Sex talk and eight year-olds

Is any parent truly prepared for The Question? Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

TAMPA, FL, May 13 2012 - “Mommy, what does s-e-x mean?” Zach asked.

No matter how prepared a parent is to answer such an inquiry, the Big Question still comes as a surprise. None other brings with it so many different ways to answer with repercussions if those answers aren’t adequate.

When our sons were eight, this is how we handled their first sex talk. I wanted to be honest with Zachary, but didn’t want to offer more information than necessary.

Personal anecdotes are more than a little inappropriate, I told myself, so no over sharing. Zachary doesn’t need to hear about the ways Mommy and Daddy had to practice to get it right.

I took a deep breath.

Children should feel safe and comfortable asking their parents anything; I certainly didn’t want my boys to learn more from the knuckleheads at school than from the knuckleheads at home. At least Marc and I didn’t wet the bed at night or get all our information from teenage siblings.

Yes, the Internet is so much more informative.

Also, my response to sex questions should never imply that the inquiries are dirty or bad. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to act flippant, like the whole episode, while a bit awkward at times, was just one big joke. Let’s face it - who wants to be reminded in family therapy years later that smirks and explicit answers led to sexual dysfunction? Or the priesthood?

I stood there looking at my impressionable son and pretended not to understand the question. Because that’s enlightened.

“What are you asking?”

“What does s-e-x mean?” Zachary said, all innocent and curious.

Okay, here goes, Catherine. Try not to mess this up.

“It means lots of things. Tell me how it was used in a sentence.”

What? Context matters.

“I heard it at school,” Zach said. “Colin said s-e-x is a big deal.”

“Well, I suppose it is a big deal. S-e-x spells sex.”

“What’s sex?”

Standing in the kitchen, I realized I’d left the refrigerator door open and the faucet on. I snapped out of my horrified trance and tidied up, trying to think straight as I went along.

“It’s another word for intercourse. Sex is how mommies and daddies make babies.”

Parents have several choices and different tacks to take depending on the kid’s age when this question comes up. Eight year-olds should get the less is more, conservative version. For everyone’s sake. Condoms and foreplay are another talk for another time.

“How do mommies and daddies make babies?” Zachary asked.

I knew this was going to be a lengthy conversation, so we sat down on the couch in the living room. Jacob made his way over to us. Reading his mind was easy: Forget Sports Illustrated; what’s Mom talking about?

I took a deep breath and plowed ahead. “A man has sperm in his penis and a woman has an egg deep inside her belly. The sperm and the egg meet in a special hug and then nine months later a baby is born.”

“How do the egg and sperm meet?” Jacob asked.

“Yeah,” Zachary said. “Do you find someone you like and them boom - the sperm comes out of the man all over the woman’s belly?”

Sometimes. If alcohol is involved.

I had no idea when I woke up that morning that I’d be introducing terms like vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to my children. If I had known, I would have stayed in bed and watched television instead.

“How does the penis go into the va-gi-na?” Jake asked.

I turned on the overhead fan.

“When a man and a woman finish graduate school and get married, they decide to have a baby. They hug and they kiss and the penis finds its way. Sperm comes out and fertilizes the egg and a baby is born nine months later. Or seven if the mommy is carrying impatient identical twins with big heads and stubborn streaks.”

Long pause.

“It’s a wonderful and beautiful thing,” I added. “A miracle.”

Please say we’re done.

They looked confused, resembling my high school students when I’d tried to explain The Patriot Act and how in the name of God it passed Congress.

Zach suddenly smiled. “I get it. The mommy and daddy are naked. That’s how the penis finds its way!”

I nodded. Less is more, Catherine. Less is more.

“Where do you make the babies?” Jake wanted to know.

The bed, hallway, kitchen table…

“Usually in bed,” I said.

“What if someone walks in while you’re making a baby?” Jake stuck out his tongue. “That’d be gross.”

Well, not always, but you don’t need to hear about that one time at Mardi Gras.

“Typically people don’t walk into other people’s bedrooms at night time. For just that reason. And guys, sex is okay to talk about here at home with mommy and daddy, but let’s not go around discussing this with others. It makes people uncomfortable.”

This seemed to satisfy Jacob and Zachary and they got ready to play outside. I stopped sweating and hoped I’d answered everything correctly. Knowing full well this was only the beginning of their question-and-answer sessions, I wanted them to know they could ask me anything.

“We shouldn’t discuss sex at school either,” I added. “This is private talk and you all are big boys now. So let the other kids’ parents decide when to tell them, okay?”

“Yeah, cause Colin still believes in Santa.” Zachary tied his shoes. “Let him wait until graduate school to find out what his penis does.”

I watched my children play in the backyard and chuckled a little. I’d seen Colin. He’ll be in his forties before he finds out what his penis does.

But that’s another talk for another time.


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Catherine Durkin Robinson

Catherine Durkin Robinson is an award-winning humor/parenting columnist and mother to twelve year-old twin sons who, despite a fondness for Latin and stringed instruments, can still throw a perfect spiral and name everyone in the NBA. She writes columns about how American parenting can improve in a voice that’s as familiar as a hunting permit and apple pie. In her spare time, she investigates missing socks.

Contact Catherine Durkin Robinson


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