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Barbara F. Meltz writes the Globe's Child Caring column. She is author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Understanding How Your Children See the World," and a frequent speaker to parent groups. Join her chat on the first and third Monday of the month at noon.
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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sex, pure and simple


In my on-line Chat on Monday, someone posted this question:

"I used to live in Cambridge, but have moved far away to a very conservative rural area. My question is about sex education as regards my six-year-old son, who I anticipate might start asking questions soon. I want to give him the facts, but don't want to cause problems for other parents or for my son if he is being told more than other children he knows. Any advice?"

Let's face it, we can live anywhere to have this question. I offered what I think is a helpful answer -- it's below -- but I wish I had thought to mention a new book, "What's Love Got to do with IT, Talking with your Kids about Sex," by John Chirban who happens to be from, uh, Cambridge...

I especially like the point Chirban makes in his preface: it's not as if kids today aren't exposed to issues of sex and sexuality at very early ages. Think Viagra commercials, or Jessica Simpson's "Deliciously Kissable Body Frosting." "Would you rather they learn about sex from you or from television shows such as Grey's Anatomy or Desperate Housewives?" he writes. "Not to mention the Internet where who knows what sexual behaviors are just a click away."

So here's the deal: if we aren't available to our children early on as sources and resources -- as someone who is not too embarassed or tongue-tied to talk about sex AND as someone who can do it accurately and in an age appropriate way -- our kids are gonna get inaccurate information from their peers and inappropriate messages from the media.

By the way, even if you aren't going to buy this book, it's worth thumbing through it at a book store and to read a section in the back titled, "Slang expressions for sex." I guarantee these are accurate representations of language kids use and I further guarantee you will be surprised at some of them.

Meanwhile, here's the answer I gave in the chat:

It's not as if the kids are going to compare notes, although by thhis age, you can bet that questions and statements about sexuality are part of their conversations. So yes, by all means, it's time. The best approach is to let your chid know that you are someone he can talk to about this. You might ask him, for instance, "Have you ever wondered where babies come from?" See what he says. You'll probably be surprised. Whatever he says, from Yeah, the stork brings them, to, they grow in mommy's tummies, it's always best to start with his working knowledge, and to go from there. The main point of an early conversation is to simply let him know that this is something he can talk to you about; that you will give him accurate information (always use correct anatomical names, vagina, penis); and that if he has questions, he can ask them. Keep it simple. The best way to not give more information than he needs is to keep asking him questions, "What do you know about where babies come from?"

You know how the joke goes, right, of the 5-year-old who wanted to know where he came from, and the parent went into a complicated, somewhat misguided explanation, and then the kid said, "No, mom, I want to know where I came from. Philadelphia or Boston?"

Posted by Barbara Meltz at 04:47 PM
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