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What and how should you teach your kid(s) about sex?
November 13, 2011 3:26 PM   Subscribe

A woman wonders how she will teach her daughter about sex in an essay titled How I Learned About Sex.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (92 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's how not to: please don't have R. Crumb comics in the house. I got into them around age nine -- because they were hidden, and therefore special -- and the damage was done.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:33 PM on November 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


I misread this as being about Wonder Woman.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:34 PM on November 13, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wonder Woman taught me a good deal about sex, actually.
posted by jonmc at 3:39 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


Here's my own favorite explanations.
posted by JHarris at 3:43 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was the youngest of five, so a lot of the usual childhood mysteries were lost on me. The older kids' knowledge was the air I breathed; I absorbed it without even knowing.

So I always kinda-sorta knew sex was were babies came from, the same way I always kinda-sorta knew Santa was Mom and Dad, not a red-suited fellow who crept down the chimney --- that is to say, I knew the blank fact of it and the general mechanics, but not the more delicate specifics or the reason.

I must have been around five when I figured out --- from tv, from adults' flirtatious behavior around each other, from the silly-dirty jokes that the older kids told --- that grown-ups had sex when reproduction was unlikely or even undesired. And I could not for the life of me imagine why.

So I asked my mom.

And bless her heart, my conservative, close-lipped mother put her arm around me, smiled gently, and said, "Oh, honey --- it feels GOOD! Grown-ups do that because it feels good!"

It is the one and only occasion I can recall of my mother speaking frankly and positively about sex, and I think it had a powerful positive effect on my outlook in later years.
posted by Elsa at 3:51 PM on November 13, 2011 [66 favorites]


There must be good youtube videos for this. If not, jessamyn has about the right style.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:11 PM on November 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't understand - what was so bad about the stick figures?
posted by yarly at 4:14 PM on November 13, 2011


Re: Crumb, I got into them around age nine -- because they were hidden, and therefore special -- and the damage was done.

Wow. I bet some extremely uncomfortable conversations arose out of that moment.
posted by JHarris at 4:14 PM on November 13, 2011


My mother explained sex to me when I was five. I don't remember her explanation, but I do know that it was forthright. She later told me that she promised herself that she would honestly answer her kids' questions about sex, since her own mother had refused to discuss the topic, always claiming that she "wasn't old enough" to know anything about it.

Either way, the explanation must have been detailed enough, because I remember the following exchange:

Five-year-old me: Do you have to take off your clothes?

Mom: Yes.

Me. ....eww.
posted by duvatney at 4:14 PM on November 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


Where Did I Come From is a very good book.
posted by motty at 4:18 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, Our Bodies, Ourselves. If you have a daughter, I strongly advise to leave a copy of this lying around the house.
posted by duvatney at 4:19 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


"When the sexual characteristics of the female become attractive to the male, the male experiences a stiffening of his penis as it becomes engorged with blood. Then, if the female is amenable, they...."

later

"...and so copulation concludes. Now, this may sound silly to you at this point, but it will almost certainly happen to you at some point. Really! If not exactly in this way then maybe when exposed to another member of the same sex. You're probably a little afraid from hearing about it, and believe me, we're all afraid of it whenever we really think about it. Which is why we really don't think about it. If you'll take my advice, you won't think about it either, when it happens to you. And it WILL happen to you."

Because kids don't have enough neuroses these days.
posted by JHarris at 4:23 PM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]




I don't think she should bother with drawing stick figures since her daughter is "petting my pubic hair and asking my husband to sing songs about his penis."
posted by Houstonian at 4:38 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Julia Sweeney monologue is a classic.
posted by briank at 4:42 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My parents never told me anything about sex, so I learned about it the old-fashioned way: by searching for discarded Hustler magazines in the large vacant lot one block over.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:47 PM on November 13, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yeah I was going to link the Julia Sweeny thing too.
posted by delmoi at 4:50 PM on November 13, 2011


>I misread this as being about Wonder Woman.<

I’m glad it wasn’t just me. That kind of thing happens way too often to me.
posted by bongo_x at 5:02 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My parents have never, to this day, said the word "sex" around me and I'm a 39 year mother of two. the way i found out was so crude and traumatic,I still remember what I was wearing the day the little boy told me. It messed meup for a LONg time.
we have the "where do I come from?" book in our house in our 7 year old's book shelf and read it to her when she chooses it. i'm NOT going to fuck up my kid about sex the way i was no matter how embarassing it is.
posted by aacheson at 5:11 PM on November 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow. I bet some extremely uncomfortable conversations arose out of that moment.

I wish they had; I didn't dare tell the parental units for fear of getting in trouble for being nosy. As it was, I just thought something like there it is, I guess, that's fucking. I felt miserable and headachey for a while and couldn't say why. (In that, I suppose, it was not unlike my later sexual initiations.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:13 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Growing up on a farm made learning about sex very easy. When my parents explained it in gory detail when I was in kindergarten, it wasn't so bad, although I didn't fully understand it until they bought one of those "Look What's Happening to my Body" books, which I hid under my mattress and read late at night in my teen years. Oh, the diagrams!
posted by amwelles at 5:13 PM on November 13, 2011


When our daughter was seven (and her younger brother five) we read a bit of It's So Amazing before bedtime each night for a couple of weeks until we had completed the entire book. Then we gave the book to our daughter for her to keep and read when she wanted.

