Friday, November 13, 2015

Sex Talks with Four-Year Olds

When I was fifteen, I was at a girls' church camp with hundreds of other girls. It was fun, wonderful, spiritual and all the things that church camp should probably be. But one of my main memories of that camp was this:
A girl who was visiting from out of state had come to camp, and whispered a secret question to another girl.  Both girls were embarrassed and curious, and for some reason they came to me. 
"Becky," one of them whispered, "What is an erection?"
I felt mortified that for some reason they felt that I would have answers to their sex questions when I was a pretty self-righteous little goodie-two-shoes- but I felt equally horrified that a fifteen year old didn't know this basic piece of anatomical information. 
"An erection is when a blood goes to a man's penis and it gets hard, so that he can have sex," I said. 
And from basically, that moment on I knew that someday when I was a mother- my kids would know that they could ask me questions and get honest information from me. 
Because if they didn't get it from me, they could get it from media, the internet, girls at camp- or places much worse and much more offensive. 
Other memories of my childhood helped me to make this vow. I remember learning about rape from boys in second grade. After hearing the word porn used by adults (without being given any clear idea of what it was) I typed into my best friends' computer at 10 years old (and was scarred for life). And I learned nearly everything else a growing girl (doesn't) need to know on the back of the school bus. 
(Another resolution of my youth: my kids will never ride a school bus. Besides being indoctrinated with sexual information and curse words, I was also bullied and teased and miserable.)

That is not to say that my parents didn't do a good job teaching about sex: they did! But regardless of how much a parent shares and teaches, it will almost always be tempered with information from the rest of the world. 

Well, I didn't expect that teaching my children honestly would come up so early. 
But when the boys were two, they learned the word penis, and a few months later- after questions on their part- they learned the word vagina. 
Yes. That meant that they often would casually ask people questions like, "Do you have a vagina because you're a woman?" or nonchalantly declare, "My dad has a very big penis and my baby brother has a tiny penis like a cute little acorn."
Yep. Great. 
Isn't that fun?

But I also felt proud. It was awkward, but it wasn't a big deal. They weren't embarrassed, they understood some differences between the sexes, and they weren't using fake words like "peepee."

Here's the thing. We live in a very religious place and have a very religious family, BUT I do not want my kids to think that sex is bad or a sin, that it should be secretive or taboo. Curiosity and arousal are not sinful. Penises, vaginas, breasts are not shameful. Menstruation is not gross or embarrassing. 
I want to talk about all the things. 

And so, at four: my kids are learning about menstruation and sex. 

I didn't really want to teach them about it yet. It felt way too soon. I can just imagine them saying "Excuse me, did you know that blood comes out of my mom's vagina?" 

But they started asking questions. And I made a promise to answer questions honestly. 
For a while, I did skirt around it, trying to figure out how to answer questions. But my children are tiny expert interrogators. 
On multiple occasions, the boys would find a tampon buried at the bottom of my purse, and we would have a conversation exactly like this:

Boy: What is this?
Mom: That is... a cotton stick.
Boy: What do you use it for?
Mom: Nothing. But it's mine. Please put it back.
Boy: If you don't use it, can I have it?
Mom: No. Please put it back.
Boy: In case you need it?
Mom: Yep.
Boy: What would you need it for?
Mom: Um. I use it sometimes when I have... an owie?
Boy: How does this help you when you have an owie? (this is a real question they asked!)

And then, I transferred to a DivaCup, which -by the way, I love and highly, HIGHLY recommend-
and we had this conversation:

Boy: Can I have this tiny cup?
Me: Ugh, no. Please give me that and don't touch it.
Boy: Why? What is it for?
Me: It's mine, and I need it...
Boy: What do you use it for?
Mom: ARGH!

So. I started thinking about it a lot, trying to figure out how to teach my kids.
But the truth is, it happened on it's own, really organically. 

About a month ago, our neighbors brought us half a dozen fresh eggs from their chickens. 
We were excited, and pulled them out to make a delicious omelet. But when I raised the first egg over the counter, about to crack it, Grey screamed, "STOP! Don't do it!"
"Why? You don't want an omelet?" I asked. 
"I'm afraid there's a tiny baby bird in there," Grey said. 
So, in a simplified way, I was able to explain to him that our neighbors only have hens and no roosters, so these particular eggs are unfertilized. 
"Just like a mother can't make a baby without a dad, hens can't make chicks without a rooster. They lay their eggs anyway, almost every day, but these eggs just have egg in them- no little baby chicks."

