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The Sex Talk

A friend just told me her pediatrician instructed her teenage boys to practice putting on (and taking off) condoms. I know this is a good idea, you don’t want to be fumbling when the moment is right, but my guttural reaction to it makes me realize what a prude I am. It literally hurt my heart to think of kids I’ve known forever practicing for sex, even if they are practicing for safe sex.

When I was growing up, the sex talk went like this, “Don’t Do It. Don’t Talk About It. Don’t Even Think About It.”

This is the exact opposite of what experts tell parents about handling this sensitive topic. Yet, I don’t remember ever struggling with misinformation, never felt repressed and have always had a healthy relationship with my body and sex. Somehow, even without the careful, thoughtful guidance of a parent, I figured everything out.

Experts will tell you to start speaking with your child as young as five. Five?! My boys just figured out their penises weren’t called tumbles last summer.

When I brought the boys home from the hospital, the girls and I were crowded around them in the bathtub, oohing and aahing about how cute they are. Serena took a hard look at their little packages and said, with a tone of mild disgust, “What are we going to call that?” She didn’t say, “What is that called?” At six years old, she likely already knew the anatomical name, but she assumed we ladies had the power to call it whatever we wanted. So, the girls named it “tumble” which I must say, was spot on. And, tumbles they had until the boys approached me a few months ago and shyly told me someone said a bad word. “Penis.” Oh crap, did I screw them up for life? I quickly explained about penis being an accurate word, not a bad one, and they went back outside to play. They seem no worse for wear.

When my oldest was about to go through the “health” talk in fifth grade, I was so worried for her — and me.

Was she too little? She seemed so young. I sat her down and asked her if she wanted me to explain things first. She didn’t. I told her she could ask me any questions. She said she was pretty sure she wouldn’t have any, and got out of the room as fast as she could. She did have questions, I answered them. By the time my third was in fifth grade, I forgot that sex was even a part of the curriculum and when I did remember, it was over and she seemed just fine and adequately knowledgable for a 10 year old. No questions.

Here’s the point. I don’t think there is one right way to make sure your kids are educated about sex, and ultimately sexuality is simply a part of being human. For me, 5 is too young. 16 is too old. Somewhere in between, depending on the child and the family, there is probably a just right age. Take your cues from your kids. Be straightforward. If you are uncomfortable, they will be too. Answer the questions they have, not the ones you think they should have. Remember you are not all powerful. It is very unlikely your approach can repress, change or propel their sexuality. The most important thing to convey is respect for themselves and others.

All that being said, I am NOT buying my boys practice condoms at any age.

About Dr. Karen Latimer

I’m a family physician now struggling to take care of a bunch of kids who keep calling me Mom. When I’m not wiping butts, refereeing sibling rivalry and chauffeuring over-scheduled little people, I write a family medical blog that gives you five thoughts on all sorts of different health topics.

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