How did my parents broach the topic of sex in our house? Simple: they didn’t. They never sat me down for the Talk; they never read me books on the subject; they barely even uttered the word.
Oh, there were books lying around—the thick volume of My Body, My Self on the bookshelf was a trove of information. There was a French comic novel of my dad’s, with hilariously graphic cartoon images. But my folks themselves were conspicuously silent. Maybe they just put off a conversation that was sure to embarrass them, and then it never happened. Maybe because I was their third child, they figured any info I needed would trickle down via my older siblings.
Well, they were right. Between my sisters, my friends, and Judy Blume, I certainly had a handle on the facts by the time I giggled along with classmates through sixth-grade sex-ed. What I didn’t have was any concept of my parents’ views on the matter, or a comfort level with my changing body.
I want it to be different for my kids. They’re only two and four, and while my husband and I haven’t gotten into any nitty-gritty details, we’re starting the dialogue. We’re taking the questions as they come—“How do babies get into mommies bellies?” “Why does Dadda have a pee-pee?”—and trying to provide clear, but matter-of-fact answers. More than the ins and outs (so to speak) of sex, I want my kids to understand that their bodies are theirs and theirs alone. I want them to be comfortable in their skin, but understand that some of their parts are private. I want my son to respect girls, and to stick up for them. I want my daughter to know how to stick up for herself, and how to say no (my son too, for that matter). I want them both to know they can ask—and tell—us anything, no matter how “secret” it seems.
I know the questions and the answers will become more involved as the kids grow, and I never want embarrassment to get in the way of providing them with the facts they need.
There are lots of things I need to work on. I catch myself telling the kids to go give so-and-so a hug or kiss goodbye, even when I can tell they don’t feel like it. I know even forcing them to wear certain outfits sends the wrong message about autonomy over one’s body, and yet sometimes, in the rush of daily life, I do it anyway. It’s a learning process—for all of us.
This is why I think My Body Belongs To Me, by Jill Starishevsky, is a great book for younger children.
It tells the story of a child, gender-neutral in the illustrations, who is inappropriately touched by an adult acquaintance, then told to keep it secret. The child tells her/his parents immediately, and they praise him/her for being courageous. The book is simple, positive, and sends a message of empowerment. And it isn’t scary. Exactly what I think good sex-ed should be.