The birds and the bees, teaching kids about sex

My kids are still young, eight and six.

Today, we were driving by a wedding photographers and saw a bride. I asked my son, 6, if he knew who she was was. He said yes, and put his hands over his tummy in the universal sign of pregnancy. My daughter laughed at him, saying that she couldn’t be pregnant because they hadn’t had dinner yet.

Further inquiry yielded the sequence: a couple has a wedding reception (dinner) and then they have a baby. Somehow a few steps are missing, and we went through some of the misconceptions (ha) of how babies are made.

I grew up in a really screwed up family. Ultra-religious ,extremely conservative, and my mother would rather die then acknowledge that sex existed. At the same time, my father molested my sisters and my older brother molested me and our younger brother. After getting out of that fucked up family, a number of us went through some very slutty times.

All that as background, what is a healthy approach towards sexuality and talking to kids about it?

I’ve read some articles about how to be laid back, answering questions in an age-appropriate manner and such, but I would like to hear how people actually do it.

We’re all about answering questions as they arise. Tonight my three-year-old declared that if two women got married, they couldn’t get pregnant. I explained that one of her friends has two moms who are married, and when they wanted to get married, they went to a fertility clinic, where doctors helped one of them get pregnant; that’s how her friend came along.

My eight-year-old listening asked how the fertility clinic helped, so I explained about how they have sperm that you can more-or-less buy. She asked how they get the sperm in the woman, so I said I wasn’t entirely sure, but that they probably have a tool that’ll place it in the woman’s vagina. She said “eew,” and then we changed the subject.

Conversations like this are way more awkward for me than they are for the kids. I figure it’s best for them to know how bodies work, though, and not to treat it as mysterious and taboo.

Just take it in stages. Young children tend to be very satisfied with very simple answers. No need to get out the full color anatomy charts and go into long explanations with children the ages of yours.

When my boys were around 10 or so, and started asking specific questions about how the baby got in there, I would just say that the man and woman get very close together and their bodies fit together in such a way that they can make a baby. But this is only something you do with somebody you care about very much.

And then when they wanted to know how the baby comes out, I would just say that a woman’s body knows what to do at the right time, and there is a special place inside her that opens up to let the baby come out.

When they asked me, around 5-ish, “why is my weenie all sticking up in the morning?” I just told them it is because they have to pee. Then around 8, when that subject was brought up again, I said it is a function they will use when they are older. By the time “older” got there, they already knew and didn’t need me to tell them anymore, lol!

I didn’t start getting real specific until around age 12. But also, I have a lot of art books around the house everywhere all their lives, and they were used to seeing pictures of naked Greek statues and so on. I think because I was relaxed about that, and tried to convey that the human body is beautiful, they were relaxed about it. Show them good examples of what normal affection is, and they will be fine.

And this is just purely me, so don’t take this as necessarily any real advice, but since I had boys, I was always careful to keep myself pretty covered up. When my door is closed, you knock before entering. No coming in my room when I am dressing, no coming in the bathroom with me, and I always wore a robe over my nightgown, and no bathing together after the kid is about 18 months old. I just think that helps boys develop a healthier sexuality if they don’t see mom’s naughty bits after the age of which they can remember.

I grew up with a copy of Lennart Nilsson’s “A Child is Born” on my bookshelf, and it was always a favorite, first for the amazing pictures and later the text.

I’m also of the opinion that you answer what they ask, when they ask. I also don’t go out of my way to shield my kids from opportunities to ask. When I run First Aid at festivals, we often have literal bucketfuls of donated condoms left over. I bring those home and leave them out for people at parties to take as many as they want home. My daughter was playing with them (wrapped) by age 3, sorting them into stacks by color. I’m not sure exactly when she first asked what they were actually for, but the answer was, “when people have sex, they go over the penis so germs can’t get through them and make the other person sick.” (I don’t endorse condoms as contraception, because they have a high failure rate, but they’re the best we’ve got for disease prevention.)

Then I wait and see if the next question is, “What’s sex?” If it isn’t, then I’ve probably already given all the information the kid is ready for. If it is, I answer, “Sex is what some grown ups do together to feel good, and sometimes to make babies.” Then I wait to see what the next question is.

