. If your experiences from your own childhood will lead you to be overprotective or paranoid about your child’s naive questions, please ask another adult to help you with these talks. We definitely don’t want to instill unnecessary fear in our children because of our own painful past.
That being said, you do you. Do what feels right in the moment that it happens. Remember to take any questions your kids ask as an opportunity for more connection. I can tell a 6 year old the basics of sex. The conversation is going to look a heck of a lot different that what I would say to a 10 year old or a 14 year old. These conversations change from stage to stage so as long as you feel the information is relevant and important, feel free to share your personal stories or to keep some things private. Either way, keep talking.