One night at dinner, my husband asked our then 6-year-old son what he wanted to do for work when he grew up. He replied, "I don't want to work, I just want to be a dad." My husband and I exchanged smiles. Then, without missing a beat, our son continued. "But I'm not sure I want to do that either, because then you have to pee in your wife."
His comment came so unexpectedly that I nearly choked on my mashed potatoes. On the spot, I vowed to step up my efforts to provide sexual information for my son -- without waiting for the questions to be asked. I explained that while daddies sometimes do put a fluid in mommies' bodies in the space between their legs, it is not pee. It is a very special fluid called semen that sometimes can cause the mommy to grow a baby inside of her. He said, "OK, Mom."
Even parents who are rarely at a loss for words stumble when it's time to talk with their kids about sex. Some children you can turn loose with a book (see sidebar) and then field their inevitable questions. Others will be more hesitant.
Here's an important tip: Never avoid a "teachable moment." Dive in and offer accurate information whenever your child sashays anywhere near the topic of sex. Don't wait for the point-blank question to be asked.
Keep your answer confined to what is asked. For example, "Mom, how does the baby get out of your body?" Your answer: "Through a special opening between my legs. That's why it's there." If your child did not ask at that moment how a baby got in there in the first place, don't start there. Just answer the question asked.
Parents often ask, "How old should a child be before we start talking about sex?" My answer always is: "Younger than you think." Here's why. If you talk about sexual matters from the beginning of a child's use of language, there never needs to be the big "birds and bees talk." It's just a series of small conversations spread out over many years. You, as the parent, become the obvious go-to person whenever there's a question.
If you become an "askable" parent, you will have offered your child an incredibly valuable gift.
A good sex education book can help you cover all the topics -- and it offers a place to point your child when you run out of words or feel your cheeks reddening. I recommend these first two for kids and the last one for parents:
It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health, by Robie Harris.
It's So Amazing: A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robie Harris.
Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex, by Deborah Roffman.