A pregnant Jean West was caught off guard when her young son hit her with the big questions on the drive to daycare. Here, advice that can help you feel more prepared and less terrified to talk about sex.
By Jean West | Photo by Kylene White
It happened at the worst possible time: I was forced to have “The Talk” with my 5-year-old. While driving to daycare listening to the Talking Heads.
A day or so before, my 5-year-old noticed mommy was “fat.”
“Why is your tummy so big?”
“Well, there is a baby in there. Remember we told you we’re going to have a baby brother or sister? The baby’s in there.”
Silence. Good. Done with that, I thought.
Then, while in the car, cruising down Breckinridge, with Talking Heads’ Stay Up Late in the CD player:
“Mommy had…a little baby.. There he is…fast asleep….”
“Mommy,” said the 5-year-old. “How’d that baby get in there?”
“ ….Cute, cute,…little baby.. Why not…wake him up…?”
I let the song play while I got over my shock and pure fear.
“Well, (pause)…. Mom and Dad got together and planted a seed inside mommy. And that seed is growing into a baby.”
“Oh,” said the 5-year-old. “How’s that baby gonna get out?”
I had to laugh. Here I am, late for work, hitting every single light, caught in carpool hell, and my 5-year-old wants to talk about the birds and the bees.
“Well, God makes this door for mommies, and the babies come through just fine.”
And that was that. I believe that was the last time I had any conversation about sex with my boys until they were in college. And it was a missed opportunity.
Talking with pre-teens and teens about sex-related topics, including healthy relationships and the prevention of HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, may be one of a parent’s biggest nightmares, but research shows that it’s a positive parenting practice that sets children up to make better life choices.
In national surveys conducted by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teenagers say that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex — more than friends, siblings, or the media. Most teens also say they share their parents’ values about sex, and that making decisions about delaying sex would be easier if they could talk openly with their parents.
That is easier said than done. What may work is where I began: Have the talk in the car.
It’s a private space where your teen doesn’t have to look at you, but can hear what you have to say. Be aware that what you say, how you say it, how often you say it, and how much your teen feels understood, can have an impact on their sexual behavior.
The last one is the toughest: You have dreams and expectations for your children. They have their own. Whether it’s their gender identity or choice of romantic partner, it’s easy for them to mistake confusion on your part for disapproval and rejection.
Another opportunity to have conversations about sex is through text. Results from a recent study show that teens involved in a screening program using a hand-held device were 24% more likely to have a follow up medical visit with their doctor and six times more likely to get care for behavioral problems like substance use, depression or sexual activity. Teens say they feel more comfortable answering to a computer than their parents or doctors.
Sex isn’t an easy topic to discuss — even in the best environment. But, choose your moments, turn on the soundtrack of your choice if it helps, and go for it. It may not go perfectly, but the biggest mistake would be not talking about it at all.
Jean West, Emmy-award-winning journalist and former WHAS and WAVE anchor is president of The Rotary Club of Louisville. She and Michael Losavio, an attorney, raised three boys who are happily settled in New York, Florida, and Virginia.