I wasn’t planning on giving the sex talk today.
But then again, does anyone really put that on their calendar?
Tuesday, August28: Dentist appointment. Call water heater repairman. Tell 8 year-old, in moderate detail, about the physical, emotional, and spiritual workings of sexual intercourse.
I knew the time was coming, of course. Eight years old is about the age I was when I nearly caused my Dad to run our car off the road by asking my parents the meaning of a certain Very Bad Word. I’d heard it at school, where it was accompanied by rude hand gestures and uproarious laughter, laughter in which I joined, to cover up the fact that I didn’t get the joke. Mom and Dad didn’t laugh when I said it to them, but, after safely navigating the car back into its own lane, they did give me The Talk. I don’t remember much of anything after the first five minutes of The Talk; when my hazy mental picture swam suddenly into focus, I was so mortified that I immediately devoted my full attention to counting the cars flying by outside my window. My sex education, half begun, was completed over the years through a variety of books and a Girl Scout field trip to Fernbank Science Center.
There must be something about the car, though, because that’s where Katie asked me The Question. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. Don’t get me wrong—my daughter and I do have lots of great talks. Of course, 95% of our conversations inevitably come back around to Katie’s current fixation: video games. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about; sooner or later, it reminds Katie of something she did on Viva Piñata or Spyro the Dragon. Still, we’ve managed to touch on puberty, death, her Asperger’s Syndrome, cancer, divorce, and the proper way to install a new roll of toilet tissue. I guess sex was just the next thing on the list.
I believe it started with some curiosity about the feminine products Katie had seen under our bathroom sink. Soon we were talking about periods (a discussion I checked off my mental list with relief, knowing that Katie would at least be more prepared than Stephen King’s Carrie for that milestone.) I didn’t even break a sweat as I reeled off the information from my sixth grade health class: your body is practicing for when it has to nourish a baby, every girl experiences it, yadda, yadda, yadda. I noticed in the rearview mirror that she looked a little worried, so I asked her what was wrong.
“Well, when will I have a baby?” she asked.
“Later, honey. Much later, when you’re married,” I answered decisively, thinking that we’d probably covered enough sensitive material for the day. I guess I was wrong.
Enter Katie, the fact regurgitator. “But I heard on a TV commercial that Washington had eleven thousand teenage pregnancies last year. They aren’t married, so how does that happen?”
I was glad to have the road to attend to as I collected my thoughts.
“Well,” I explained slowly, “the way that people make a baby is called sex. Um, some people choose to have sex before they should, and sometimes they get pregnant. But don’t worry–you’re not going to just suddenly have a baby out of the blue, okay?”
I stopped there, mindful of some advice I’d heard once about answering your child’s sticky questions: give them the most straightforward and basic answer. If they want more detail, they will ask for it.
And ask she did.
“But what is sex? I mean, what do you do?”
There it was. The words were hanging in the air, daring me to be nonchalant as, finally, we got down to the nitty gritty. It was time for The Talk, and my mind was aflutter as I tried to think of all the important points I wanted to cover. There was nothing else for it. I dove in, headfirst.
The next few minutes are a blur in my memory. I certainly wasn’t eloquent. I know I stumbled over my words, lost my train of thought, and kept repeating myself. I’m not sure exactly what I ended up saying, but here (I think) are the salient points:
I told her that sex is a wonderful gift from God, that it is meant to be enjoyed by married people, and that it is the closest a man and a woman who love each other can be.
I explained exactly how Tab A goes into Slot B (except, being a grown-up, I actually used the words “penis” and “vagina”, trying hard to remain casual and unaffected, as if I were saying “paper clip” and “shrubbery.”)
I clarified the whole egg and sperm recipe, and who contributes what, and how, to make a baby. I even gave a rudimentary genetics lesson.
I mentioned that the reason some people find it hard to wait until marriage to have sex is that it feels totally great!
Finally, I wrapped it all up by asking Katie if she had any questions.
I hadn’t been watching her during my extensive presentation, but now, as I looked back, I could see her chewing something over in her mind. The silent seconds ticked by. After a moment, she confessed, “Mom, I think I’m kind of scared of all that.”
I smiled a little, remembering my first reaction to the same information.
“It’s okay, honey. You’re supposed to be a little scared at eight. I promise, by the time you’re all grown up and marrying a man you love, you’ll want to do it.”
She accepted that, and we drove on, headed for home, both of us lost in our own thoughts.
As we turned into the driveway, she wanted one more clarification on the matter.
“Hey, Mom—remember how you were talking about the sperm and the egg and all that DNA mixing up?”
“Well, is that why Daddy and I are both obsessed with video games?”