The authors thought out this book well. First, it's designed to appeal to children and to assuage their fears. Two small comic characters -- a bird and a bee -- accompany all the text, and express what might be going through an ordinary child's mind. The bird is curious and ready to learn. The bee is more fearful, and sometimes doesn't want to know what he's learning. The purpose, obviously, is to let kids know that their reactions to the text -- whether positive or negative -- are perfectly OK.

Second, the lessons themselves, which take the form of simple paragraphs and lots of accompanying illustrations and comics, are breathtaking in their breadth and assumption that children can handle almost any topic if handled correctly. Yes, there are all the usual chapters about the egg and sperm, about the differences between men and women, and a very simple description of the mechanics of PIV sex. But there are also chapters or excerpts on love (including lesbian and gay relationships), on adoption, on genetics. . . and on HIV/AIDS, masturbation, and avoiding sexual predators.

I've made so many mistakes as a parent, but this worked out so well that I've become a kind of evangelist for early sex education with the use of this book. Probably the greatest gift was to us as parents. We really don't fear talking about sex any more, and feel less need to closely monitor talk about sex on the radio or other media (though we do censor stories about sexual violence).

There are probably a thousand good ways to discuss sex with your kids (and about a billion bad ways). For parents who value openness and honesty with their children, I can't recommend this book highly enough. Read it with them, discuss it with them, then let them read it for themselves.
posted by ferdydurke at 5:20 PM on November 13, 2011 [50 favorites]


I also recall as a Grade 7 student in the early 80s that one girl in our class was responsible for distributing to classmates "sexy samizdat" such as Forever, by Judy Bloom, as well as Sophie's Choice and the Carpetbaggers.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:29 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh man.

Growing up in a fundie household in the midwest, I had very, very little sexual education.

The first time my parents let me participate in sex ed in school I was in 8th grade. On the first day, the teacher put a diagram of a vagina on the overhead projector and I fainted. Just passed the fuck out, and woke up in my band director's office, in my band director's arms.

I wrote a long story about it a while ago.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:32 PM on November 13, 2011 [25 favorites]


Houstonian already mentioned this, but "petting my pubic hair and asking my husband to sing songs about his penis."(!!!!) Lady, seriously? I don't think you should be having anymore kids.
posted by MattMangels at 5:40 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


A woman special snowflake wonders how she will teach uses her daughter as a flimsy excuse for talking about sex herself.

This.

...And maybe it's because I'm not a mother (and far from being one), but am I the only one who finds this phrase slightly odd.

"..now that she is two and a half, petting my pubic hair and asking my husband to sing songs about his penis"

I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around why someone's daughter would be petting their mothers pubic hair - something about that doesn't sit right with me, but maybe it's a common thing. I don't know. *shrug*

But back on topic:

My mother brought home books from the library about how mommy and daddy "cuddle". I thought it was well executed and it got the point across. I (along with other school kids) went to evening talks at the school with some sort of sex-educator while our parents listened as well in the back. She made it fun though and everyone laughed and giggled. I got lucky with that I suppose.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 5:43 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


(Oops, missed Houstonian's comment. Apparently I'm not the only one. Heh.)
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 5:45 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the best sex talk ever was given by Glee character Kurt's father. I can only hope I'll be able to communicate so well with my kid when the time comes.
posted by gubenuj at 5:46 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was six I found a dictionary of sex and sex-related terms and read it cover to cover. I was the only six year-old-boy to my knowledge who had any idea what a clitoris was. Theoretically, at least (practical application of that knowledge was rather further into the future).

I believe my mother was deeply disappointed that she never got to have The Talk with me.
posted by jscalzi at 5:48 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I recall correctly, the first question my son asked me on this topic was "What's an orgasm?"
I wish I could tell you I remember how I answered it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:54 PM on November 13, 2011


A woman special snowflake wonders how she will teach uses her daughter as a flimsy excuse for talking about sex herself.

Hmm, clearly no one has given you the "personal essay" talk yet.
posted by hermitosis at 5:55 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around why someone's daughter would be petting their mothers pubic hair

They probably bathe/shower with their kid. It's not that weird.
posted by rtha at 5:59 PM on November 13, 2011 [14 favorites]


It's also probably something that happened once, and the mom thought it was awkward/funny and ultimately not that weird. I doubt they have like, sessions.
posted by hermitosis at 6:01 PM on November 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


At five, a buddy and I found his dad's Playboys and Penthouse. I was an early reader, so we kinda figured it out.

When my dad got around to The Talk, I was 13 (I only know this because it was on the way to the very last game the football Cardinals played in St. Louis). I had to pretend to not get it. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, me or him.
posted by notsnot at 6:12 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


They probably bathe/shower with their kid. It's not that weird.

