When children reach about the fifth grade, the school systems begin teaching them about their bodies, the opposite sex’s bodies and eventually about intercourse. And that may well be as much as some children ever learn from an adult. Many parents are simply too embarrassed to discuss sex and sexuality with their children. Too bad; I’m sorry you’re embarrassed but you’ve got to suck it up and do it. The schools are only teaching the facts and for some kids it may already be too late by the time the schools start teaching it. My daughter, for example, had her first period on her last day of third-grade, almost two years before the school explained to her what a period is. I had to do it. And let’s face it, she was vastly more comfortable having me explain it to her in the comfort of her own room, just the two of us.
Chances to begin explaining sexuality come early and often as kids are growing up. Little boys will wonder why their penis gets hard sometimes; you might walk in on your daughter with her hand down her panties. You could make something up, which would be a lot easier to explain. But sooner or later, someone is going to have to set it straight so you might has well be up front about it. The more honest you are early, the easier it will be to discuss as they get older.
Either way, it’s probably going to be embarrassing for both of you. Admit it up front; knowing you’re embarrassed will actually make your child more comfortable. You know how you insist that your kids look you in the eye when you’re talking to them? Now is not the time. It may be a lot easier for the child to listen if they turn their head away from you. Rest assured, they’re hearing what you’re saying, eye contact or not. And you don’t have to explain everything at once. Start with how their bodies are going to start changing and why. Then let them ask questions. Believe me, they will have them. Maybe not right at that moment, but if you make it clear that you are available, they will come to you with questions.
Sooner or later, you’ll have to come to the part about intercourse. Of course, the first thing you’re going to tell them is that intercourse is for creating babies. They will probably gag, blush and roll their eyes. Eventually, you’ll have to get around to explaining to them that people have intercourse for reasons other than to create a baby. And that’s when it really gets complicated. Chances are that up to this point, only one parent has been doing the talking without much input from the other parent as to what gets said. But at this point, it’s imperative that you, as parents, are on the same page. Just as with discipline and moral issues, kids need to know that their parents agree.
When my best friend (we’ll call her Mary) was growing up, her mom’s message was clear. Remain celebate for your husband. Her dad, on the other hand, was more liberal and his message was that people should never have sex until they were truly in love. When Mary was sixteen she had her first real boyfriend. Of course, they were both convinced they were truly in love (they were teenagers after all). When kissing progressed to petting, and things were feeling too good to stop, it was much easier to go with Dad’s advice than Mom’s. Before she was seventeen, Mary was no longer a virgin.
Now here’s the part where almost every parent fails their children. No one ever seems to feel the need to talk to the children about sex after you are no longer a virgin. Nobody talked to Mary about it. Sex is just like drinking or smoking cigarettes or doing drugs. Not that it’s addictive (okay for some people it is), but once you cross that barrier, it’s a lot easier the next time and the time after that. So when Mary had her next boyfriend, she had sex with him, even though she knew she wasn’t in love with him. Don’t get me wrong, Mary wasn’t a tramp. She didn’t routinely sleep with guys on the first date or pick up strangers in bars and take them home. But when Mary got older, she did wish that she hadn’t had sex with as many men as she did. And she wished that someone would have said to her “Treat every time as though it’s your first time.” Think, really think, about it before you do it. Do you really want to risk pregnancy or an STD? Do you really want to give yourself to this person on such a personal level? It’s not so much your virginity that was a gift, it’s your body. Make sure the people that you’re giving it to are worthy of such a wonderful gift.