And because the boys are twins, they already know that human mothers have eggs in their body, because we've talked about how the baby egg in my belly split itself and grew into two boys instead of one. 
So about a week after the "egg conversation," we were driving in the car when Micah burst out, "Oh Mom! I want a baby sister so bad!"
"Me too," I said. "Maybe someday you'll have a little sister."
"Is the egg for a sister already inside of you?" Micah asked.
"Um. Yes. There are lots of eggs inside my body, there could be one in there that will grow into a sister."
"Are your eggs very tiny?" Grey asked. 
"Yes! They're so tiny that you can't even see them until they start to grow into a baby."
"Do your eggs come out of you, like a chicken?" Grey asked.
"Does it hurt for eggs to come out?" Micah asked.
"Well, because the eggs inside my body are so tiny, it doesn't hurt when they come out," I said. "Although, sometimes it comes out with a little blood, and I don't like that very much."
 My children both made noises like, "Hmm."
And then they moved on. 

(A note: I do try really hard to remember not to "over answer" their questions. I am not going into details they don't ask for, but I am answering all of their questions if I can.)

Because of this last conversation, I was totally ready! When my kids asked about my DivaCup next time, I could easily explain that I needed this cup to catch  my blood when my egg comes out. 
Except that they followed their own route, and not mine. 

The next conversation that we had was this:
"Mom, why aren't you pregnant?"
"Your daddy and I aren't quite ready to have another baby, yet." I said. "We'll probably get pregnant with another baby pretty soon though."
"But Mom," asked Grey, "How do you get pregnant?"
"The egg inside my body has to start to grow- and when it starts to grow, it gets bigger and stronger until theres a baby inside me."
"No," Grey clarified, "I mean, what makes the egg start to grow into a baby- instead of coming out."
[Gulp. Okay.]
"Well, just like a chicken egg needs a rooster and hen to make it grow, an egg in my body needs help from a mom and dad. So the daddy has a seed that he puts with the egg, and it helps the egg start to grow."

I seriously held my breath in panic, waiting for those terrifying words, "But how does the daddy's seed get to the egg?" But they didn't come. Instead, Grey nodded and Micah shrugged, and they went back to their business. 

But I'm sure this isn't over. I have very smart, curious boys and they are extremely good at asking questions that make me nervous. 
I once found myself reading The Little House on the Prairie books and thinking, "I wonder how Ma taught Laura about the birds and the bees?"
But then I remembered- they had cows and horses that had calves and colts, they all slept in the same room- often the same bed! Laura knew about sex and menstruation because it was part of life. Maybe they didn't talk about it in mixed company or write about it in children's books: but sex and periods and sperm and eggs and chickens have been a part of life as long as there has been life. 
It shouldn't be embarrassing or terrifying to talk about!

But talking to other mothers about teaching their kids has been really helpful- and I thought this might be helpful to some of you other moms struggling over questions that your kids ask.

And, as always, I would love your tips, insights, or conversations with your children. 


Casey said...

I do the exact same thing with Eli. Answer every question organically and honestly. Great job.

Kaylie said...

I love this! Thanks for sharing your experiences, it gives me courage to use the correct words and answer questions honestly even if there might be some uncomfortable situations. Because my parents did not have this kind of attitude, I learned most everything about the human body and sex from other kids or my college anatomy class. I don't want my kids to go through life that clueless ha! I especially loved how you answer simply and don't over explain, that way they don't learn more than they are ready for at that time. Thanks again for sharing!

-Danica- said...

My parents never had "the talk" with me and so I have struggled so much knowing how to approach it with my kids. I wanted it to be apart of everyday conversation but I didn't know how to make that a thing. And I've been avoiding telling my daughter what a tampon is for months so maybe I just need to tell her already and let things happen how they will. Thanks so much for putting this out here. It really is so helpful and so appreciated!

Unknown said...

I try to do the same thing with my older son, who's 4. Now that I'm pregnant he has LOTS of questions. I found a book called "its not the stork" and I've found it extremely helpful in answering matter of factly and having visuals that don't make me or him uncomfortable. I like that the book doesn't over explain. He loves the book, too.

Unknown said...

I try to do the same thing with my older son, who's 4. Now that I'm pregnant he has LOTS of questions. I found a book called "its not the stork" and I've found it extremely helpful in answering matter of factly and having visuals that don't make me or him uncomfortable. I like that the book doesn't over explain. He loves the book, too.

Emily said...

Thanks for posting this. I've had things like this come up lately with my four year-old, and I've found that answering things honestly and pointing out the wonderful things our bodies can do is helping him to appreciate his own body. I grew up in a family where bodies were treated as something to be ashamed of, so I'm really trying to take the opposite approach with my own kids. I had wondered if I was telling him things too early, and this helps me feel better about things.

Polly said...

No pictures?