Yeah, probably so. That's why I asked, I wasn't sure what she was saying there. I still think it's a questionable way to word something like that, but meh.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 6:12 PM on November 13, 2011


This talk of leaving books around the house and such is quaint, coming from a bunch of people who live on the internet almost as much as the average kid does.
posted by spitbull at 6:17 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


1. If the sketchy outline she got at 4 was the only thing she still thought about by the age she was having sex...presumably adulthood...then she was really really bad at educating herself. She doesn't sound that old. Lots of good books about sex have been around since at least the 70s.

2. However, I learned about sex from a Reader's Digest story entitled "How to Tell Your Child About Sex." It didn't explain everything, but it confirmed my suspicions. Also, I had an un-neutered dog who serviced all the neighbors lady dogs frequently, often in the middle of the street. Bob Barker would have been horrified.

3. After we'd had the (Kotex-sponsored!) "period movie" in 4th grade, my mom asked me, with visible discomfort "Do you know where babies come from?" "Yes..." I said, but hoped she'd tell me more. "OK," she said. That was it. I was the 4th kid, you'd think she'd stopped being embarrassed at that point.

4. Because I just couldn't make myself buy porn featuring dudes, it was well into adulthood before I saw a detailed representation of the male genitals, one that didn't vaguely imply a featureless flesh-rod. I also didn't know they changed size and shape so dramatically, could hang left or right, or that circumsized looked very different from non. It wasn't until I married that I knew why dudes carried their notebooks in front of them in school.

5. Scarleteen is awesome. Kids these days are so lucky.

6. My kid is 6 and knows the basics, and has not expressed much interest past that. It really isn't traumatic. But now I'm thinking we might need to get It's So Amazing all the same.
posted by emjaybee at 6:17 PM on November 13, 2011


spitbull: This talk of leaving books around the house and such is quaint, coming from a bunch of people who live on the internet almost as much as the average kid does.

Do you honestly believe that the average MetaFilter doesn't have books? Like, lots and lots of books?
posted by tzikeh at 6:25 PM on November 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


That's why I asked, I wasn't sure what she was saying there. I still think it's a questionable way to word something like that, but meh.

I took it to mean that her daughter is becoming aware of the sex characteristics on human bodies, so the question "How are babies formed" is coming. The kid is unknowingly aware and seeming comfortable the sexual plumbing so to speak, will learning about sex change that? Will drawing a diagram hurt or help her understanding, not only at the moment of knowledge, but down through the years?

Is the author over thinking it? Maybe, but I don't find it surprising that a new parent is keenly aware of how her parents unintentionally screwed up and is thinking about how they might inadvertently screw up their kid.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:25 PM on November 13, 2011


"And here was my little daughter, at age eight, inventing anal sex."
I'm torn between the desire to see what makes that link worth 14 favorites versus the desire to never ever click on that link and instead report it to the authorities.
posted by roystgnr at 6:26 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Click the link, it's pretty funny.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:27 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Argh—average MeFite, not average MetaFilter. Sorry; I was re-shelving some books while I was typing.
posted by tzikeh at 6:27 PM on November 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Like emjaybee, I really wonder if she learned nothing--nothing--between the stick diagram and her deflowering, whenever that was. And, like notsnot, I had already learned enough by the time I got The Talk that it was mostly embarrassing with very little new information.* Most of my info came from my peers (I learned about the basic PIV facts after I asked someone who was telling me a dirty joke what "fuck" meant; I was familiar with it as an adjective, not a verb), and from a quick perusal of The Joy of Sex in a bookstore.

*I think that the only question that I asked of the person giving me the talk--my foster father--was whether I was yet old enough to impregnate a woman (I was twelve), which he got a bit flustered at and informed me that I really shouldn't be trying at that age. It's a little odd that he thought that I needed it, since he'd already given me Gordon Parks' The Learning Tree to read (the protagonist, a teenager, loses his virginity in the first chapter).
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:36 PM on November 13, 2011


Thanks Brandon - that actually helped clear some things up for me! It's definitely not surprising that she would want to have her own daughter learn about sex in a way that is beneficial - not as something that will hinder her down the road as she had (unfortunately) experienced herself.
posted by Bron-Y-Aur at 6:37 PM on November 13, 2011




Ah! I was trapped in the car with my mother driving home from gymnastics and I got way more detail than I wanted, and we stopped about 3/4 of the way through the Talk to go grocery shopping. I've never wished for grocery shopping to last longer before, and I don't think I've ever blushed harder walking past the cucumbers.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:23 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was five and in day care, one of the other kids' moms was a nursing student with a copy of Where Did I Come From?, so they let her come in and tell us all where babies come from. I remember receiving the information in kind of a detached way, like, "Huh. So, that's how that happens. What a weird thing to do." I think it was the line about why the penis becomes erect -- being a literal-minded kid, I heard the bit about how it does that because it has a lot of work to do (or similar wording), and my weird kid brain imagined a tired penis shuffling off to make the donuts, encountering an identical penis at the door, having already made the donuts. It sounded pretty awful, just like having to go to the dentist.

