Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Talk; or, A 9-yr Old Girl Giggles at Sex

During a conversation with my friend Sarah yesterday, we were talking about the difficulties we face in raising daughters in a culture that simultaneously sexualizes young girls, yet chastizes them for engaging in sexual behavior. One of the main threads of our discussion was The Talk: when to have it, what should be included, etc. Long story short, my friend suggested that my oldest daughter already knows what sex is. Well, there's only one way to find out right?

While casually watching some TV, I turned to Hannah and asked, point-blank, "Do you know what sex is?" I assured her she wouldn't be in any trouble for knowing (or not knowing) and that I just wanted her to be honest so we could have a talk about whether her knowledge was accurate. It turns out, she didn't know. At first, she said she thought it was when two people "kiss a lot." Then, after a few minutes, she said, "Well, now that I've thought about it....I kinda think it might be when two people take their clothes off and kiss a lot." Oh, if it were only that simple!! Just as I'd hoped, this inevitably led her to ask what sex is, only after asking that we come up with a "code word" for it because the word "sex" made her uncomfortable.

The code word? Ice cream. I talked to my daughter about how people have "ice cream." Whatever...it works for us.

My response was simple: Having "ice cream" is when a man puts his penis into a woman's vagina."

She was both entirely grossed out and amused! She giggled her head off while also giving me a look of disgust, seemingly wondering why anyone would even think to do such a thing. Surprisingly, she didn't have too many questions about the actual practice of sex, but rather her questions turned to issues of spreading diseases and condoms. This is likely due to her watching an episode of Private Practice last week, in which a teenage boy who is infected with HIV tells his doctor of his plans to have sex with his girlfriend. Hannah had some questions as she watched the show, and I answered them, but last night she was trying to connect the idea of spreading HIV with her new understanding of what sex is. Thus ensued many questions about condoms: who wears them, who doesn't wear them, why do people wear them.

I don't even know if I have a point to this post except to say that I'm surprised by her questions. My explanation of the practice of sex seemed like it went over in a way that was easy for her to understand, which is a good thing. She didn't want to hear all the particulars, and we didn't get into a discussion about oral sex, which I don't think she's ready for right now anyway. Frankly, I'm not yet ready for that one. But, I'm very glad to hear her asking questions about the consequences of sex, specifically pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I also think our somewhat odd discussion indicated the benefits that can come from impromptu Q&A sessions, rather than One Great Long Talk that includes diagrams and books and an official video. I want our conversations to be ongoing and questions to be asked anytime by anyone. I think that the kind of off-the-cuff chat Hannah and I had last night takes some of the pressure off of both parties (parent and child) and leaves the discussion open-ended and informal; it loses what I see as an unecessary element of mystery.

So, yeah. My 9-yr old daughter know what sex is, and I'm happy with that.


Sarah said...

Good for you. And great that she is comfortable enough to ask you questions.

AcadeMama said...

Sarah: By the way, I totally recognize the possibility that you could be right. That is, she knew what it meant and just snowed me on her played-down explanation.