Before we talk about sex, I wanted to let you know that I was interviewed about my writing process, themes in my writing, and more HERE at Cindy Spencer Pape’s blog. Check it out!

Now, on to the sex talk.

My daughter is six, and recently while at the zoo, we had the following interaction.

Zookeeper (indicating a group of adult rhinos and a baby rhino): They are on a Species Survival Plan. The AZA comes to look at our rhinos, evaluates their health and genetic history, and then tells us which two should be mated in order to produce the best outcome. This little guy has been selected to be the next breeding male for our zoo, and he’s here getting acquainted with our girl rhinos. When he’s older, we’ll be told which rhino he’ll be paired with to mate.

At this point, the zookeeper helpfully walked off.

Daughter: Mom, what does that mean? ‘To mate’? What does that mean?

Me: It means to try to make a baby together.

Daughter: How do rhinos make a baby together?

Me: Well, you put a grown-up girl rhino in the same area with a grown-up boy rhino, and…sometimes they make a baby.

Here I paused and waited for the obviously inevitable question of, yeah, but just how exactly do they make this baby?


Daughter: So…you put a boy rhino and a girl rhino in the same area…and they’ll make a baby.

Me: Sometimes they’ll make a baby. Not always. Or sometimes they’ll try and it won’t work. And sometimes they just won’t try at all. Oh, and they have to be grown up rhinos who are old enough to make a baby, too.

And I waited again.

Daughter: And the Species Survival people get to choose which rhino has to make a baby with which other rhino?

Me: Yes, in the zoos they do. But in the wild, the rhinos would choose for themselves.

Daughter: Okay, so, you put a girl rhino in with a boy rhino and if they want to and they are old enough then they can make a baby.

Me: Yes.

Oh, my God, I was sweating by now. I just knew the next question would be the big one that would require the full explanation.

Daughter: Okay.

And that was the end of that conversation. But obviously it isn’t the last time this will come up, nor should it be. And the last thing I ever wanted to happen is for this to end up being me:

Julia Sweeney talks about sex with her daughter with hilarious and horrifying results. Please watch this. You will cry laughing.

So, in preparation for what is clearly an upcoming conversation (or series of conversations over the course of many years), I started looking for books to help me get age appropriate talking points in order.

I very quickly found a rather troubling reality about the sex-ed books out there–most of them were very wrapped up in the cultural presentations of sex as something spiritual in nature, a beautiful life-time event, a gorgeous merging of souls and bodies, that produces almost magically a souled and personified creature within the woman’s belly. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the books gave the information needed to understand how sex works to make a baby, but the books also placed sex in a framework of a culture that sees sex as something to be dressed up in the window curtains of wonder and magic, in order to cover it with a sense of mystery and secrecy, leaving behind a whiff of sin. Many books placed a large emphasis on chastity and purity while presenting sex as a near soul-twining event that is beautiful, intimate, and elevated above all other forms of interpersonal communion.

I find these messages to be damaging. Sex, quite frankly, takes some getting used to, and it’s not always (or even often) a beautiful lifetime event. It can be awkward, and weird, and sometimes a little uncomfortable. If it’s not with someone you care about (and even if it is with someone you care about), it is sometimes embarrassing, or strange, or disjointed. Sex can be a lovely soul-twining moment. It can be beautiful, intense, passionate, amazing. But, you know what? A lot of the time, it’s just fun, hot, awesome, boring, dull, entertaining, amusing, awkward, weird, satisfying, whatever, and it doesn’t do anyone any favors to make sex out to be something it’s not.

Also? All of that has nothing to do with how babies are made. Babies are made by a simple biological function, and love and wonder and soul-twining have nothing to do with it. Babies are made in all kinds of situations where this idealized version of sex doesn’t come into play at all. (Shocking though that news may be to that asshole, Todd Akin.)

I know this picture is cute, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to have cute, pesonified versions of eggs and sperm in kids’ sex education books. It seems like only a step away from defining personhood as a fertilized egg.

As I looked through book after book, a question kept coming to my mind. Why is sex the only thing we teach our kids about where most of the material out there to teach it advocate giving them as little information on the subject as possible? How often have I heard someone say, when it comes to teaching your kids about sex, “Just answer their exact question. Don’t give them more than that.” Why? If my child asks me about electricity, I will try to deliver the information to her on her level, in terms of her ability to understand, but I won’t try to stop her from learning more about it by only giving her the answer to the exact question she asked me. It seems to me that sex is far too important and the possible outcome of ignorance far too negative to think that is the right course of action when teaching about it.

