Sex is Not a Four Letter Word (Talking to Kids About Sex)

Sex. It’s everywhere—including the bible. So what happens when children, in this case 4th graders, begin discussing bible stories in religious school that deal with sexually-charged topics? From the very beginning, the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar deals with reproductive issues.


In our community, this has created significant discomfort with some parents. A friend told me that since her daughter was born she had a plan that when her daughter turned 12, she would explain topics like menstruation and sex.


We’ve taken a different attitude in our house. I’ve always answered my kids questions—of course that doesn’t mean giving them adult answers, but doing so in age appropriate ways. This means starting with the most simplistic answer first and seeing where the child goes. Someone was told me a story about a child who had been watching television with her dad. When the commercial came, she turned to her dad and asked, “What’s a climax?” He turned red and got very flustered. Fortunately, he gathered his wits enough to ask where she had heard the word. Her answer, “The television just said ‘stay tuned for the climax.’”


My daughter knew the basics of menstruation from when she was a toddler. Why? Because sometimes I had to go to the bathroom when we were out, and in Washington, DC I was definitely bringing her in the stall with me. She saw things first hand, and it was either let her be terrified that mom was hurt or give a simplistic, yet accurate, explanation.


As for sex, when my daughter was in second grade, she wanted to know what those penguins were doing in March of the Penguins, and I answered her questions, while all of the time inserting our moral values into the conversation. I also told her two important things.

  1. This was not a topic for her to discuss with her friends. It is up to her friends’ parents to convey this information.
  2. If she did hear things from her friends, she should talk to me because kids often don’t have the facts straight.

My son hasn’t asked any questions yet. So for him, we just make sure he knows the proper names for all of his body parts. Including his scrotum—a word that caused a Newberry winning book to be banned by some school librarians. “The Higher Power of Lucky” includes the word “scrotum” to describe where a dog gets a snake bite.   At the time, NPR talked to boys in a Tuscon library and most had no idea what a scrotum was–much less that it was a body part that they had!


Many kids are taught all of the proper names for part of their body except for their genitals. In her book, From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children From Infancy to Middle School,” Debra Haffner notes, “When you use euphemisms only for the genitals, you are giving your child a message that these parts of the body are uncomfortable or different.  You may, without meaning to or realizing it, even introduce a sense of shame or guilt about this part of the body.”


Haffner’s book is the one parenting book I actually did read and highly recommend to any parent. I suppose I had my own parental induced hang-ups and wanted my children to avoid that. And, I really wanted to create an environment where they would get their information from me and felt comfortable coming to me with questions.


And when it comes to talk to my son about sex, I’ll be doing that too. Consider the findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

  • Teens who reported more satisfaction in their relationship with their mother were less likely to report having sex in the subsequent year, more likely to use birth control the last time they had sex and less likely to get pregnant.
  • The more disapproving adolescents perceived their mother to be toward their engaging in sexual intercourse, the less likely they were to have sexual intercourse.
  • Teens perceptions of their mothers’ attitudes toward abstinence are more predictive of sexual outcomes (e.g., intercourse, use of birth control, pregnancy) than actual maternal attitudes.







Filed under parenting

2 responses to “Sex is Not a Four Letter Word (Talking to Kids About Sex)

  1. Thanks so much for covering this topic and suggesting the book, I will definitely read it. My husband and I were discussing this very topic this morning. My mom always answered my questions honestly yet age appropriately, and I do the same with my kids.

  2. Absolutely true story: My mother-in-law did not speak to me for 6 months after hearing my son, who was probably 3.5 or 4 at the time, say the word, “penis”. (“Oh, no, Mommy, that dog has a penis so it has to be a boy.”) She COULD NOT believe that I actually “taught him *that* word”.

    I am soooo with you on this one.

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