I was a weird kid. Not like, put spaghetti on my head during dinner just to get a laugh weird; more like asking my mom random questions that she didn’t see coming weird. Take for example, the time I asked her what semen was.
My poor parents. Cornered by a child who wouldn’t stop asking questions. I asked my mom questions about pubic hair. I asked her what she meant when she told me my brother and I weren’t “planned”. I asked my dad why it hurts guys so much when they get hit “down there”, and the list goes on.
At a young age, I noticed that their adult brains would go into overdrive when these questions would fly out of my mouth. There were even points where I would ask a question and they looked like they had seen a ghost… But that never stopped them from answering my questions.
Now, I’m 27 and I’m reflecting on what should have been very awkward conversations with my parents. I’m reflecting on the fact that I remember the answers to those questions more than the discomfort any of us may have felt in the moment. I realize now that they did see it coming, and while they may not have always felt prepared with the “right” answers, they knew the fact that I was coming to them with these questions meant I felt safe enough to ask, and how they responded would be the determining factor of whether I would keep seeking them out for answers.
A great example is the semen story: When I was in gym class in 6th grade, our gym teacher’s names were hung on the wall with individual letters spelling out each name. One class clown rearranged our teacher’s name to make it spell “semen”. All the boys were laughing and giggling… I didn’t get it. So, I went home, and I asked my mom, “what does semen mean?” She paused for a moment, and like the smart woman she is, she asked a clarifying question before she answered: “Do you mean a seaman on a boat?”
“I don’t think so…” I responded. I told her about the scenario in gym class and then she explained to me that semen is a fluid that contains sperm, and this is what travels to the egg to create a pregnancy.
My response after her explanation was super simple – “Oh,” I said, “ok.” – and I went about my day.
She didn’t push the conversation further, in fact, my parents always let me take the lead on when these conversations would end, which is why I always felt safe asking questions.
I think sometimes adults overthink these things, or we feel like we have to explain the whole story from beginning to end in one sitting, when in reality, your 6th grader might just want to understand what was so funny in gym class.
When young people come to you looking for answers, here are 5 tips for remaining sensible when your child presents you with questions about sex from Deborah Roffman, a human sexuality educator, consultant, and author who was named one of Time Magazine’s “Top Sixteen Parenting Experts for the 21st Century”.
- Affirmation – Children and adolescents need adults to recognize and validate them and their particular stage of growth and development.
- Information Giving – Children and adolescents need factual knowledge and concepts provided in an ongoing, age-appropriate way.
- Values Clarification – Children and adolescents need adults to clearly articulate their parental values and to clarify and interpret values and values systems in the surrounding culture.
- Limit Setting – Children and adolescents need adults to create a healthy and safe environment by stating and reinforcing age-appropriate rules and limits.
- Anticipatory Guidance – Children and adolescents need adults to help them learn how to avoid or handle potentially harmful situations, and to prepare them for times when they will need to rely on themselves to make responsible and healthy choices.
For more resources and tips on how to have conversations with your young people about sex, visit our parent resources page: https://candorhealthed.org/parent-information/family-resources/resources-sex-education/
The Five Core Needs of Children and Adolescence: Excerpted from: Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex by Debbie Roffman. https://sexandsensibility.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/FiveCoreNeeds.pdf
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Pair this post with the following:
Teaching Sex Education to Young People With Disabilities by Candor Health Education