When I was growing up, my parents didn’t talk to me about sex. My sex education came from my friends – often in crass, incorrect, and sometimes degrading terms. One such term? Running the bases.
Most people are familiar with the sex analogy of baseball “bases.” If I recall the language of my youth, first base was kissing, second base was touching, and eventually hitting a home run was sex. (To be honest, though, I don’t know if I knew what the sex bases were back when I was talking about them.)
But the sex analogy of the baseball bases was fundamentally flawed: women are not trophies; women’s bodies are not a field of play for men to conquer.
It’s easier now for parents to talk about sex with their kids. With the advent of the internet, there are websites, like Amaze.org, that provide resources and guidance for parents who are having “The Talk.”
And just for fun, I’m giving you my own helpful primer on talking to your kids about sex. And because I like sports analogies (and my son and daughter, who are sports enthusiasts, also like them), I’m taking the sex baseball analogy and I’m repurposing it – updating it for the 21st century, if you will.
Have you heard about the bases of talking about sex? No? That’s because I made them up. I need a better title though. How about, “Talking About the Sex Diamond?” or “Running the Bases: Talking to your kids about sex?” Okay, let’s go with the last one.
Running the Bases: Talking to kids about sex
Also known as, “a single.” Now theoretically, a single would be a conversation about masturbation, but it doesn’t fit in with what I want to discuss here. Because first base is… well, first. This is when the conversation about sex is introduced. Talking about sex with our kids early on was easy for my wife and me, because we have a lot of kids. When the kids asked how we happened upon a new baby, my wife and I told them about sex. We didn’t talk about the stork, because I don’t understand the stork. What a crazy idea. And how does the stork get the baby? Does someone have sex with a stork? Does a stork have a baby in an egg? I don’t get it. A bird brings a baby and drops it off on the door steps. That’s nuts if you tell your kids a stork brought a baby.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked with the stork. Back to first base.
If you talk about sex at an early age, it will not be as awkward or out of the blue later on in life. At this age, my kids understood that mommy has the egg and daddy has the seed. When the egg and the seed come together, a baby grows. We also explained that the baby comes out of the vagina, a woman’s private area. We talked about private areas and appropriate and inappropriate touches. In the early years, keep things simple, but accurate. The nitty and gritty of sex need not be covered in the early years.
(Ages 8 – 10)
By this time, kids grasp that bodies and sex organs are different and they are curious. They are receiving a lot of input from TV and other media. A more frank discussion of what goes where should happen. Also, love, respect, and consent between two sexual partners should be the focal point of the conversation – it shouldn’t just be a penis and vagina discussion. If you hold certain religious views with respect to sex, that should be part of the conversation as well, but it shouldn’t replace having a fact-based conversation with your kids.
So, in a nutshell, during the second base conversation, talk to kids about the functioning of sex. How it happens and that it is an act between two people who love each other.
Third base is the most complicated base. The kids are not mature enough to grasp the complexities of sexual relationships, but with puberty in progress or around the corner, it’s not the time to hold things back. Conversations focus on the sex act itself, but new conversations need to happen as well. Discuss the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty, including wet dreams; many kids are surprised by wet dreams or think they did something wrong when it happens. Talk openly about them. Talk about consent and respect. Talk about how to say “no.” Talk about the beauty and responsibility of sharing sex with someone. Talk to your kids about STDs and pregnancy and birth control.
(Age 13 and up)
You’re in the home stretch and need to get everything covered before the teen years are in full bloom. Here’s why everything should be covered by the age of 13; they will hear about it all at school, the playgrounds, practice, or TV. You want to be the first to discuss these things with them. You want them to see you as an authority on the issue and as a source of information. And, you need to have open lines of communication; if you want to continue to be an influence in their lives, they need to be able to talk with you about whatever sexual issues they are facing.
And what do I mean by everything? It’s the nitty gritty you may have avoided up to this point. Let’s break it down.
Sex: You’ve been talking about it for many years by now, so they already know what sex is, how babies are made, and the good and bad things that may come with sex. But have you told them sex is fun? That it is enjoyable? That it brings two people close together? The sex talk is a serious conversation, but sometimes we leave out the positive aspects of sex. And have you created a safe space for your kids to talk to you about sexual orientation?
Consensual sex: 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault on campus. I truly believe we can improve that statistic by talking more openly to boys about sex at an early age. If we (parents) can talk about consensual sex with teen boys in a heart to heart way, good things will happen. The same conversation needs to happen with girls; we need to emphasize the sanctity of their bodies and that they have the right to say no and be respected in that decision. And we need to talk to girls about what to do if someone violates that right.
Porn: Chances are your kids will be exposed to porn at some point during the teenage years. There is usually that one friend that introduces it to the group. It doesn’t matter how restrictive you are in your household; your child will likely see porn in their teenage years. Talk about it before it happens. If you are against porn for religious reason, share why. If you are against porn because of the portrayal of women, talk about that. If you are against porn because of sexual addiction, then share. Or, share all of them. If you are for porn because you see it as an alternative to sex or a compliment to sex, then talk about that.
Masturbation: Where do you want your kids to learn about masturbation? Because they will. Talking about masturbation with my kids was more uncomfortable than talking about sex, but I want my kids to know about it before their friends drop the knowledge on them. Usually the masturbation conversation goes hand in hand with the porn conversation.
Contraception: Now you might not want to discuss contraception because you believe (or hope!) your kid will not have sex. WRONG! Let’s break down why you’re wrong. First, other kids will know about contraception and will discuss it with them. Second, talking about contraception doesn’t mean that you are endorsing sexual activity at this age. Remember, you are giving your child a knowledge foundation for their entire lives – not just their teen years. Third, you might be wrong. Your kid might be sexually active or be influenced to become sexually active. Either way, at some point in his or her life your kid will have sex. They should know how to prevent STDs and pregnancy.
STDs: Along with contraception, STDs should be discussed specifically. You want what’s best for your kid, so don’t set them up for failure by not openly discussing STDs. STDs can be preventable and all kids should have information about how to avoid them. (And to my religious friends, just because you hope that your child waits until marriage and only ever has one sexual partner, you shouldn’t avoid the discussion. What happens if their spouse has had more than one sexual partner?)
We (parents) are our children’s first teachers. We shouldn’t avoid hard conversations just because they are hard. Be the one who teaches your kids about sex and let it begin at an early age. If you start early, it won’t be as weird later.
If you need help in discussing sex with your kids, go to amaze.org or watch their many youtube videos on explaining sex to kids. You can either have your child watch the videos or you can watch them and pretend to be an expert when explaining sex to your kids. Either way, good luck.
*Disclaimer: I have partnered with Amaze.org and have been compensated for this post.
What other dads are saying about talking to kids about sex.
It Can Be Amaze-ing by Joel Leoj
Having “The Talk” About Sex Education? Amaze Your Kids by Whit Honea
Shut Your Eyes, by Thom Hoffman
The Sex Talk: It Starts with Self-Knowledge, Trust, and Intimacy by Carter Gaddis