All I wanted was a book that would:

a) give the facts about how babies were made, actually made, without the religious overtones that were implicit even in the ‘non-religious’ books.

b) balance my desire for my daughter’s future sex life to be safe, consensual, respectful, pleasurable, responsible, and fun, without it having anything to do with the beauty of human intercourse and the gorgeous intertwining of souls to make a baby.

So far this is my favorite.

Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask)

A father who looked to be about forty-five asked one of us a question, and as he spoke, it seemed as if he was voicing the dilemma of an entire generation. “How can I give my daughter a healthy attitude toward sex,” he asked in earnest,” but prevent her from having any?” If you know where this guy is coming from, this book is for you.

From the product description on

If you’ve ever tried to tell your six-year-old how babies are made or your fourteen-year-old how condoms work, you know that grappling with telling your kids about sex can be a sweat-drenched exercise. But it doesn’t have to be. Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask) is a one-of-a-kind survival guide that will help you stay sane through every stage of your child’s sexual development. After interviewing scores of parents and analyzing decades of scientific research, two nationally respected, Harvard-trained physicians share their expertise in this brilliantly insightful, practical, and hilarious book that has fast become the leading resource for parents of toddlers to teens. This indispensable guide covers all the bases, including:

• What to expect at each stage of your child’s development and how you can influence it from birth onward
• What to tell your kids at every age about sex and how to get the conversation going
• What to do when your five-year-old turns up naked with the girl next door, your toddler is rubbing on her teddy bear, or your six-year-old walks in on you having sex
• How to avoid unnecessary clashes with your middle-schooler while managing privacy, crushes, and what to wear
• How to encourage your teenager to use contraception without encouraging her to have sex, and how to help her choose the method that’s best for her

I have laughed out loud over and over and I’m only a few pages in. Something this book accomplishes in the very first five or six pages it to make you feel like your child and his/her behaviors and questions with regards to sex and sexuality are all incredibly normal. It also advocates a good approach to the possibility that your child might be gay and promotes the concept of sexual diversity being normal and to be expected. And it gives parents really excellent talking points and reality checks, while normalizing our nerves and anxiety about these conversations.

I absolutely and without reservation recommend this book. Oh, and you can buy it at any age. It’s got good information for all stages of a child’s development. You can buy it HERE.


8 thoughts on “Reading: Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex

  1. Brilliant. Too late to help me as both our children are parents of young children so I guess they worked it out without my help. Funnily enough, I can’t remember them asking me and I know I didn’t ask my parents. I see the new inquisitiveness in our grandchildren and I shall be intrigued to see how our children deal with it – just leave Gramps out of it:)

  2. You raise fantastic points. And…well, I’m glad I’m not in that position right now. Still trying to work through my own issues about all the sex I’m not having. 😀 I know that I talked to my parents (or rather, mom) about sex several times over the years, but I also have managed somehow to retain the information while suppressing the awkwardness of that as best as I can.

    1. Suppressing the awkwardness is key. 🙂 I actually don’t think my parents gave me really good sex talks. At least not about the biology of it. We had a really quite decent sex ed program at school back then, but not anymore. (Yay for backward conservatives taking over! Uh, boo, rather.) And so I feel like I need to step up my efforts in making sure my kid has all the info she needs.

  3. Loved the video – and, yes, tears flowed as I split a gut laughing!

    Seriously, though, it’s hard to know how to answer their questions. I don’t remember the exact conversations my daughter and I have had about sex, I just remember that about the time she was dating her now-husband, my friend’s daughter was pregnant and we discussed how it affected her life-plans and how to prevent it (much like my talks with my mom who actually encouraged me to go on the Pill, which I did) and I know Daughter did go on the Pill shortly after that.

    I do remember a very uncomfortable conversation I had around the age of 16 when I was babysitting a 5-year old boy. At least one of his parents was a psychiatrist and their son was very smart (smart enough to beat me at playing chess!) Anyway, one night as he was getting ready for bed he asked, “Can I see your bagina?” in his little lisping voice. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I asked him to repeat it, which he did. “Do you know what that is?” I asked. “Yes, it’s the place I put my penis,” he replied. At that point I was beet-red and said bluntly, “no you can’t.” and left it at that. I have a feeling his parents didn’t just stop at the ‘answer-the-question-and-no-more point but got out all the books and showed him anatomy pictures and the whole nine-yards!

    After reading your review of “Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask)”, I think I might just pick it up for my daughter for when her son gets to the age of asking those uncomfortable questions. 🙂

    1. Hahaha! That babysitting story was disturbing but also kind of cute. Makes me wonder if he had a baby crush on you and didn’t quite get the whole ‘need to be a grown up’ part. Wow! And, yes, I do recommend the book! It’s got stuff in there for how to deal with all ages — 0 to grown up child. 🙂

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