Every kid learns about the birds and the bees sooner or later. The question is, when do they learn, and how much do you tell them?
Until recently, I’d not gone into graphic details on the subject with my nine-year-old daughter. I told her moms and dads made babies through a special kind of hugging and kissing, and that answer was sufficiently informative to quell her curiosity for a few years.
But recently, it was no longer enough.
“I kiss my brother and sister,” she said matter-of-factly. “But I’m not making any babies. So how does it happen?”
I took a deep breath. The time had come for an honest conversation about sex, but I wasn’t quite sure how much information I should share. Then I thought about the ugly words I’d heard to describe sex on the school playground when I was a kid, and realized I’d rather she knew the truth from her mom than try to figure it out from four-letter words.
“Well, it’s not just kissing, though that’s a part of it,” I started tentatively. “And the hugging – well, the mom and dad usually aren’t wearing any clothes.” She stared at me, shocked. Why on earth would you want to hug naked, I could hear her wondering. The penis-meets-vagina explanation followed briefly, but thankfully, I had the “planting the seed” story as backup. “The dad plants a special seed inside the mom, and sometimes, a baby starts to form and the mom gets pregnant,” I added. Her eyes were wide and I could tell I had her full attention. But we’d only just started.
The conversation brought me back to my own shock when the penny dropped and I finally understood where babies came from. At the time, like most kids, I thought nothing could be more disgusting than the act of sex. I liked the idea of romance and marriage, though, so I figured when I grew up, I’d take the marriage part of the equation but insist on separate beds, to ensure that tongue kissing and naked hugging never became part of my reality. It made perfect sense, at the time.
“Can I do this when I have a boyfriend?” she asked.
“You could, but it probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” I answered. “You might accidentally make a baby before you actually want one, and your boyfriend probably wouldn’t want one, either.”
We’d moved quickly on to premarital sex, and though boyfriends are a very distant reality from my daughter’s life, I knew I had to make a strong point here. After all, I’d floundered in this area and made decisions I regret to this day.
In my mind, I flashed back to my early 20s and many of the sexual encounters I kinda wish I’d never had. A wise friend once told me those encounters had helped bring me to the safe, happy place I’d reached today. “They were stepping-stones on your journey, and had they not gone the way they did, you might not be where you are right now.” She meant my love life, the husband I adore and the wonderfully safe, comfortable marriage we had created as a nest for our family. Her words were solace, but I still wish I could erase many of those early romantic encounters, ill-founded fumblings that feel like a blemish best forgotten.
I don’t want my daughter to have those regrets. So I figure, the road best taken is to caution against premarital sex entirely. Perhaps it’s grossly unrealistic. Maybe it will create a fissure in our relationship, and she will feel as incapable of talking about her romantic encounters as I did with my own mother.
I hope not.
Because it’s her safety I worry about, and when it comes to sex, there’s just so much at stake for a young woman.
I can push my concerns to the side for now and enjoy watching her being nine. For the most part, that means stretching her lithe body at gymnastics, spending summers swimming like a dolphin at the local pool and finding comfort from her teddy bears and special blanket at night.
With any luck, our next birds-and-bees conversation is a long way off.