This story contains another transcript of a conversation I had with my son. He was about three years old at the time. It is a “Birds-and-the-Bees” story, of sorts. Before this conversation, I had already had to explain to him what menstruation and tampons and GladRags were, so he had some background. I don’t know how my mom avoided my observance of any direct evidence of menstruation, but she is a whole lot more modest than I am. As a result of my lack of modesty, my son has seen plenty of evidence and requested plenty of explanation of the body’s more fundamental functions.
It was Valentine’s Day and we were repairing the inner workings of our toilet tank. He was poking around in the bathroom cabinet and found the condoms and said, “Mom, what are these for?”…
Me: To protect your penis from getting germs on it.
He: When would I need to do that? Oh, what about when I’m shooting paintballs?
Me: Well, parts of our bodies have more germs than others: our mouths, butts, penises, vaginas.
He: Wait, my penis came from your vagina and that’s how you made me?
*** He was already trying to make some connections. I clarified in vague terms: sperm from boy plus egg from girl makes a baby***
Me: When you put your penis anywhere in someone else’s body, you don’t want to get their germs, so you wear one.
He: But how do you make the baby?
Me: When you are all grown up and you and a girl decide that you want a baby and you know that she doesn’t have any bad germs in her body, then you don’t use a condom.
He: But how does the baby get from my penis into the vagina?
Me: Your penis has the sperm, the sperm goes into her vagina and if it finds her egg, then a baby starts growing in her body. Then when it gets big enough, she gives birth and the baby comes out.
He: Can I put on the condom?
****So he puts it on.***
He: Whoa, this thing is huge!
Me: When your penis is big enough for a condom, then you might be old enough to have babies.
He: Who do I have babies with?
Me: It takes a boy and a girl to make a baby, so when you are all grown up, you might find a girl who wants to have a baby and you might want one too. Then you make sure she doesn’t have any bad germs in her body and work out whether or not you have enough money to have a baby, and then you can try to make a baby without a condom.
Then we finished fixing the toilet. The whole conversation happened so fast that I was a little nervous that I had just given him some questionable information. Usually when things happen fast, I just look to my gut to tell me if everything went alright. I noticed a sense of relief. So, I assumed that things were ok. The more I thought about what I had told him, the more it made sense to have the “birds + bees” talk centered around the concept of protection. People only ever talked to me about the concept of: “Don’t get pregnant.” I didn’t even know how to get pregnant or that it was so dangerous of an activity. I couldn’t tell you when I was ovulating or what that even meant. I entered the category of ’sexually active teen’, as clueless and too old to want to ask my parents.
Yet, most people I know get ‘the talk’ from their parents when they are already old enough to feel awkward about it. My son doesn’t feel awkward at all when I talk about any bodily function. He is still receptive to the information I give him. I feel like when you reach the awkward stage, it is too late. Children or teenagers in the awkward stage cannot receive this kind of sensitive information from their parents. At that point, the information from their peers is all they have to rely upon. However, now that you can search for things on the internet, I’d bet that more young and awkward people are empowering themselves with knowledge through that venue. This is something I’d like to promote, as I see only a net benefit in educating people about their bodies.
However great the information on the internet may be, I am exceedingly happy that the first sex conversation my son ever had with anyone was with me. It was a conversation that he initiated and was relevant to him. It was a conversation about the reality that you need to protect yourself when you have sex with someone. On the blank slate of my son’s mind, I wrote the first sentence:
“When you put your penis into someone else’s body, put a condom on it.”
From our conversation, he might not have understood how to make a baby or the logistics of sex, but he could certainly understand that one very simple concept. And I know that this talk made an impression, because about a year and a half later, we were walking along a city street and there was this condom on the sidewalk that was less than new and highly questionable. He walked around it and my mom reflex barked out, “don’t touch that!” He said, “mom, I think that is a kind of a penis thing.” He recognized that it was a condom and remembered that it went on a penis. He indicated that he wasn’t going to touch it, but was only looking as we walked by. We talked again about the fact that our penises and vaginas have bacteria, and as a result, a condom on the ground is definitely something we would never touch.
I was relieved that he already knew what condoms were and why they are used. I was glad that we got to talk about the subject again after I’d had time to think about it. It’s true that I might have given him more information than he could really process at three years old and I left out a lot of details, but at least I know that we are building upon one fundamentally important concept. By breaching the subject of sex at such an early age, I still have time to inform him of all types of things. We can discuss things gradually, appropriately, and as they come up in situations that are not artificially constructed. By the time he is old enough to feel awkward talking to me about our bodies or he is old enough to ride the bus to school (where we all learned loads of misinformation), we will have seen plenty more discarded condoms and had many more of these conversations.