If there’s one thing parents can agree on, having “the talk” with your kids is never easy. I had to explain “it” to my seven-year-old when he started asking too many questions about the Virgin Mary. The old “Well . . . um, she and Joseph didn’t sleep in the same room” routine just wasn’t satisfying my curious kid.
So, I told him about sex in plain, very clear language, using the correct terms for all the various body parts. When I reached the end, I asked him if he had any questions. He didn’t. I asked him if he thought it was weird. He said yes.
We haven’t discussed it since.
I have a smart kid. I know that he’ll come to me if he needs clarification on anything I told him and I also know that, when I discuss it with his younger brothers, he’ll be around to hear about it again and can ask questions about anything he’s been wondering about in the meantime. But for now, he’s satisfied and he has a clearer sense of where he came from. I don’t think I need to belabor the topic. In fact, if I did, I suspect his belief that the whole operation was weird would be confirmed.
But that’s not how Babble writer Joanna Schroeder feels. Schroeder believes parents should discuss sex with their kids with the same regularity as other everyday topics, like homework, sports activities, sleepovers, and school drama. In fact, she thinks it should be discussed, to use her literary flourish: “Every. Single. Day.”
Schroeder begins by explaining her own adolescent confusion about sex, which was only exacerbated by her mother’s clumsy attempts to educate her by “covertly placing a children’s book about reproduction on the end of my bed in a brown paper bag.”
Few people would disagree with Schroeder that tossing a book at kids about a subject as complex as sex without any guidance or discussion isn’t going to help them reach any real understanding of it (or the attendant issues, like when sex is appropriate, etc.). But Schroeder’s daily sex talk advice is equally bad.
Family and child counselor and sex therapist Louanne Cole Weston, Ph.D., who has also written a book about sex education, has more practical advice about talking to kids about sex. While Weston agrees with Schroeder that the discussion should start at a young age, she doesn’t insist on daily discussion, instead suggesting that parents have “a series of small conversations spread out over many years.” Weston goes on to explain that this strategy allows parents to “become the obvious go-to person whenever there’s a question.”
Schroeder, by contrast, theorizes that “kids learn best from repeated exposure to a subject,” adding that kids will remember the basics after one conversation but they won’t “fully process the bigger picture.” But do kids as young as two (which Schroeder suggests is a good age to start talking about sex) really need to understand the bigger picture or, as Schroeder says, “figure[ed] out how they fit into it”? Does a two year old need to imagine actually participating in a sexual act?
Schroeder also wonders how kids will “grasp the complicated biological and emotional aspects of sex” if parents fail to repeatedly discuss it. But does one really need to bring the topic up “Every. Single. Day.” in order to reach the goal of having kids who are eventually well informed about sex?
For most reasonable people, daily sex talk seems like a good way to make your kid sex-obsessed, not merely knowledgeable.
Schroeder goes on to explain that daily sex talk will help eliminate the embarrassment that comes with “talk about penises and vaginas.” Her reasoning is that by practicing, we nervous parents will be able to discuss these subjects without blushing. Except that blushing is exactly what I want my kids to see when I talk about sex. I want my kids to see me squirm a bit when I discus these topics because it conveys to them that Mom thinks this is a very serious topic and that the act itself is similarly serious. Why desensitize kids to the importance and intimacy of sex?
As well, Schroeder attempts to tackle the issue of consent—undisputedly an important topic. Yet her advice turns even normal parent-child nurturing into a negotiation. She suggests asking your child if he/she would like a hug before proffering one and also suggests explaining to your child why you don’t want to be hugged. While it’s important to have these discussions with kids, these parent-turned-robot kind of interactions make even the most normal expressions of affection with one’s children seem unnatural.
Finally, Schroeder explains that kids learn more from observing their parents than listening to what their parents have to say. But doesn’t the act of randomly and insistently bringing up sex to a kid who hasn’t asked about the subject send the exact opposite message you want your kids to hear? Sure, I want my kids to see me as a good source of information, but if I’m going to talk about sex “Every. Single. Day.,” they might get the impression that Mommy is obsessed with vaginas and penises.
In her awkward and utterly illogical conclusion, Schroeder offers this sunny commentary (no doubt directed at the few conservatives who accidently read Babble): “Talking about sex more often means more opportunities to talk to kids about your family’s values” adding, “It’s important to seize opportunities to talk about sex and offer your perspective as often as possible.”
Of course parents shouldn’t avoid talking to their kids sex, especially when kids express natural curiosity about what it is. But it’s also important to remember that many families value more than just sex and have much better things to discuss with their kids Every. Single. Day.