These are conversations with a preschool aged kid, though. I would expect an eight year old to have a pretty thorough idea of the nuts and bolts already in my house.

Although I will admit, my plan didn’t work as well with my son, because he just didn’t ask. I waited and waited and when he was around 5, he finally watched a nature show with mating sea turtles. He looked up at me and said, “Do you know what “mate” means?” And I got super excited, thinking we were finally going to have The Talk. Then he said, "It means “friend,” like, “G’day, MATE!” :smack:

I gave up and got him a book and left it lying around for him to find. When he got older, we had some talks about emotional and physical boundaries and the difficulties of relationships even without sex, and my recommendation that he have a few of those before he even try one with sex. So far, he’s made it to 24 without a pregnancy in his life, which is 7 years longer than I did, so I guess it all worked out.

Mine have made it to 21 and 22 with no babies hanging on their hips either, so I am happy about that as well. My 21 year-old and his girlfriend are both saying right now they never want kids, and I am encouraging that line of thinking until they are out of college.

If you have been relaxed about sexuality and given age-appropriate answers all along, by the time they get to be teenagers, you can actually have very open and detailed conversations with them. I was pretty honest with mine that I was harboring a secret hope that one of them would be gay. Seriously, I was! I would be such a good mother to a gay son…oh well, it wasn’t to be. So well, when it was really very apparent they were both straight as a ruler, I would still joke around with them, “Are you sure you’re not gay? Cuz it’s fine if you are…” And they would say, “So sorry to disappoint you Mother, but no, I’m not gay!!” And we would laugh about it. It was just my way of letting them know I am accepting of them and other people who are different than us, and they should follow my example.

But I would have been such a good mother to a gay son…

Yep. Mine’s at the “got a real career type job with a 401(k) and everything!” stage, and I’m juuuuuust starting to have the first glimmers of “Y’know, a grandchild wouldn’t be the worst thing ever…” thoughts. Which I keep strictly to myself. I refuse to be That Mother. But, y’know…if…

Me too! Also nope. (Partly because I’m seriously fond of many gay men as friends, and partly because by the time he was 16 or so I realized how helpless he - and I - would be if he got a girl pregnant.)

I do try to carefully say “people” instead of “men and women” when I talk about sex and “someday when you have a boyfriend or girlfriend,” instead of the heterosexual counterpart. Because I don’t want a simple generalization on my part to form an expectation on their part.

That’s a good point. We were much bigger church-goers when they were little, so I framed things in a heterosexual way with them early on. But then I went and got myself all enlightened and, no kidding, got thrown out of Bible Study for asking too may questions, so that was that and I never went back. Ok, hijack over…sorry!

I just had my first sorta-conversation about sex with my 8-year-old son. We’re learning about clones (he’s been curious since watching the Clone Wars), and part of my explanation included how “natural” reproduction works vs. cloning. We discussed how all females (including his sister and mother, not just birds) have eggs. I explained how a cell from the dad joins with the egg and it starts to grow and grow until it becomes a baby. I kept it simple, and was ready for any questions, but he didn’t have any. That night at dinner, I had him tell his mom what he learned, and he did it extremely well recounting the process.

I imagine he’ll ask how the dad’s cell gets into the mom’s egg eventually, but right now he’s satisfied with what I’ve told him.

Then on MLK Day, we learned a bit about civil rights, and how gay marriage was the latest big civil rights victory in our country. He and his sister had a lot more questions about “gay” than he did about the biology of sex. They actually don’t know any gay people very well (wife has some cousins we don’t see often, and we’ve got some friends but they live out of state), so the notion of being gay was very new to them. It felt good launching them into a life where they will view gay people just as normal as straight people. I didn’t have such an upbringing, and it took me well into my early 20s to realize being gay didn’t mean you were “off.”

Anyway, those are my two examples of very rudimentary birds-and-bees conversations with my own kids.

When I was a kid, back in the '50s, nobody talked about sex in front of kids. We had no idea how babies were born. Then, in 6th grade, the school brought in a special teacher to tell us all about it. She told us about the egg and sperm, and drew pictures on the blackboard. I was the kid who raised his hand and asked how the man’s sperm got into the woman. I don’t think I got an answer, just nervous glances between the two teachers.

So glad that things have changed. Kids need to learn about these things long before they themselves are able to reproduce.