The rest of my sexual knowledge was filled in by brief educational coverage in health class -- a couple of weeks for the reproduction unit in 5th grade, and again in 8th grade, and after that I don't remember anything specifically about human sexuality. By the time 5th grade rolled around I had already thumbed through a thousand copies of Hustler and Penthouse and Playboy and Penthouse Letters and seen a handful of actual porn videos thanks to friends' dads who never hid their shit well enough, and I'd been exposed to a wealth of raunch thanks to inattentive/permissive parenting (thanks, Grandma, for never double-checking the tapes I would order on your Columbia House membership back in 2nd grade, and for never questioning why you always found me in the dirty joke book section of B. Dalton on shopping trips).

I can remember exactly two times that my parental unit(s) mentioned sex to me as anything I might consider trying out someday. One time in high school, my grandmother was expressing a dislike for my boyfriend and she made some remark like, "Well, at least you haven't had sex with him," and having sailed that ship at least a year prior I couldn't help but snort and go, "Chyeah, shows what you know" under my breath. Once I confirmed that no, I wasn't just being a smart-ass sassmouth, I also had had my virginity dealt with, she completely dropped the subject and never mentioned it again. The other time, it was my mother, during a phone call when I was over 21. Out of nowhere she said, "You're not having sex, are you?", and in shock I blurted, "Uh, no?! I mean, yeah, but do you mean right this minute?!" and true to family form, the subject was never ever mentioned again.

Good old weird American sexual repression, am I right?
posted by palomar at 7:43 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


So I remember my younger brother asking me about, well, everything. I was the much older brother, so I therefore knew everything, plus he knew I always ALWAYS gave him honest answers - maybe not FULL stories, but I figured it was best to be up front. He'd either get it, or get it later, or the like. Not to say I didn't occasionally give him simplified versions of answers to his questions, but I would at least TELL HIM they were simplified, and that I was leaving stuff out - and that if he wanted more detail I could give it, but if the simple answer sufficed for now, that was fine, and I' be here when he was older and wanted more.

So when he asked me about babies, I explained DNA to him as best I knew how, and how we were a mix of our parents, and how the dna mixed in a cell and that became a baby. Which was all he really was asking, until he came in the next day.

"So if the mommy dna and the daddy dna come together in mommy's belly, how does the daddy dna GET to the mommy dna?"

I was not going to wimp out, but I did want to take a second to figure out the best tactic, so I opened with the "ok, well, it's a special kind of hug" gambit. "oh, okay. Like a private puzzle." "wait, what?"

"The private parts. They fit together like a puzzle."

"um... yeah."

"okay," he said, and walked back out of the room. And that's how I taught my brother about sex.*
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]



(*Later on this policy of mine led to the "so what's the big deal" talk, where he learned about orgasms, even later the "so does gay mean men and women mean lesbian" conversation, which, while not originally about sex, somehow ended up being all about the mechanics of gay sex, and then much later the classic and ill-thought "wait, explain orgasms" talk which ended up with me giving him a 30 minute lecture on why it's important that he reciprocate oral sex when he grows up. When he was like, 12. Really, it's amazing his parents left him with me at all. )
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I clearly recall figuring out the basic mechanics for myself at a very young age. I knew that boys had a thing that went out and girls had a thing that went in, and it just seemed logical that they must go together somehow. When my mother finally explained that by fitting two humans together in this way, a third human could be created, it all made sense. I guess I played with Lego a lot.
posted by jet_manifesto at 8:02 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you can't talk to your kids about sex, how will they know they can talk to you about sex, pregnancy, drugs, school, and whatever else is going on in their lives.
posted by theora55 at 8:02 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


a tired penis shuffling off to make the donuts,

In a manner of speaking..
posted by jonmc at 8:02 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


I got The Talk on my way home from a basketball game, and should have been suspicious when my dad ran us through the McDonald's drive through on the way home, which he'd never done before. I was, after all, absolutely (seriously) paranoid about the moment that this would eventually occur.

But let me back up a bit.

I am the youngest of four kids, and by a wide margin from the rest of them. I grew up basically being treated like a grandchild (thankfully the oldest is only 10.5 years older than me, so I never had to question that) and somehow grew up learning to be very, very secretive about what I did or knew, and learning how to get away with things by watching the successful and unsuccessful attempts by my older siblings.

I had once as a toddler stayed over at a female friend's house for a few days while my folks were out of town, which involved a shower with my little girlfriend and her extremely uncomfortable mother whose breasts I stared at basically the entire time. (I remember this very, very clearly. Interestingly, this was a fairly conservative household, but my next little lesson would also come courtesy of that house, when the older sister was taking care of Susan and me and the parents had rented a few movies for us, one of which was, I guess, not rated, and they had taken that to mean it was fine, even though it turned out that it involved a bunch of fuck-scenes ending with pillow-suffocations as its main plot. Oh, the early 80's.)

