CAUTION: Extremely candid post coming up. :)
Ok, this title is a bit misleading because I actually have not had “the talk” with my kids (4 year old twin boys) yet.
BUT, sex-education for the sake of sexual knowledge and safety is a topic that I am very passionate about and, in light of the recent tragedy at Penn State, a very applicable topic for all parents of young children.
Though my boys have never uttered those heart-stopping words “Where-do-babies-come-from?” (Which I am deviously looking forward to answering with “When a mommy and daddy love each other very much…”), my husband and I do talk about body parts with blush-inducing bluntness at our house.
In fact, we even use the words “penis” and “vagina.”
(My anatomically correct words end there because we also say “balls” and “boobs.” Somehow, saying “testicles” and “breasts” seems like a mouthful).
Before I had kids, I was very adamant about using the correct words for genitalia, not that I am against substitutions like “pee-pee,” “peanut,” or even “dinker” (as one friend told me they called “boy parts” in their family). Pet-names are fine in my book as long as kids know the real names too and, more importantly, that those parts are PRIVATE.
While in the bathtub or getting dressed, kids are often mesmerized by their own bodies and parents usually eagerly point out the names of their child’s ears, nose, belly button, legs and toes. But we often shy away, or even shame away from the proper names of our children’s private parts.
Why is this? Partly, I think, because in our adult minds, genitals = sex, and in our culture (maybe particularly in a Conservative Christian culture?) sex = bad, or at least, “bad” until marriage so, therefore, don’t talk about sex, and don’t talk about your…that thing!
Perhaps this is an extreme example and definitely not the case in all families, Christian or not. However, rather than be embarrassed when talking about genitals, what if parents celebrated every part of their child’s healthy body, while at the same time teaching them the precious need for privacy and protection?
Of course, talking about genitals openly and frequently opens the doors for acute parental embarrassment.
For example, my boys will be chattering about their day at the dinner table and then, out of the blue, one will pipe up: “I have a penis! Those are my private parts!”’
—to which my husband and I heartily agree and then apologize to any dinner guest at our table for our son’s extreme candor.
While those dinner time outbursts may make me or my guests blush, I am secretly proud that my boys know that they “have a penis” yet more importantly, that they are “private parts.”
This means that those bathtime conversations have sunk in, conversations that start a little something like this:
Son: Mommy, what’s that?
Me: That is your penis. And your balls (really, I should just say “testicles” but we all have our hang-ups, right?)
Son: Oh! It is very cool.
Me: Yes, they are. Those are your private parts.
Son: Pwivate Pwats?
Me: Yes, “private” means that we don’t show them to anyone or let anyone touch them, unless it is a doctor and mommy or daddy is with you. If anyone does touch you and you feel uncomfortable, you need to tell mommy and daddy right away. You can talk to us about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, ok?
I’ve had this conversation with my boys many times, sometimes simply talking about their wonderful bodies and sometimes emphasizing the “no-touching” part. My hope is that these brief conversations we’ve had between the ages of 2-4 will build a safeguard around them against sexual predators, as well as open up those would-be awkward conversation lines dealing with sexual topics.
But the “no-touching” mantra has also helped when my twins think it is funny to grab at each other in the bathtub. (AHH! PWIVATE PARTS! NO TOUCH!)
I’ve also used the “private parts/no touching” when it comes to teaching them about the female body. I want to help my boys develop a respect for a woman’s body—and that begins with me.
Mostly our conversations go like this:
Scene: Mommy is using the bathroom. Unfortunately, 4 year olds do not have a sense of privacy so they are also in the bathroom.
Son: Mommy, you going potty?
Son: Mommy, where’s your penis?
Me: Mommy doesn’t have a penis. Mommy has a vagina.
Me: Mommy doesn’t have a penis. Mommy has a vagina.
Son: A ‘gina???
Me: Yes, those are Mommy’s private parts.
Son: Oh. Ok. (pause) So you don’t have a penis?
Actually, we have conversations about boobs much more frequently and this is where I stress that boobs are also private parts and should be respected as such (hopefully I will hammer this lesson home before they get their first girlfriend!)
Micah is very fond of feminine curves and will often compliment me on my “ very nice private parts.” (Freud anyone?) However awkward a compliment like this is from my son, I am glad that we have talked about breasts as private parts because while I do want to celebrate my boys' admiration of feminine beauty, more importantly I want them to respect women and their bodies by teaching them which parts need respect and privacy.
In the days after the tragedy at Penn State, TV commentators have been quick to remind viewers of the staggering statistics that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be molested (or perhaps worse) before they reach adulthood. These numbers terrify me as a parent as I want my boys to grow up whole and healthy, with a wonderful appreciation for their bodies and sex as it was meant to be.
I know we’ll have the real “Talk” in the future but for now, I’m going to keep talking about “penises” and “private parts” and hope and pray that these brief bath-time conversations will help my sons to form a layer of sexual protection around their bodies and hearts.
What about you? How do you protect your child against sexual danger or sexual temptation? How do we move past our personal embarrassment and shame to tackle this issue? Please share your thoughts so that we, as parents, can help prevent sexual abuse in our own communities!