When my mother was pregnant with my sistwerp my younger brother (about 7 at the time) asked how the baby got in there. Without blinking Ma says to him “Daddy loved mama real close”. This seemed to satisfy his curiosity.

Until about a year later when he saw a man and woman in the park hugging. He ran up to them and says to the woman “you better stop that or a baby will grow inside you!”

I remember my older son (4 at the time) asking his mother when she was pregnant with my younger son: “Is the food falling on top of baby’s head?” (She was eating at the time.)

She wound up drawing him a diagram of where the food went and where the baby was.

One of my favorites. I’d gone to buy something with my youngest brother, aged 5 IIRC. There was a family there: a very tall man, a woman who was barely taller than my brother and a baby in a stroller. Bro looked uuuuuuuuup at the man, looked dooooooooooown at the man, loked up at the woman, looked down at the woman, looked at the baby, didn’t say anything.

Once we left the store:

  • Nava?
  • Yes?
  • Are babies made lying down?
  • Yes. There are other ways but that’s the most usual.
  • Oh, OK. Phew!

My son knocked up his girlfriend when they were teenagers, so I guess I flunked the birds and bees thing.

Fortunately, my daughter is gay, and yeah, that’s awesome. :smiley:

I had the lovely books Where Did I Come From and What’s Happening to Me

When my kids were about six or seven, my mother brought them over. In time honored tradition, I left them where the kids could look at them and ask questions and read them.

When they were older, they went to the UU church for OWL (Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education). In middle school they use Its Perfectly Normal

Mine are seventeen and eighteen, and no sign of sexual activity. My daughter identifies as asexual. My son dated a girl briefly and discovered they were “too much work.”

My husband was that kid, but it was the sixties.

When I was in high school, I had a girlfriend who got her A in Health - and one day in lunch looked up at us and asked that question. The slot A tab B part hadn’t been addressed.

This does depend on the kid. My daughter will bring up anything with me or her father. And she’ll answer questions. Open and honest communication all the time.

My son is not the great communicator and anything to do with sex and his parents makes him squicky - even though we’ve been open all along, these discussions are far outside his comfort zone.

I just want to offer this TED talk by Julia Sweeney about having “the talk” which is both hilarious and covers some useful points as well.

My mom was a nurse. When I asked how it worked, she told me. I vaguely remember sort of not understanding that something could come out of a penis that wasn’t urine.

Another vote for the Unitarian Universalist Association/Universal Christian Church “Our Whole Lives(OWL)” sexuality curriculum/program. Our church does it in three stages, one in first grade, which just talks about the basics of where babies come from, the different kinds of families(blended, adoptive, step-, nuclear, etc.). You get the “It’s Perfectly Normal” book in 6th grade so you can have some info to help fend off what’s coming your way with puberty. Then in 8th grade you get the much more in depth treatment which really focuses on relationships and communication so you can decide if a relationship is healthy and strong enough to introduce a sexual element into. You get the nitty gritty about how and what, but you also get a “when” and tools to judge if a relationship is a good one and to understand the bombardment of sexual signals around us in society, from music to advertising, to peer pressure. All our kids have gone through it and have appreciated the open and comprehensive treatment of the subject the program gives.

Even though I’m an atheist, I make sure the kids get this opportunity. I believe it’s a great way to do what parents sometimes can’t, because we’re too close to them. And there’s no way in hell I was going to leave it to the schools.


Back in the 50’s, many more of us were growing up on farms with livestock. So by the time you went to first grade, you already knew the basic mechanics of intercourse, and that it was a necessary precursor to procreation. (Though probably not in those words.)

Sometimes the match to humans wasn’t quite accurate, though.

I’ve been reminded many times how as a young child I told a family gathering that I thought the baby sister my parents had brought home that past summer “wasn’t turning out very good, and next time they ought to try an outcross to a different bloodline”. And not understanding why the adult relatives found that so funny.

Finally getting back to this. We’re in Chinese New Year and a little busy.

Thanks for the responses.

My sister is gay, so they know that two people of the same gender can be in a relationship. That sort of blew their minds but it’s not any big deal.

I think that since we’re less uptight than my family was, and not nearly as screwed up, then it really isn’t a big deal. As others have said, we’ll just answer things as they come up.