My dad gave me The Sex Talk one night during my freshman year in high school. We were driving home in his car. As he did his best to stammer through the basics of STD transmission and cautionary tales of unwanted pregnancies, I kept one hand on the truck’s door-handle, debating the pros and cons of an attempted tuck-and-roll. Time turned to molasses, and when I had finally latched onto the sweet salvation that we were only a mile from the house, he pulled the truck over so that we could get through everything The Sex Talk required.
I had already been having sex for months before that conversation happened, had already learned terms like “69” from my older cousins and “that the dude puts it inside the woman” from my first-grade best friend.
Despite the lateness and embarrassment, The Sex Talk with my father taught me that my dad cared about my physical and emotional well-being and that he was there for me during this confusing, exploratory time in my life.
This week, I chatted with fellow local sex educator Brooke Norton, an expert at helping parents talk to their kids about the birds and the bees.
V-Spot: What are some of the benefits of kids getting sex education from their parents/caregivers?
Norton: It would be nice if we could just let someone else do the hard work for us, wouldn’t it? Schools might teach about the changes of puberty or the biology of reproduction, but there’s so much more for kids to learn about. Schools don’t talk about sexting, the Internet, or what consent really looks like. Or how to love your body, even if it’s changing.
How do you know when your kids are ready for The Sex Talk?
Some kids will start asking when they notice their own bodies. Others will simply never ask. It’s really up to the parent to start the discussions. Also, it doesn’t have to be one big talk. Try a series of smaller talks.
How much information is too much information?
Parents often worry that kids want to know about their personal, private sex lives, which isn’t usually the case. Kids want to know about facts and feelings, but not necessarily your feelings. If you get stuck, own up to feeling embarrassed or needing a minute.
What are three essential components of any parental sex talk?
Try not to pass your baggage along to your kid. Kids don’t come to these discussions with shame or guilt, even though we might.
Teach your kids about consent, and that their body is theirs, and they get to decide who touches it — how, when, and if.
If your kid is surfing the Internet without a trusted adult around, tell them about the existence of porn. Tell them it’s not for kids, and that it’s not real sex, because kids will definitely see it — it’s just a question of when.
Any tricks for dealing with the awkwardness?
Start the tough talks while driving in the car. [Note: Good job, dad!] Everyone’s facing forward, not making eye contact, and your audience is pretty captive. Jumpstart conversations with your kids’ interests: pop songs, movies, and billboards all provide rich fodder for conversations about sex and sexuality.
How can a parent prepare?
Keep an open mind to the questions that will arise. There are plenty of wonderful books such as those by Robie Harris’ It’s Perfectly Normal and It’s So Amazing are the best. I also really like the videos about relationships, puberty, and health that can be found on YouTube at WatchWellCast.
Are there any common “after-effects” that parents can look out for post-The Sex Talk?
More discussions. If you start the conversations, then your kid will begin to see you as an approachable parent and will come to you for more information or for help with a problem.•
Brooke Norton is a clinical intern at Northampton Sex Therapy Associates and a parent of two amazing kids.