Last week my nine-and-a-half year old son sparked the conversation every parent anticipates somewhat nervously: the sex talk!
I knew it was coming. Kevin and I had already discussed how we were going to handle it. We’ve always said that we would be honest with our children about it; that it would be an open topic of conversation, free from embarrassment or taboo. We want our children to be able to come to us with any questions or worries about any aspect of their lives, so why should sex be any different?
I’ll admit I wasn’t prepared when he sprung it on me: what does sex mean? I thought I had at least another year, but didn’t let it faze me. I explained briefly about intercourse, and how a baby is made. I told him that a baby isn’t made every time and that people can do it simply for pleasure too. He was very mature about it all – no giggling or avoiding eye contact. Once I’d explained, he said OK and went off to continue playing with his Lego.
Although pleased with how the conversation had gone, I was still left a bit shell-shocked! My baby boy was growing up! I texted Kevin to let him know that we had reached this moment on our parental journey. I then threw myself into tidying the kitchen with wild abandon, my thoughts filled with all the other potential questions Andrew could ask about sex and growing up. I wanted to be more prepared for these questions, so did a quick internet search for any books that could help. I wanted something that was tailored towards children of his age and that would be informative without being overly graphic. I’m all for embracing the subject, but he’s a bit young for anything bordering on pornography! I also wanted something that would explain more about the puberty side of things, as these changes will come before sex is at the forefront of his mind!
Giving him a book wasn’t a cop-out, but a way of giving him the information in bite-sized chunks, in a clear and concise manner. It would also have illustrations that would help further his understanding – I don’t think my basic stick-people drawings would have the same effect! The idea was that we could give him the book to peruse in his own time and be available to answer any questions he had. I wanted us to encourage a dialogue about it too, instead of just waiting for him to approach us.
The Usborne book What Is Happening To Me: Boys by Alex Frith ticked all the boxes. When it arrived I had a quick read, just to make sure it was suitable. It was! It explains all the different changes his body will go through, as well as how hormones will affect his mood. It talks about sex and contraception, relationships, eating healthily and taking care of his body, as well as drugs, safety online and the right to say no! It also talks briefly about the changes a girl goes through, which I think is an important thing for a boy to know. It’s worth noting that there is also a girl’s version of the book, so I’ll be purchasing that in a year or so for my eldest daughter.
We gave him the book and explained what it was for. He seemed quite nonchalant about the whole thing, but then he’s always taken life as he finds it. He took it to his bedroom, appearing every so often to ask a question, which we of course answered. I’ve noticed that he isn’t bothered about which one of us answers his questions, which is a positive thing in my eyes.
I realise that for many parents the sex talk can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. We teach our children in great detail about most things, so why not sex? Talking to them about it doesn’t mean that they are going to go right out and try it for themselves. If anything, it will help them make informed decisions about that part of their lives, as well as give them the confidence to speak up if they are feeling pressured into doing something that they aren’t ready for. Initiating a conversation about sex and puberty also normalises it, which will help them deal with any falsehoods they hear about it from others, as well as be confident in their physical appearance.
We had always intended to have this series of conversations with Andrew before he went to secondary school. Now that it’s out there we can continue to nurture his understanding of the subject bit by bit. We’ve made it clear to him that he can talk to us about it at any time and I’ve been reminding him of this every couple of days. I’ll spread the reminders out soon, but at the moment the most important message I want him to take from it is that no subject is off-limits.
We’ve prepared him for the changes he’ll soon face – changes that are in fact already beginning to take hold. I’ve noticed that when he’s been running around he now has a faint pong wafting around him. We’ve given him some deodorant and told him he needs to start showering more often and change his shirt every day. These subtle changes will gradually become more noticeable, but for the time being my little man can stay nestled within the folds of childhood for a little bit longer, safe in the knowledge that no matter how many questions about growing up he has, his Lego will always waiting for him.