Talking To Your Kid About Sex

Written on May 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm , by

On this National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, guest blogger Michelle Edelman shares the surprisingly early sex talk she had to have with her 3rd-grader and where other moms can get help finding the right words to say.



I remember learning about sex from a Judy Blume novel that was covertly passed around my class in the corner of the public library. Later that year, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Briggin sat us all in a circle and gave us a very matter-of-fact, anatomical explanation of sex. One of my classmates was so overcome with emotion during the discussion that she stabbed my leg with her #2 pencil. I then became secretly worried that I would die of lead poisoning and missed a good bit of what Mrs. Briggin said after that point!

Chances are you first learned about sex in some shrouded, fragmented way too. You probably also found yourself unprepared for the inevitable social situations at the intersection of Hormone Street and Sheer Panic Avenue. It’s likely the little threads of facts about “what goes where” left you woefully inadequate when it came to the real issues: Are you ready for this emotionally and physically? Are you prepared to take care of yourself? Do you even know this person? What do you expect to get out of this experience?

Now is a scary time to be raising tweens and teens. I have two daughters, ages 11 and 15. The pressure to be sexualized at a young age is everywhere. It has always been present in music and pop culture influences. But now with mobile phones and other digital devices, these influences are constant.  Forbes Magazine reported that the average age a kid first sees a porn image is 11. “Sex” and “porn” are the #4 and #6 most popular searches on Google performed by kids. But they’ll see all sorts of images anyway, as they are preparing book reports or looking for Club Penguin because the images are so prevalent across the Internet.

When my youngest was 9, she asked me to buy her a book from the American Girl Company called The Care and Keeping of You. I heard “American Girl” and blindly ordered this book on Amazon. This is a company I respect. They taught our kids bits of history through the eyes of fictional girls with integrity and great values. So I didn’t think twice. Until our daughter announced that she thought her “hormonies” were not working. It was then I found out that she was reading a full-on manual about teen bodies, complete with drawings!

This was only a surprise because I had not prepared myself for my then-3rd grader to be so ready to have frank talks about her body and sex. But I’ve come to realize that healthy sexuality—especially the decision-making around intimacy—starts with healthy conversations at our homes. It will never be comfortable for people who are parents right now to relate to the world of our “digital native” kids. Fortunately there are tools out there that will help us facilitate conversation. It’s National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the folks at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy have decided to bail us parents out. Check out this quiz for your teen.

These questions get to the heart of the matter for kids. No matter how much “fact” our children accumulate, nothing can take the place of open conversation about what might happen when those facts are put to the test by peer pressure and the random chaos that is created by kids and technology.

You might not be in control of what and when your kids learn about the facts of the sexual experience, but you can provide an open environment where it’s OK to share and talk about the pressures of being a teen. And those discussions can make all the difference.

How did you first learn about sex? And what have you passed on to your kids? Post a comment below and tell us!

Michelle Edelman is the CEO and Director of Strategy of NYCA, a San Diego-based advertising agency. 



One Response to “Talking To Your Kid About Sex”

