Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while. It’s time for Coffee and Conversation.
When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..
How did you learn about sex? If you’re a parent, how did you approach it with your own children?
One day last summer, one of my kids asked a question about how condoms work. They were 9 and almost 12.
We’ve never had “the sex talk” with either of our children. We’ve always talked about sex in the same way we do other aspects of life, like eating, toilet learning, and safety in various situations. They’ve known the proper names for their sexual organs since they could understand language, and known “how babies are made” for almost that long. My copy of Conception, Pregnancy, and Childbirth lived on the same shelves with their own books, from the point where they were no longer likely to try to eat it or tear the pages.
When the “condom question” arose, they knew both how the mechanics of sex work, and that condoms are intended to prevent both pregnancy and disease.
When I was 13, my best friend slept over, and, during our late-night conversation, the topic of condoms, and whether our parents had any, arose.
I had very little idea what a condom was – I’d never seen one. I was all but clueless about sexuality – I had many questions, but my parents were not open about sexuality, and I didn’t dare ask them, for fear of the consequences. The double standard was a part of my life, and always had been. I was taught that “good girls” didn’t “do it” until they were married.”Protecting my virtue” was the objective, so that I would be the ultimate “good girl”, one day – a virginal bride “entitled” to wear white.
Seeing to it that I was prepared to conduct my sexual life safely and from a place of personal empowerment was not a part of the equation.
When my own children were curious about how condoms worked, decades later, my response was colored by the condom incident from my own childhood. Rather than ignore or set aside the question, we looked in the refrigerator, and found three zucchini. I brought out a package of condoms, and opened one so that they could see what it looked and smelled like, while it was still in the package.
I showed them how to apply the condom to the zucchini, and then they experimented with their own for about ten minutes. Here’s a brief list of what we talked about:
- The purpose of condoms in pregnancy and disease prevention, and other methods of birth control.
- The purpose of spermicides, quantity of sperm in an ejaculation, and the possibility of sperm in the pre-ejaculate, and how long sperm can live, and how only one sperm to fertilize an egg.
- How to use the reservoir, make certain the condom is applied and removed properly, and using a fresh condom each time.
- One of the condoms broke at the retention ring. We talked about what to do if a condom broke, and that they can fail, and that some substances or time can degrade them.
Once they were done exploring with the zucchini, they asked if they could use the rest of the condoms as water balloons (because they were 9 and 11!), and experimented with how much water they could get into them before they ruptured.
The experience was worth far more than the time spent in exploration, or the price of a few condoms and three zucchini. A question was asked, and, rather than brushing it aside, I answered in a way that they could understand. My daughter knows, now, what a condom looks and smells like; she’ll be harder to fool should any guy in her future attempt it. My son has some idea of how condoms work, so, when he is ready to be sexually active, he won’t need to feel clueless and fumbling on the condom front.
But it goes deeper than that.
My own mother overheard that condom late-night chat between my friend and I – and she responded by humiliating and punishing me in front of my friend. She told me that I should be ashamed of myself for even wondering about such a thing, and that I had a “dirty mind”.
After that, I knew I couldn’t come to her with questions about sexuality.
My children received a different message. They know that they can come to me with questions about sex, the same way they can come to me for help with spelling a tricky word, or ask me to take them somewhere they want to go. It goes far beyond sex- into trust, into all the different issues they’re going to face as they journey from their childhood into adulthood.
Sexual empowerment, being able to come to their parents and receive honest, open feedback, stretches beyond sex itself. It says that they can come to us, that we will give them information they need in order to make their own judgments, in many areas. It’s a matter of trust, between us.
And that is a healthy thing indeed.
This post, which was read and approved by both of my children, is my entry into the World Sexual Health Day 2014 Writing Contest. How about you? Have something to say about sexuality, or how to approach the topic with children? Condoms? Zucchini? Learn more about the contest here!
Make yourself comfortable, and I’ll provide the refreshments – zucchini bread, anyone? ;D