Later, there was a crazy night when my sister was taking care of me and her "slutty" friend Beth came over and they probably got drunk, though I didn't see that part, and we all ended up swimming and my sister and Beth went topless pretty early and I started asking a lot of questions. When I asked what girls had instead of a penis they squealled out in drunken unison, "The PUSSSYYYYY!!!" and collapsed into giggles, and I never got a better answer.

I don't know exactly when I determined that nothing would disappoint my parents more than me being either curious or knowledgeable about sex (which I was absolutely fascinated about) but that idea took root early on. At church one morning we had a sermon about the safe-sex movement and how, in our reverend's words, "all of this baggage, all of these consequences, all of the entanglements and spiritual aspects, well, to think that they can be fortified against by a paper-thin piece of plastic!" (The reverend was a good man, and this was the climax, so to speak, of his sermon.) One would need to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to fully understand the fire-and-brimstone nature of the impact of this sermon, which my parents, not being stupid, picked up on.

As soon as we were in the car, they shot their eyes into the backseat and my mom asked, "well, that was a powerful sermon, wasn't it?" My response was instinctive: "I wasn't really paying attention." Even in church, I thought I'd be in some weird sort of trouble if I had displayed any interest in the subject at all, even as a member of a captive audience.

And then there was Ryan Marshall, the asshole at school who wasn't really a bully, and was occasionally my friend, when it was necessary, but who knew a lot more about such things than I did. Who accused me by the buses in 4th grade of not knowing what sex was, and then who spat at me, "duh! The man sticks his dick in the woman's vagina and they rub." In my mind this meant rubbing... bellies or something? I didn't want to ask him further. But then Brian came along. New kid in fifth grade, whose mother worked as a doctor specializing in STDs, and thus knew everything and, lo and fucking behold, had actually had sex before coming to my town.

I sat right next to him at our assigned places at the lunch table, but everyone... fucking everyone was star-struck by this kid. He spoke frankly and knew all the stuff that we didn't. Moreover, his facts checked out. We were a group deeply interested in knowing more about sex and here was a totally nice kid who knew details and had first-hand knowledge and was happy to share and, to this day, everything he taught us has turned out to be accurate.

But then came that day after the basketball game. After the drive-thru. My dad, not getting (as how could he) that this was the worst way to start off what was clearly, in retrospect, a horrifying conversation for him as well, asked, "well, why don't you tell me what you know already?" Thanks to Brian, I knew everything I could hope to ask. "Nothing, really," I said. Thus followed a half-hour of my gripping the doorhandle as tightly as if we were swerving into an inevitable accident, ending with him giving me the book "Love and Sex in Plain Language," which actually wasn't bad at all at answering my remaining questions, but:

Oh, the diagrams!

Exactly. When you're that young and sexually fascinated as I was... Oh the diagrams. This book included clinical drawings of what different boys and girls of the same adolescent age might look like, and for adolescent me, it took a while to look at the girls around me the same way.

Then, not too much later, My mother, who was chief among what my siblings called the "Huntwick Mothers Club" arranged for all the neighborhood kids to come down to the church for a weekend with some of the other moms for our own (very secular, actually) sex-ed course. Having my mom there should have been mortifying, but in a weird way, it wasn't. Misery loves company, after all, and if all the kids were getting the talk from her (and many other mothers) together, well, it eased the pain a lot. Plus, the neighborhood girls were there as well. Now, when we were taught this in school, the boys and girls were separated, and I get that. But I think there was something positive in all of us seeing the same anxiety in each others faces, rather than having the other process be such a mystery to us.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:16 PM on November 13, 2011 [7 favorites]


In my experience the really really awkward parent/child sex talk is the one my mum keeps trying to have with us, her adult daughters, about all the sexing she and dad are doing to each other now eg. "Your dad and I had sex yesterday! I have to go on top though because I don't want to get suffocated by all his fat!".
posted by Wantok at 8:18 PM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh yeah, I forgot about the time I walked in my parents when I was about seven, which lasted probably less than a second and led the next day to them putting a padlock on the door that my siblings and I still joke about.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:23 PM on November 13, 2011


When I was 5, my brother's room was a wonderland. He had fancy lego sets, he had the model airplanes, the car and track kits, the awesome drafting tools. Whenever he wasn't around, I would be in there, nosing around for cool stuff. Which, of course, is how I found the book with the dark blue cloth cover. It was laid flat on the top shelf of his closet, and because of where it was stashed, and because he didn't have many books anyway, I figured it was important.

I took it back to my bedroom and read it cover to cover. It was simple and clear and there were drawings that I found easy to understand. But I was 5, and while I was reading well, I was running into some unfamiliar words.

Which is how I came to ask, at the dinner table that night, "what's an organism?" My parents were confused until I picked up the book - I had it stashed under my chair for some reason - and pointed to the page. To this day, I can remember the look my mom gave my dad across the table.
posted by minervous at 8:28 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dad "explained" sex to me one lazy afternoon and glossed over the actual man and woman bit and wound up on a tirade telling me that some men like to put their bits in other men's bums and that they were "poofs" and it was a bad thing to do. I already knew about sex so this wasn't even an information session, it was merely the single most uncomfortable ten minutes of my life. I think I choked out a "Yes, dad" and went back to Roland on the Ropes.
posted by tumid dahlia at 8:33 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother says that I asked some questions when she was pregnant with my brother, but I somehow must have managed to forget everything they'd told me, or Mom was so bashful that it made no impression on my 2-1/2 year old mind. Because I had little to no inkling for a long time.

