So it all started when Laura was three and I was pregnant with Joe. We borrowed a couple of "where babies come from" books from friends who were a year or two ahead of us on the sibling curve and read them repeatedly. I don't know what, if anything, Laura remembers from those books...all I recall is that one book featured a mama bringing home twins which Laura insisted on calling "twizzers." I found that pretty hilarious. Still do, in fact!
When Laura asked me specific questions about her baby brother and how he got inside of me, I was able to get off easy. I told that I had to have help from some special doctors to get both Joe and, earlier on, her inside of me. This is absolutely true. My kids were the result of a long, exhausting IVF process. Heck yes, the special doctors helped out! Well, for a hefty fee.
I wanted the IVF to be a part of their story from the beginning, not some scary, shameful secret that we kept from them. Hence, I made it a point to introduce the medical angle to their conception very early on. And, yeah, in some ways it made the explaining a little less difficult, because, you know, the DOCTOR put the baby in me, and I was able to dodge some of the specifics...for a while.
But I didn't wimp out completely. I bought a very, um, eye-opening book (which we still have) called Mommy Laid an Egg which provides silly cartoon images of a mommy and daddy basically going at it and explained to my kids that this is the more traditional method of baby creation. They both studied these illustrations pretty carefully, each in their turn, but never asked a whole lot of questions. Anything they did ask, I attempted to answer in a casual yet matter-of-fact manner.
As Laura and Joe got older (they are 12 and nine now), it seemed like a good idea to provide some more extensive education on this topic. We are really glad that the church we belong to (the UUFF of Fredericksburg) offers very (some might say VERY!) comprehensive sex education courses to the kids. These classes go by the cute acronym of OWL (which stands for Our Whole Lives). Attending these evening sessions is optional, of course, but they seem to be very popular with our congregation's families. Kids we never see at services show up for OWL (ok, we aren't there every Sunday either, so we may just be missing each other!)
When Laura was in fourth grade, we registered her for the 4th-6th grade OWL session. The trained teachers covered topics including values and sexuality, communication and decision making. When she was in sixth grade, we signed her up for the middle school class, which ranged from 6th-9th grade. I have to admit, I felt some trepidation about this large age range from the start, especially after a preview of some of the material. They were showing slides of that? And THAT?
In theory, I could get behind the idea of these slides: to show a variety of body types and ages in a variety of sexual positions without glamorizing any of it. These were pencil sketches of sometimes older, sometimes larger individuals. There was no photo shopping or hot bods present in these illustrations! Again, I could see the point of being introduced to sexual images in this way. It certainly demystified things and, if anyone tries to shock an OWL graduate with a standard porn image via cell phone, the idea is that the grad will be like, "So?" OWL does not hold back, the philosophy being that it is better to learn the facts of life in a straight forward and factual way, presented by trusted adults than through web searches and hushed chats with friends.
So I fretted and debated the pros and cons but finally decided to sign Laura up; the class wasn't going to be offered again for at least two years. If we waited, she'd be on the old side for it and I decided that I'd rather have her exposed to this information in a safe setting than stumbling upon it via the Internet or being shown by a friend. She was game for it (I never would have signed her up without her agreeing.)
However. She ended up quitting about ¾ of the way through the approximately 10-week class. She claimed that it was "boring" and that she did not care for the teacher. I tried to get more out of her. Was it scary? Was it too intense? Was she uncomfortable? Did something happen? But she's a taciturn girl at times and would never stray beyond her stated reasons for wanting to stop. However, we do plan to sign Joe up for elementary class the next time that it is offered, as that one was a very positive experience for Laura.
In looking back over this post, I guess my advice, not that we've done everything perfectly (far from it!) is to start "the conversation" early. Make it pretty basic at first and follow your child's lead into new topics and questions. That's what my husband and I have tried to do, and continue to try to do, even if we are red-faced some of the time!