The first time I spoke to my son about sex, I was nervous.
Rather than wait for the conversation to occur naturally, I had decided it was time to sit him down and talk him through a few of the basics. Even though I had a pretty clear idea of what message I wanted to send and what image I wanted to portray (confident, comfortable, knowledgeable, relaxed), I still hesitated when it came time to form the words penis, vagina, uterus, and ovaries. There were a few ums and ers and a number of awkward pauses on my part.
Fortunately, he will never remember this initial conversation. He was 12 weeks old at the time.
I want my son to be able to talk to me, and others, about sex when he is a teenager. I want him to feel free to ask questions of me and his father (and, when the time comes, his partners). I want him to be an expert on birth control options. I want him to understand the importance of communication between partners and what constitutes consent. I am aiming for a sex-positive household.
In order for my son to reach that level of comfort discussing sex with me, I first have to be comfortable discussing it with him. So, I decided to practice.
The day of our first “chat,” I had a gynecological appointment to have my IUD inserted. I spoke to my son about what the doctor would be doing. I explained to him that while I loved being a parent, I did not want more children.
This led to my explaining why we spay and neuter our pets as well as the importance of regular checkups. The whole conversation lasted maybe 10 minutes, and then we went back to talking about shapes, colors, and why he refused to sleep more than a few hours at a time.
Let me be clear: I am not looking to discuss my personal sexual history with my son or allow him to comprehend Sex and the City before kindergarten. I also want to be careful not to overwhelm him with information. My goal is to give him clear, concise, age-appropriate knowledge.
Since the initial introduction of this topic, we have had more such conversations. Most occur during our drives to and from daycare. As he is not yet two years old, I am sure the majority of the time he is more concerned with the cars around him than about what Mom is saying to him.
Despite my effort to be relaxed and open, I find myself getting emotional. We drive by a Planned Parenthood every day on the way to/from daycare, and the other day, I used it as an opportunity to tell him what services they offer and how important it is for women to get Pap Smears and breast exams.
How lucky, I thought, that my son and his partners will have access to trustworthy, affordable healthcare. I began to tear up while sitting at a stop light.
I have also realized that even though I feel comfortable talking to adults, both men and women, about sex, talking to my child is completely different. I found myself pausing a lot and repeating myself, a far cry from how I had sounded rehearsing “the talk” in my head.
I am sure part of this discomfort stems from the awkwardness of having a one-sided conversation about any topic. At 19 months old, my kid does not exactly hold up his end of the conversation.
But also, as in many parenting choices, the stakes seem much higher. When I speak to an adult, I know that I am neither their sole nor most trusted source of sexual health information, but for my son, his father and I probably will be that for quite some time. The pressure is greater, and I cannot imagine how much greater it will be when he is actually retaining the information, much less acting on it.
There are also plenty of conversations that I have not quite figured out how I will navigate. For example, why do we not say penis and vagina at the dinner table? Why can we not share all our newfound information with our friends at school? Even though most adults he meets will have had some type of sexual relations, why is sex not something we discuss as easily as the weather?
The truth is, I do not fully understand the answers to these questions. I am imagining my explanation will center on the difference between what constitutes public and private conversation.
As he starts comprehending more of what I am saying, I will disperse the information in more digestible chunks. I do not want him to be afraid of asking a simple question lest Mom go on a tangent about sexual health/feminism/consent.
I can imagine him at 12 years old, rolling his eyes and telling his father, “I just asked Mom what a diaphragm was, and I got a lecture on the history of birth control since the Middle Ages!”
So for now, every couple of weeks or months, I talk to him about a sexual health-related news story and make sure to practice my tone and attitude. I use anatomical names for body parts and practice giving simple, accurate explanations. I figure, worst case scenario, I am giving him a larger vocabulary by introducing new and interesting words.
And best case scenario, I am turning into the confident, relaxed, knowledgeable mother I want to be.