  1. Unfortunately, I really didn’t learn about sex in a conventional way. There were kids in school “going around”(that was the phrase used when I was in elementary school, 1- 8.) We attended a catholic school then an all girls catholic high school and there were lots of whispers, hand holding and a little bit of kissing. But, when we saw “The Movie” and the girls “only” received their booklet “Personally Yours” did things start to click. After coming home with so many questions and my book. I decided to ask my stay-at-home mom all about what we saw, the book and about all the things going around at school on the subject, you know, sex and all. Well, my book was confiscated, I was told to forget about what I saw in the movie and basically not to worry about any of it because I was too young for any of it to matter. I was 12. We later found out that our Mother’s experience was worse. Her sister informed her that she was not to have any contact with any males. She may just get pregnant. Not to bathe in a tub. Only to sponge bathe and that for 10 days she must only go to school, come right home and stay inside for fear that she could become pregnant. Okie Dokie. At 13 I received the rude awakening of my cycle starting as I was on a bike ride with my girlfriend. Thinking I was dying because naturally, I forgot all about “The Movie”…I went home and spoke to my mom. I was handed a garter belt-type contraption, a huge Kotex pad with long strings attached and shown how to attach it to the garter and use it. It was horrible. My mom then called all my aunts to tell them, “Julie became a woman today.” Now everyone knew…to my mom, it was a thing of pride. Her daughter became a woman. To me, being 13, not so much. Besides, I still had lots of unanswered questions. Being the first of my sister’s to have this “happen” to, they were no help because their books were also confiscated. So we kind of talked together and talked to other girls (friends) and brought the information back home. Our mother passed away that same summer and we were — all 6 of us — brought up by our wonderful, precious, very straight-laced father. One evening us girls were watching TV. A commercial came on of “Summer’s Eve”. It looked lovely and since it was for young women, which we were, we decided I would ask Dad what it was and if we needed it. Needless to say, the question took him off guard. He had us turn the channel and I was sent to his room to await my fate! He came in, shut the door and proceeded to pace the room. Boy, was I scared and thinking to myself, “Ohhh, was I going to get my sisters back if I got punished.” Finally he said, “You don’t need it and if you have any other questions, ask your Aunt Rachel.” Well, my sisters were listening at the door and we knew we were on our own. From then on, together, we dispelled the myths and discovered some of the mysteries. As for my children, I felt honesty is the best. I also purchased the American Girl book when we were informed by the school that “The Movie” was going to be shown, and we went through it together. She asked questions, we talked. We still talk. She is 19 almost 20. Still a virgin. I am a very traditional person. I was a virgin, as were my sisters, until we were all married. Our husbands, the one and only. I was 30. As our Dad did before us, we have taught our children abstinence, fidelity, self-worth and self-respect. That sex (making love) is a gift that you give to that other person when you are in a committed, loving marriage relationship. It is the gift of all of the things that make you, you. It is not to be given away lightly or just because some boy/girl’s acne will go away, they say they “love you” when you have only just met or any other crazy off the wall excuse they use. Your “gift” of you is worth more. You are worth more than a quick, loveless act. Thank you Dad for for teaching us what we were worth. With our son, it has been a little different. But we talk. I love it. I am very plain and some times pretty blunt in my explanations…sometimes it is embarrassing for both of us but we get through it with a little bit of laughter and lots of love. Sometimes, when the question stumps me, hey, I’m not a man and didn’t have their experiences, the three of us talk. You know, I learn things I didn’t know. All in all, they know they can talk to each other, come to us with whatever questions they have, with out rebuke; we will try our best to answer them. It is a land mine field out there. TV, movies, music, games are so graphic. We rented a “quest” game for our son. We read the warnings, what the game was about and decided, okay, we’ll try it out. So as he is in the playroom off the kitchen “questing” I am making dinner. I hear moaning and “sex” sounds. I go in there and was shocked to see that these virtual people do have sex and that children were being born from these unions! All done quite graphically. What does that have to do with completing the quest?? Or even playing a video game? I truly was horrified because sex was treated so cavalierly and the women treated as “whores”. That is not what we taught our children. That game was gone. But you can’t keep your children in a bubble. They hear more and see more than I ever did just walking around high school. We try to lead by example. A loving relationship, treat each other as we wish to be treated. With all these “bad” examples out there, how could we not wonder why our girls have a segued view of themselves and why our boys treat girls the way they do. Isn’t it our job to teach and guide them? Show them right from wrong? If not us then who? I whole-heartily agree with your last statement, ” You might not be in control of what and when your kids learn about the facts of the sexual experience, but you can provide an open environment where it’s OK to share and talk about the pressures of being a teen. And those discussions can make all the difference.” I guess tonight at dinner, we eat as a family, we will be discussing “what Mom read about today”! Thank you.