“Girls have tiny, tiny, teeny-tiny penises.” –Saskia, four-and-a-half
She went on to say, “That’s what a vagina is, a teeny-tiny penis.” She has three big brothers and she’s comfortable to squat to pee behind a tree when nature calls, so you know, for a four-and-a-half year-old, I think we’re okay.
Given that I’ve raised a few preschoolers now here’s where I am when it comes to talking about sex. I start early. No, I don’t just bring up sex out of the blue. I do use the correct names for body parts and I don’t shy away from the more complicated words like uterus or ovary. I don’t quiz my small—or bigger—children about them, but I’m happy to answer any question. Discussions are welcome. I have books—for small kids and for teens—and rather than foist them upon the kids, I make sure they are easily accessible. Hint: you want to know about Robie Harris’ books. You also want to know about Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety. Our copy of the teenagers’ guide sits amongst the picture books at the moment (you do not have to do that; I’m not advocating specific placement). Okay, I did insist my kids (when they got old enough) read both Then Again Maybe I Won’t and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Here’s what I think: sexuality is an important part of our identities. Embracing our children—at all stages, including the ones when their sense of themselves as sexual beings emerges—is what we parents are supposed to do. I also believe that knowledge is power. And that openness means your child has the best chance to ask questions—and get that knowledge. I want my children to be powerful agents in their lives, including the sex lives. I want them to plan families rather than have life just happen because they didn’t know or were afraid to ask or afraid to assert their wishes.
Does this mean that my kids heard the full one-minute version of what a period is if they happened upon evidence of my periods? Yes, it does—and I guarantee you my speedy, detailed description complete with words like uterine lining went whoosh right over their cute little heads. It also means that as they got old enough to actually discuss reproductive biology, I was game. I’m glad that Planned Parenthood named this month one to talk to teens about sex.
The core message about this push is that teens say parents are influential in their decisions about whether—and when—to have sex and that teens whose parents encourage openness and will support them in their choices are much more likely to obtain and use birth control.
One piece of advice the Planned Parenthood folks offer that I have most certainly said verbatim over the years to friends who ask: It’s not “the talk” you’re trying to engineer. It’s many talks you must continue to have—over time, across developmental stages. It’s… talking.