I am not the average parent. I talk about sex (to children and teens) for a living. I teach parents how to broach these subjects with their children. My own offspring have known about love and sex and babymaking (even reproductive technology) for years. They are 9 and 5, respectively.
When I read this Time piece about a less-than-stellar sex talk, I felt frustration. Not at this parent, but at our world which has become even more paralyzed by parent-child conversations about sexuality and intimacy.
Again, I know that I am not the norm. I've never had one talk; I've had dozens. For example, this week, my daughter told me that she remembered how babies were made. "You need sperm and egg," she replied.
I used this as an opportunity to reinforce what I had taught her earlier. "Do you remember how they typically meet?" (You may think I'm crazy, but we have many friends who have conceived through IVF and/or used surrogates.)
"The penis is inside of the vagina, right?" I shook my head. "Yes, that's right."
She furrowed her brow. "Mama, did you and Daddy do that?"
To which she replied, "Did you do it at night when you had me?"
I tried to remember that one magical moment when conception occurred. (I'm kidding, obviously.) "Yes," I stated.
"And I came out of your vagina, right?"
"OK." She grabbed her doll and walked out of my room to play.
These are how most discussions evolve in our home. Questions get answered honestly. Positive words are used. Further questions are encouraged, but not demanded. Now, I know what you may be wondering (or for that matter, worrying). No, my kids don't talk about sex at school or at the park or on playdates because they don't think that it's something worth mentioning. To them, it's not taboo, nor has it become one of those "other" topics; it's just what we sometimes talk about at home.
I understand that there are always going to be people who criticize what I do and how I do it. I've heard it all, including my favorite criticism: "You're taking away a child's innocence."
It's my favorite complaint because it's the least true. Kids wonder about bodies and babies from birth onwards. (It's why their hands explore their bodies... and want to do the same with yours.) This curiosity is a fundamental element of their development. It's natural for them to want to understand these issues better, and it's our job to teach them. Kids don't lose their innocence when they learn about sex; they lose their innocence when their first understanding of sex comes from pornography, a kid on the school bus or someone other than you (particularly if you have deliberately not told them the truth).
In our new book, Got Teens? The Doctor Moms' Guide to Sexuality, Social Media, and Other Adolescent Realities, Dr. Jena Wider and I aim to empower parents with knowledge and the confidence to answer anything and everything. We don't want you to ever feel the need to apologize for sex or puberty or your relationships in general. They are wonderful aspects of our lives; our children should know that. We shape how our children see the world and how they interpret their connections with other people. And as for sex, I can assure you, there is nothing wrong with answering the question: "Did you do it at night?" In fact, it may take the conversation into a fascinating new direction.