“Momma, what’s sex?” My eyebrows shoot up involuntarily as my heart skips a beat. As she is turned away from me in the dark and using her “I’m feeling really self-conscious” voice, I’m not sure I’ve heard her correctly. I silently hope I haven’t.
“What did you say, Bub?”
“What is sex?” She turns toward me and I see her questioning almost-eight-year-old eyes in the half-light of her bedroom. I heard her correctly. I silently hope aliens will abduct one of us, rescuing me from having to answer her earnest yet uncomfortable question. They do not.
I take a deep breath.
Fortunately, I am not completely unprepared for this conversation—the lucky side effect of being a slightly neurotic parent who worries about too much about too many things and has too many books but too little time to read them. My bookshelves and nightstand all contain, smattered among the memoirs and novels and books on writing, titles like How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex or How to Talk to Your Child About Sex or Talking to Your Kids About Sex. (Books on the topic are prolific—alas, creative titles are not.) I’ve even read parts of some of them. And underlined in them. I’ve been a good student. I just didn’t think the final exam would come for, oh, about another year. Or two. Or five.
I silently wish I’d studied harder.
This is not our first conversation, which further complicates the situation. She has been asking questions, albeit infrequently, for about six months now, and I have been answering them in honest but veiled answers, explaining that more information will come as she is older. The groundwork has been laid. But she has been less and less pacified by my responses. She is wanting more. But is she ready?
“Where did you hear that word?” I begin with an indirect route, trying to determine how she’s heard the word used and by whom, who is saying what, what does she really know. As the conversation continues, it becomes clear she is getting some very erroneous information from some very confident but VERY misguided second graders. I am going to have to answer her directly. She needs honest, accurate answers. I silently hope for the Second Coming.
I don’t remember learning about sex for the first time, but there is much I do remember. Awkward conversations, questions directed toward friends who were more “experienced” though not necessarily more knowledgeable, avoided conversations, lessons learned about the hard way. Shame, embarrassment, and confusion were the threads that wove together my knowledge of sexuality. They do not pull out easily. It is not what I want for my daughter.
And so, as carefully and simply as I can, I explain “sex” to my precious, precocious almost-eight-year-old.
“That’s weird,” she giggles, wrinkling her nose. I wrinkle mine back. “Yeah, it is kinda weird, isn’t it?” We have a good giggle and then talk for while longer, allowing her to empty her overflowing bucket of questions. I kiss her good night, reminding her that second graders are not the authority on such matters. I leave her, hopefully, with thoughts of sleepovers and birthday parties.
I silently hope I have done the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.