And Mom was really bashful -- she took the "show-books-or-things-and-then-ask-your-kid-if-s/he-has-questions" route. When I was seven, she plunked me down in front of an ABC Afterschool Special about a kid handling his mother's pregnancy; it ended with the delivery of his baby brother. She asked me when it ended if I had any questions and I shrugged and said nah, I was good, and went to go play. It wasn't until an hour later, when I was off by myself, that I realized "wait....okay, they said the sperm cells come from the daddy and the egg cells come from the mommy. But they didn't talk about how the sperm cells get FROM the daddy TO the mommy."

I considered going to ask Mom about that, but decided to try to figure out for myself first. And after a few minutes thought, I came up with a theory that satisfied me, to wit:
"The Mommy gives the Daddy a pair of her underwear for a day, and he wears them all day so the sperm cells fall out into them. And then when he gets home he gives her her underwear back and she puts them on, and the sperm cells get inside the Mommy that way."
Sounded good to me, and I never confirmed this with my parents. I just shrugged, accepted that as fact, and went on with my life. It wasn't until a year later when I was browsing in a bookstore with my father that I came across a kids' book about "where did I come from" that had a line drawing of a couple having sex, that I finally realized, "ohhhhhh, I get it now," and that was that.

But prior to that, I was absolutely convinced that the sex act was actually transvestism. Not sure what it says about me that at age seven I came up with something that was kinkier than actual sex.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:47 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Shall I tell you all about the time I explained menstruation to my sons, then?

My wife mentioned to me one evening a few years back that her period had arrived. A few minutes later, we were on our way to drop her off at a friend's house when she asked if I could make a quick stop at the Rite-Aid drug store just ahead. The boys (6, 3 and 1 at the time) and I were waiting in the car when my oldest asked, “Why did we stop here, Dad?”

“Well. . . .” I actually teach sex ed classes at our church, but I was a bit surprised by the question, so I took a moment to compose my thoughts.

Finally, I said something like this:
“Every month or so, a woman's body gets ready to take care of a baby in case she gets pregnant. The baby needs a safe, protected place to grow, and so her body coats the inside of her uterus (the part of her tummy where the baby grows) with extra blood. But most months, the woman doesn't get pregnant, and so her body lets the extra blood go and it comes out of her vagina. It's not a ton of blood, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong, but it's pretty messy if you don't catch the blood with something. So stores like this sell a few different kinds of things for soaking up that blood. Mom told me before we got in the car that her body had started to let the blood out this month, so we stopped here to buy some more of those things.”
They had a few follow-up questions about how these mysterious devices work, but I had soon fielded them in similar fashion. I was unstoppable!

Not long after the questions petered out, my wife returned with a plastic shopping bag in hand. The kids wanted very much to see the arcane blood-soaker-uppers within, so my son asked, “Can we see them, Mom?”

“See what?” she replied absent-mindedly.

“You know, the things for the blood,” he clarified. She turned a bewildered gaze to me, then reached into her bag, and held up for all to see. . .

. . . a family-sized bag of Skittles.

I really wish it had been chocolate, would make for a better ending, but no, she had to buy Skittles....
posted by richyoung at 8:59 PM on November 13, 2011 [20 favorites]


I felt so bad when my stepfather gave me THE TALK at age 16.

Not only had he only been with one woman before my mother (he was a sweet guy), but I never had the heart to tell him I had lost my virginity to two neighbor girls and an unlocked liquor cabinet two years before, whilst living with my father.

(Keerist, I wish I remembered more of it.)
posted by Samizdata at 9:01 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


And, no, I have no idea how I luck into such things.
posted by Samizdata at 9:02 PM on November 13, 2011


Sometimes I wish I had a weird story about "the talk" with my mom. She was always super cool and positive about it, and we had age appropriate talks about it all the time, so I don't really remember any one instance, awkward or otherwise. But I do remember being around five and thinking that sex was when the man and the woman mixed their pee together, for some reason. Mom was all like, "Um, no. The mixing happens on the inside. Unless you use a condom." I'm pretty sure I already knew what a condom was, by then. My mom was really into making sure I knew about condoms, I guess.
posted by emilycardigan at 9:15 PM on November 13, 2011


And, no, I have no idea how I luck into such things.

You bastard. An unlocked liquor cabinet at age 14? Can we say BINGO!?
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:41 PM on November 13, 2011


Here's how not to: please don't have R. Crumb comics in the house.

I don't remember ever getting a talk from either parent. My first knowledge of sex came at about 4.5 / 5 years old, pretending to be asleep in the back seat of my parents' car during the second movie of a double feature - Zardoz. "This film is for grownups, go to sleep."

