Before having kids it seemed talking to them about sex would be straightforward: Curious kids ask age-appropriate questions, parent answers. Done. Easy. What I've since found out is sex ed isn't a one-size-fits-all proposition.
When my first born turned 3 years-old all was going to plan. He started asking me questions and once I gave him a straight forward, simplified answer the conversation would be done. It turns out he's extremely gifted as such as he got older, I was thrilled he wanted more detail with his barrage of "what," "why,"and "how's." So at 5 I gave him an age appropriate books that he devoured. By 6, I'm certain he knew as much theoretical information as most sex educators.
But all that sex-ed smugness changed with my second son. He doesn't ask questions and isn't really interested in having teachable sex ed moments. When I do try to 'organically' find times to work sex ed into a conversation, I'm never really sure if he's paying attention as he absently nods his head. Looking through sex ed books together—because he has zero motivation to pick one off his book shelf—only elicits finger pointing, gleeful laughter, and “poo”, “fart” and “pee” Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants type of comments.
Now that he's 6, he's using all the good sex ed in questionable ways. The other day I was too distracted to notice him drawing on the fogged door glass; when he calmly exclaimed, “Look mom, it's an anus!”and then listed off all the other anatomically correct body parts. Reluctantly relieved that he is paying attention, I'm certain he's sharing these drawings with all his buddies on the playground...and I'm not sure what to say if the school calls.
If you have more than one child, you have no doubt found out they take in and process information in different ways. Because you have your own comfort level talking sex, you may get flustered when/ if how you want to express that knowledge isn't necessarily working with your child's learning style. Yet it is incredibly important to keep plugging away.
As you can see from this video, every parent has their own way of relaying information and each child has their own comfort level taking the information in.
One recent morning while getting ready for school, my older son now 8 years mumbled something to me while brushing his teeth. I, of course, took this as a cue to start our teachable sex-ed moments. But I was to find out things had changed. When I started to discuss his mumble, he got super embarrassed and shut the conversation down. Perplexed but undeterred I came back at the conversation in a different way; he got flustered and said, “Mom, I'm not comfortable talking to you about this!"
Of all the things I expected from him it wasn't that, and my heart sank into my stomach. I'm scrambling now because our once easy conversations are gone, replaced with a sullen, embarrassed kid. (I am grateful he has had 5 years of solid sex-ed and yet hope it's enough.)
And then there's my other Calvin-And-Hobbs child?!?!? Even though it's like pushing water up a hill to educate him, I know it's crucial because soon enough he will also avoid these conversations like the plague.
If you don't know where to start, a book is an excellent way to begin a conversation. Read through it yourself and then leave it somewhere your kid(s) will find it. Here are two excellent books by Cory Silverberg written for the modern family. And remember, you don't need to have a sex expert's type of knowledgeable, you simply need to be open to having the discussion.
Bottom Line: The more information you can cram into their heads before they turn to their friends (mis-) information, the more sexually savvy they will be and ergo the better sexual choices they will make for the rest of their lives.
P.S. If you are relying on the school system to impart this information please note: research shows that abstinence-only programs have limited effectiveness and unintended consequences. You want to your school system to advocate for a comprehensive sex ed program as it's been proven to be much more effective.