BirdsAndBees

Poem: The Birds and the Bees

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About Sarah

Sarah lives with her husband and three daughters outside of San Francisco. She is the author of What It Is Is Beautiful, a collection of honest poems about parenting.

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.

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Comments

  1. Sarah, I enjoyed this AND it freaked me out a little, because my kids are getting older, and I’m pretty sure I uttered lines 1-3 pretty much verbatim to my friend just yesterday!

    I’m glad I’m not the only freaked-out mama. This poem makes me feel like that’s not so unusual, and that at least I’m asking the right questions.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: Bad for the Game: Women, Work, and Hockey

    • Anne, I’m sorry I freaked you out! But I’m glad I’m not the only one wondering about these things. And I’m glad you liked the poem. :)

  2. avatar
    Christina Y. says:

    Wow, Sarah! What a great reminder to be relaxed and honest with our children. In my home growing up, sex was also a taboo subject. Never spoken about. So it does make it more difficult to be comfortable talking with your kids openly. Yet it’s so important to lay the correct foundation and your poem speaks so truthfully! Thanks for this!

  3. It’s great that you are taking such care and deep thought about how to approach the topic. Your girls are lucky to have such an open and reflective mom!
    Ms. HalfEmpty´s latest post: The Power of Organization

  4. Sarah, I love this because you’re right, it’s all so weird! I remember hearing about sex from friends in elementary school and thinking there was no way it was true. There had to be some way people could have sex without taking their clothes off. That was the weirdest part to me. And I love the way you delve into those heavier questions of identity and value. Thanks, as always, for not shying away from the words we all need to hear.

  5. I’m laughing because sex was never taboo for me growing up, even though I was raised in a very conservative home. I think my mother was raised without knowledge and discussion so wanted more for us. I remember learning the basic facts (around age 6) and thinking it would be “rude” for a boy to want to do that to a girl.

    As a single mother of three, I have been very matter of fact about naming the body parts and talking about what is private. They know that anything covered by a swimsuit is private.

    I’ve hedged around the subject a bit, but my oldest when he was almost nine years old came straight out and asked me, “But where DOES a baby come from? How does it get IN the mommy?” So, I described the act of intercourse. He asked why grownups would want to do that, and I explained that sometimes it feels good to touch under the clothes and makes people feel very close. So that is why it is only shared when married…because God wants us to feel closest to our husband/wife.

    Oh my. I asked if he had any questions a couple of days later and he said he hadn’t really thought of it. I hope that I kept the lines of communication open and gave him the info in an age appropriate way. I told him that this was a something that parents tell their own children and he didn’t need to discuss it with his younger siblings or friends.

    We’ll see!
    Missy June´s latest post: Moody Monday

    • It is always a “we’ll see” situation, isn’t it?! I think it sounds like you did an awesome job!

  6. I think its very important not to give kids information before they are ready for it. Its like the story where this young kid runs home and says to his Mom “where do I come from?” so she takes a deep breath and launches into her whole birds and the bees talk. When she finishes the kids says “No…Billy comes from Pittsburgh…where do I come from”
    We have to be sensitive to each of our kids and when to talk.

    My older girls had been bugging me to tell their younger sister the facts of life and in the end it was too early for her and she tells me now that she was a bit traumatized.

  7. This poem is fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah. I’ve been working with LifeCare, an Austin-based crisis pregnancy center, and thinking a great deal about how to talk to our kids (and even other adults) about sex. Somehow we must be totally honest about what goes on while at the same time giving the subject of sex the respectful delicacy it requires. And this approach is only found among people who genuinely believe sex is more than just a drive that we are compelled to satisfy anytime, anywhere.
    I love the truth in your words, “that the bodily act of sex delves to the level of soul”

    Although my son isn’t quite there yet (he’s only 15 months old!), I’m already thinking about this topic!!

    Thanks again.

    • Thank you, Kayla. I like your phrase, “respectful delicacy.” It’s so hard to strike that balance, when talking to kids, of portraying sex as something that’s holy but also as something that’s normal.

  8. My mother had “the talk” with me when I was about 10 years old. She took me to a crowded restaurant for lunch and I was MORTIFIED, terrified that everyone was listening. I so agree with you that teaching about sex needs to happen in natural stages, not all at once! From my own experience, I think that answering questions with “I’ll tell you when you’re older” and acting like sex is an uncomfortable subject fosters the idea that sex in itself is wrong… and nothing could be further from the truth.

    P.S. I’m completely and totally impressed that you could turn this topic into a poem. :)
    Claire @ Lemon Jelly Cake´s latest post: A Mother’s Day Giveaway

  9. Information drip is surely the way to go. My mom did a complete info dump on me one night when I was about 11 or so. Putting it mildly, I was freaked out. Parenting is tough, and this is definitely one area I don’t want to mess up on! I try to answer my kids questions as they come, I guess I’m just hoping the questions come at the right times. I doubt there is any way I’m ever going to feel prepared and casual when the time comes tho! Eeek.
    Erin´s latest post: Journey to Grace: A Story of Infertility

    • Yes! Information dump vs drip — I like that. I’m aiming for the drip, even though it doesn’t come naturally!

  10. I got to scan this poem quickly yesterday (and read it again today), which happened to be the day my four-and-a-half year old asked me — again — how babies get in my tummy!! I have not told her the whole story, or really any of it. But I was honest with her when I said, finally, “Elora, I really don’t know how to answer that question right now.” Hahaha. This has gotten me thinking a bit more about how to approach the topic with her, but I really feel like she’s still a bit too young. To jump ahead several years — do any of you remember the sex talk from Glee that Kurt’s dad had with him? Context, show, etc. aside (I say that because, for instance, I won’t be condoning premarital sex when I discuss the topic with my children), I really thought what he said to his son was a wonderful way to describe the emotional power (positively and negatively) of sex.

    • Hi Shifrah,
      I haven’t seen that scene in Glee — now I want to see if it’s on YouTube! It is really hard to know what’s age-appropriate when you’re talking to really young kids. Mine are now 6, 6, and 9, and we’ve only gotten specific about actual mechanics with the 9 year-old. I think when we were talking to them at age 4 or 5, we might have said something along the lines of, “well, part of Daddy and part of Mommy mix together to make a new baby.” The trickier thing is if they press to know just how *that* comes about! But I think often they’re too focused on the novel idea that the kids have some of Mom and some of Dad in them. It’s funny how they can ask these questions that completely throw you for a loop, and then in their next breath they’re asking if they can have a jam sandwich. You know?!

  11. avatar
    claire sitting at the kitchen table in the UK says:

    Thanks for this post, it’s got me thinking about what to tell my dear daughter (8). When she was a toddler she would watch me in the bath and look at me point below my waist and say “BRA”. At some point I’d better correct her!

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