My dad didn't have any of the really pornographic Crumb stuff, but there was some T and A in Mr. Natural, IIRC...

Later I filled in the finer details through careful study of the huge pile of 1970s Penthouse and Playboy that my dad had in his bedroom.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:12 PM on November 13, 2011


Navelgazer: New kid in fifth grade... had actually had sex before coming to my town.

Jesus Christ, fifth-graders are what, ten years old? Eleven?

I have no idea how those of you with kids manage.
posted by tzikeh at 11:08 PM on November 13, 2011


I remember my mother sitting me and my brother down on the backsteps to tell us the facts of life at around age 10 (he was 12), this was the late 70s. What she didn't know was that the little country school we went to, at lunchtime when the teachers went next door to the headmaster's house for lunch, the kids in grade 4-7 (about 15), would sometimes play "fingering the girls". Not all the girls participated, nor all the boys. Someone was delegated to shepherd the youngsters (grades 1-3) up the hill where they would be 'safe' from seeing anything. But it lead to some interesting conversations, where upon, on the stairs with my mother, I informed her that she didn't need to tell me anything, I knew it all. She was surprised and relieved, and was very much unaware that I'd misunderstood everything I'd been told - I can't remember when I did work out what went where and did what - I do believe some of that happened that night I gave up my virginity.
posted by b33j at 12:08 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh so I told my kids biological details from before they could talk. They didn't seem to mind until when they were in middle school and on a long car trip where they were stuck in the back seat, their father and I covered more advanced topics like oral and anal sex. They really did not enjoy that.
posted by b33j at 12:09 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother was pregnant and no one would tell me anything, so I dragged out the encyclopedia. I remember sitting in the car with her and saying, very calmly, 'I understand how the baby gets there, but how do you get it out? Do they have to cut it out?' She refused to answer, so I went back home and looked up the procedure in my dad's emergency medicine book, which promptly vanished when I reported to her smugly that I now knew how the baby got out.

That was the last conversation my mother and I had about sex, and five year old winn was the one who contributed all the useful information. Then again, given my mother, it's probably much the best that I looked it up myself.
posted by winna at 12:49 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if anyone who grew up with the Internet, would dare to comment.
posted by effugas at 12:54 AM on November 14, 2011


Wow, this thread is kind of crazy. My mom didn't have any hang-ups about explaining sex to me at all. I don't recall a time when I didn't feel like I understood how it all worked. I do recall being told about it, seeing animations stuff like that at some point, but I don't ever recall a time that I felt like I didn't know how it all worked.
posted by delmoi at 1:41 AM on November 14, 2011


My mother said to me one day when I was thirteen: "Oh, by the way, you do know about sex, don't you?"
"Oh, yeah, yes."
"Anything you want me to explain?"
"No. No thanks."
"Sure?"
"Yes thanks."

That was it. At the time I was just desperate to stop her talking about it as soon as possible.
posted by Segundus at 1:55 AM on November 14, 2011


I recommend the funny kids' book Mummy Laid an Egg by Babette Cole. It's suitable for young kids, its sweet and light, and it's anatomically correct (despite the title!).

I read it to mine when they were 5-and-3 I think. The only stress I ever got from it was when I found them sharing it with a little school friend who was on a visit. I wasn't sure whether their parents would be cross, so I distracted them with cups of juice and quietly put it back on the shelf.
posted by communicator at 2:07 AM on November 14, 2011


If you can't talk to your kids about sex, how will they know they can talk to you about sex, pregnancy, drugs, school, and whatever else is going on in their lives.

It's more complicated than that. Some parents may be too embarrassed or repressed to talk about sex, but I think a lot of times it's the kids that are the ones who are embarrassed, and that makes it difficult. The Talk means that both parties are acknowledging the other as sexual beings, and kids generally don't want to think about their parents doing that.

My eight-year-old has been asking a lot of questions and is at exactly the stage of Sweeney's daughter in the video linked above. She takes in the facts fine but doesn't understand why anyone would want to do it. "EW" is pretty much her reaction. You can be as frank as you like, but there are parts they aren't going to understand until they experience it.

Then there's my 13-year-old, who doesn't want to talk about it. A couple weeks ago we were in the car and she asked me something about "Do people actually like ***?" I thought she said, "blowjobs," but I wasn't sure so I said, "what, do people like blowjobs?" Realized my mistake when I glanced at her and could see her turning absolutely beet red. She said "GOD, Mom!!" and it occurred to me that something I wouldn't in the tiniest bit mind talking to her about, she'd rather die than discuss with me.

So yeah, I think there are a lot of reasons the give-and-take about sex between parents and kids can be tough, even if parents are quite open and have the best of intentions.
posted by torticat at 5:07 AM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


My mother gave me a very scientific explanation at a young age which I nodded at and accepted. Then around age 12 I started to discover fanfic which filled in a substantial number of gaps. There's a lot between "how it works" and "what people actually DO" that even the best of sex ed seems to gloss over (though somehow we all seem to figure it out one way or another).
posted by olinerd at 5:22 AM on November 14, 2011


I learned about sex from having completely unsupervised access to the internet starting at the age of 11. Needless to say, I had a thorough understanding of both the basic and intermediate topics involved in sexual reproduction by the time I was 12.
posted by anaximander at 5:52 AM on November 14, 2011


I learned about sex from having completely unsupervised access to the internet starting at the age of 11.

