Friday, July 18, 2008

Bees and Birds

“Douche bag!” My tween son hurls at his brother in the car on the way to a picnic.

“What was that?” I counter.

“Douche bag.” He returns sheepishly.

“Do you know what a douche bag is?”

“No, not really.” Will replies.

“Well let me tell you.”

And so continues our snippets of car talk. One would think that talking about sex and sexual matters would come easily for a pediatrician. Conversations about sexual matters and children are a daily occurrence in my practice. Yet a different element exists when I am trying to convey information about sex to my own children.

Trends in our family would suggest that there are some universal truths about sex education. The first is that the topics my children seen to have the most questions about aren’t covered widely in any book I know about. We’ve covered the basics – mostly in the car – about where babies come from and the real words for male and female anatomy. Sometimes it is all I can do to stay on the road. Then there are these other topics like defining a douche bag or masturbation. One time after an Oprah episode my eldest wanted to know what a pedophile was. Okay, where do I begin?

The second universal truth is that I am my sons’ go to girl for information. I am the token female in our family and it is my job to educate them about the female gender. Yeah, right. My job has globalized into ISM specialist or Information about Sexual Matters specialist. As I strive to keep these lines of communication open and honest, I am having epiphanies of understanding for all the parents who struggle with these topics. At one point I had aspirations of writing a coaching guide for mothers of boys to tackle some of these topics. I bought as many books about puberty and boys as I could find on If I educated myself, I might be able to educate others, right? As the project sits stagnant on my bookshelf, the books have provided practical punctuation for Will’s sexual education and fodder for more conversations to come.

Lastly the universe has decided that we will have these conversations whenever and wherever. Car, movie theater, restaurants. No place is excluded. As a new parent, I assumed that “the talk” would take place in the privacy of our home. When my boys ask questions, they seem out of context because 90% take place out of our house. The silver lining to this truth is that the conversations are usually short – literally snippets – and ongoing. This is a key concept I try to share with families in my practice. The talk really should be an ongoing thread woven into daily life. Break off small pieces to feed your kids on a regular basis. It is less overwhelming that way.

“Sorry about the language, Mom.” Will say at the end of the picnic.

“I’m just try to teach you before someone else does.”

“I know.”

“I don’t want you to be embarrassed by a teacher or someone else’s parent. You need to know the real meaning of the words you use.”

“Thanks, Mom.” Will kisses my cheek. Mission accomplished (for today).


  1. The best conversations about the most touchy topics always seem to happen in the car while the parent is driving. I read an article about that once...I think the author said that the lack of eye contact makes the child more confident about bringing up tough topics. Also, the isolation of the car is an intimate, private setting.

    Great post!

  2. I have used correct terminology with my 3 year old daughter since she was tiny when bathing her or changing her for example.

    This doesn't come easy to me, coming from a family where we don't talk about things like that. My mom's "talk" about periods with me consisted of, "Some day something's going to happen to you and when it does come and see me." Wow thanks for that mom!!!

    I wrote her a book that started at conception and finished at the end of her first year, containing a large section on the labor and delivery. Reading this together always brings up questions.

    Sometimes she asks me if we can talk about privates...usually when i'm putting her to bed, or bathing her or she's on the toilet. The last one was, "Mommy, what's this hole for? Not the one where the poo comes out of, or the pee... the OTHER one."

    I'm always honest with her and hope that laying the groundwork now, when she's 3 will make the more intense conversations later easier to swallow, for both of us.


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