On The Traditional Sex Talk

On The Traditional Sex Talk

Matilda found out about sex from The Dave Chappelle Show. Which she had been watching with her older boy cousins one Saturday night when I came to collect her (we live two doors down from my sister’s house).

Matilda watches a lot of suspect television with her cousins but I don’t really care about this because:

a) I really don’t care
b) watching South Park with her older cousins isn’t about the prurience of South Park, most of which is beyond her, but about getting to hang with her older cousins who she adores

It might not have happened had Matilda moved her ass a little faster. I was standing there, my boots dripping snow on the rug and she was taking her sweet time getting her stuff on with her eyes still glued to the TV show, the last bit of which was something about a condom getting chucked in the trash, which made her cousins laugh. So, of course Till was like, “What’s a condom?”

So we went outside and I told her.

“It’s this thing men put on their wangs so when they have sex with women they don’t get the women pregnant.”

Yes, Reader – I said wangs. Or maybe dinks? Or dicks? I don’t know. This is standard in our house – I’m not big on medical terminology. I’m somewhat casual, if you haven’t noticed.

“Where do they put their wangs when they have sex?” she asked.

“In the woman’s girlina.”

Girlina = Matilda’s word since she was 3 for her own girl bits.


Reader, I was not alarmed or hesitant. Not because I’m just that progressive and amazing. Mostly because I was being honest like usual and the first thing that sprang to mind was the truth. Also, luckily, one of my friends had recently told me a tip: Just answer the question they are asking.

This is good advice, because then you won’t overwhelm them and give them more information than they need. I mean, kids don’t care about sperm and ovaries. That’s all some magical, invisible world inside their bodies – it’s about as real to them as String Theory is to me.

Of course, I was aware that there were multiple vectors in this situation into which I could insert a fuck-up (elegant metaphor, yeah?) but I didn’t let it stop me from opening up my big trap and spilling out the data, nonetheless.

“Does Dad wear one of those things?”

I thought about it. Occam’s razor is a good rule also when discussing sex with kids.

“Not anymore,” I said. Omitting the years of condom use and the mysterious workings of the IUD and why there would be no brothers and sisters for her. All my neuroses about reproduction.

But then she was done asking and we were home, taking off our coats and boots. Dee dee dee.

So that was the first time we talked about sex. There have been more talks since. Not really talks. Just Matilda asking questions and me answering them. I think having that big stagey, singular Sex Talk is unnatural and weird. Which makes the kid feels unnatural and weird.

I remember reading in a book while I was pregnant that our response to babies crying was panic, because we recall our own tears, our own panic in those situations, and so we assume that’s the case with the baby. But since babies can’t talk, this book suggested parents view crying as a form of communication, not panic.

Similarly, I think the Traditional Sex Talk persists because the topic yanks parents automatically back to their own first cruddy sexual fumblings, when they knew zero and the circumstances tended toward the dingy and poorly-lit. To compensate for this shame, parents strive to paint a really optimal, glorious position on sex, which causes them to say earnest things like, “Sex is a beautiful, special thing that you’ll do when you grow up and the time is right.”

All the while knowing damn well that’s not even the half of it. Because it’s a beautiful special thing when you’re not all grown, too. And because sex is also dirty and sleazy and wretched and painful and gory and awkward and funny and embarrassing and gut-wrenching and euphoric and profound and spiritual and emotional and delicious and weird and dull and ordinary and comfortable and a million other adjectives. Too many adjectives to account for and explain.

No matter how open and sex-positive we say we are, I think maybe we fall back on this sunny, content-free bullshit because of the residual shame over our own uninformed gropings. We want our children to fast-forward past that horror. Want to zip them past the backseats of parked cars or basements with parents upstairs or the woods behind the grocery store or the back of the bus on the way home from a field trip. Want to give them a heroic, dignified place in which to cop their first feel, instead of the sleazy, temporary interstices that teenaged life offers up. Want to spare them the indignity inherent in having no space, no privacy, no stylized setting in which to relax and figure this very complicated shit out.

But since we can’t follow them into this wilderness of sexual experimentation – and if we’ve got decent boundaries, we shouldn’t even want to – we freeze and tense. Give a big speech heavy with good intentions but low on graphics. A phony, sugar-coated, data-free statement that somehow manages to be true: “Sex is a very important thing…Sex is wonderful…Sex is something you do when you love someone…” 

Neither party wants to have the thoughts that invade at the moment of the Big Talk – the concept of the other being sexual in any context – and so the Big Phony Sex Talk glosses over both realities at once.

There has to be a third way, right?


  • Matthew MacNish on Jun 19, 2013 Reply

    These are the terms my kids used to use for bits:

    Asshole (also ass crack) = back butt (sometimes bottom).
    Vagina = front butt (bottom).
    Penis = circle butt (never bottom for some reason).

  • Carrie on Mar 11, 2012 Reply

    That's interesting; we've done the same thing by accident, too. I just use words I would normally use – not a big fan of euphemisms like 'make love' or 'cuddle' blergh – and so before Matilda knew what 'sex' was, she used the word herself, like if she saw Adrian and me kissing: "Gross, stop having sex!" Or if we saw it on TV, I'd say the people were

  • Tina Laurel Lee on Mar 10, 2012 Reply

    I really love this. Good job on that first talk, I think. I had a friend once who had the cumulative approach to the sex talk and he would use whatever opportunity he got to bring up the word sex. His idea was the less loaded the word was, the more likely his young daughter would bring questions to him later. I was always impressed with his forethought. Although I'm not sure how it worked out

  • Ela on Mar 10, 2012 Reply

    I never got 'the sex talk' from my parents and honestly didn't have a clue about any of it (didn't watch tv, no internet, my reading was either censored or I didn't get it), our Biology teacher at school was a monstrous prude and skipped over everything after homozygous and heterozygous…I remember when I was 14 and finally got my period, I was sitting there with the diagram

    • Carrie on Mar 11, 2012 Reply

      Ela, that tampon box diagram is so worthless! You were not alone!

  • Lab Rat on Mar 09, 2012 Reply

    Third paragraph from the end, I get that George Michael song stuck in my head… Sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it but everybody should…

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