I learned about sex from having completely unsupervised access to VC Andrews, starting at about age 6. Rosemary's Baby and Judy Bloom were religiously passed around at Catholic grade school, with certain pages marked and highlighted. This was in the 1970s, so we were unfamiliar with goatse or furries and thus much happier.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:19 AM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was six I found a dictionary of sex and sex-related terms and read it cover to cover. I was the only six year-old-boy to my knowledge who had any idea what a clitoris was. Theoretically, at least (practical application of that knowledge was rather further into the future).

You were not alone in such an introduction. At six or seven I had a similar intoduction to the various parts involved, although I didn't have a full grasp of the big picture -- the parts in action -- until the rite-of-passage of finding the legendary Stack of Abandoned Penthouses. The pictures were all well and good, but the letters with their play-by-play of who did what to whom and when were the real treasure there: I subjected those letters to a degree of scrutiny that would make Talmudic scholars look casual and slipshod in their appraisal of the Torah.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:36 AM on November 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Rosemary's Baby and Judy Bloom were religiously passed around at Catholic grade school, with certain pages marked and highlighted.

My friends and I somehow managed to get to the age of 15 without coming across any of the "underground sex books for teens" in the '70's -- no Forever, no Flowers In The Attic, none of it. The closest we came was at a slumber party when a new girl in our group who had read Flowers tried to give us all a play-by-play of the plot, but when she got to the part where the teenage brother and sister have sex, another girl in our group shouted, "Oh, HELL no," and forbade her to finish. We all knew the particulars of sex by then anyway, and we were all too geeky for the bodice-ripper romances, so all we thought was that it was messed up.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:58 AM on November 14, 2011


So if her dad had been a more skilled artist she wouldn't need to have written this essay, right?
posted by ook at 7:00 AM on November 14, 2011


I learned about sex from having completely unsupervised access to the internet starting at the age of 11.

I really truly wonder how different my experience of sex would have been if the internet had existed when I was 11. I had to find my porn in the woods.
posted by ook at 7:01 AM on November 14, 2011


richyoung, I found out about menstruation from reading Carrie. No joke.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:37 AM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I had to find my porn in the woods.

Yeah, I found a few stashes in the ravine behind my house.

Which causes me to wonder, now: what how did it get there? There was no attempt to destroy the magazines, these were orderly stashes. Me and my friends were the kids that 'owned' this turf, and it wasn't us that left the stuff...this was a middle class neighbourhood - were otherwise upright husbands slinking off to the ravine to have a wank? Am I yet missing some fact of life that would explain the existence of these treasure troves?
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:41 AM on November 14, 2011


(The whole "porn in the woods" thing was a lot less recent than I remembered it being, making my reference a whole lot more obscure than I thought it would be)
posted by ook at 10:48 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


My mother was matter-of-fact with me from the beginning, which led to a moment in the supermarket checkout line when she was pregnant with my brother that went approximately like this:

Checker: So you are going to have a little brother or sister, then!
Me: Yes! The baby is going to come out of mommy's vagina!

Cue my mother slapping a hand over my mouth.
posted by jocelmeow at 11:02 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


richyoung, I found out about menstruation from reading Carrie. No joke.

I learned about masturbation from reading Cujo :/
posted by hermitosis at 11:11 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Clan of the Cave Bear, at about 10 or 11. Even better, my mom had never read the books so she thought I was into historical fiction, rather than historical fiction smut. Of course, I had older cousins, so I learned most of the basics from other kids.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:28 AM on November 14, 2011


For a writer with an impeccable list of publishing credits (N+1, McSweeney's, Fence, etc.) this was a strangely flat and uninteresting piece. I thought she was just easing into a long intro, and suddenly it was done.
posted by msalt at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2011


I figure Wikipedia will handle this.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:17 PM on November 14, 2011


So, what do you do here Dale?

Well, I got a stack of nudie books this high.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:58 PM on November 14, 2011


I learned about sex from an issue of Genesis magazine, an issue of Penthouse, and my pal's older brother. I know a lot more than most now.
posted by reenum at 1:59 PM on November 14, 2011


But now that she is two and a half, petting my pubic hair...

Is this normal? I never petted my mom's pubic hair.
posted by reenum at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2011


I always thought that Clan of the Cave Bear was a fairly traumatic introduction to sex.

Luckily, my library only had The Mammoth Hunters in when I was that age, so I got multiracial smut instead of paedophilia and violent rape.

I remember being given basic sex-ed classes at around age eight, and watching the videos in the main school hall with a sense of vaguely detached curiosity. I then don't recall the subject crossing my mind again until high school when girls stopped being flat and started being interesting.
posted by fearnothing at 2:19 PM on November 14, 2011


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