Does anyone find it easy to talk about sex with their kids?

I know there’s a range of comfort levels when it comes to this topic. When I was growing up, my family avoided the subject — so I’ve got plenty of anxiety when it comes to the dreaded “sex talks.”

In today’s poem, I explore the complicated emotions that go along with this challenge.

Now that I’m the mother of three elementary-aged kids, I’ve had to face up to this. It’s clear that teaching in stages is key. You start with the names for private parts of the body, and later on, progress to the basics of how babies are made. You help your kids learn correct terminology, such as uterus instead of tummy. And you try to convey that the human body — and all it can do — is a wondrous thing, more than the sum of its clinical parts.

But these steps are intimidating to me. I’m lucky that my husband is totally relaxed and grounded about all of it. He’s helped me to join him in reinforcing standard terms, in regularly discussing sex in age-appropriate ways with each kid, and in creating a safe space for them to ask questions.

As we’ve begun to teach them, I’ve realized all over again how bizarre the concept of sex can sound to young ears. As I describe in the following poem, it would be much easier to talk about it in vague or metaphorical terms.

But ultimately that would add to their confusion. I want them to have a healthy understanding of sex, and for them to feel comfortable approaching me with questions. My own worries need to not get in the way of their learning.

The Birds and the Bees

She’ll learn about the birds and the bees
somehow, so it’d be best if it were from me.
That’s what they say, anyway, and I suspect
they’re right — although I often wonder
whether I’m qualified to impart to her
those rather unexpected facts of life.

I want to first consider: which words
would I use to dig down into the earth
to uncover the enigma of a bulb —
thick with layers, smeared with mud —
and how would I dissect its secret core
in a lesson for a lily on the stem?

Speaking in metaphor
is decidedly more comfortable
than explaining the mechanics of sex
in blunt detail; there’s nothing absurd
about a robin laying eggs in her nest
or a bee pollinating a garden flower.

But two grown-ups shedding their clothes
to expose hidden parts of the body
heretofore associated with the potty,
agreeing to insert an appendage of one
into an orifice belonging to the other,
with the possible result of a baby?

It’s no wonder we fall back on
analogies from the animal kingdom.
Nature, of course, has its own complications:
Why must the father robin decamp after a season?
Or the queen bee leave a trail of drone suicides
wherever she flies?

No, I know I need to spell out the origin of babies,
beyond sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.
But how and when do I begin to address the fact
that the bodily act of sex delves to the level of soul?
And that therein lies its power — which can be
twisted into the worst of all weapons,

or cultivated into food that nurtures a lasting bond?
How do I point out that power, without joining
the loud and insidious voices declaring that her body
and her lifetime of sexual choices
determine her total worth as a woman?
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself —

right now, my goal is more basic:
that she could ask any question without distress,
and that I could respond with honesty and ease.
So how can I maintain an open conversation,
being mindful to not impart shame or fear,
if I’m embarrassed and afraid to even start?

© Sarah Dunning Park, 2013. All rights reserved. Used with permission.