Sex Education – A Dad’s Perspective

I know P, my eldest daughter (13) thinks grown women are totally obsessed by menstruation. I know this because she told me. “Dad”, she said, “why does every woman I meet start talking about periods”?

Both Grandmothers, three Aunties , three female neighbours, two mother’s of friends, four or five ad hoc  female friends and  even a couple of ex-girlfriends got in on the act. All have told me they have had a conversation with P “just to make sure everything is OK on that front”.

It is interesting that they all tell me after the event. “I’ve spoken with P” Note the past tense.

I’m not knocking it – I am sure the desire to help with this aspect of my parenting comes from a good place…what was it @coffeecurls told me over twitter one evening when we were discussing periods…(we just were OK) ”there are things about periods that as a man you won’t even know!”

That phrase “you won’t even know” struck me. It serves me now as a reminder that there really are things I simply couldn’t comment on with any degree of confidence. That said, I thought I actually knew loads about periods – they come once a month, they hurt, you need hot water bottles and tea, you can use tampons or towels (best to experiment to see what works for you), they alter hormone levels and you can become tearful and maybe even a bit shouty, and they also have something to do with the moon or tides. I think. Um, that’s it.

Come to think of it – thank you ladies one and all.  You were right in your assumptions. Like most men, I guess I do know next to nothing about menstruation.

What really strikes me though is that this small platoon of women, while seemingly falling over themselves to talk about menstruation, are not pushing themselves forward to talk to my daughter(s)about sex. Do they really think that this is a subject best taught by their Dad or school or mates or that marvellous life lesson of trial and error?

It’s an interesting question – and one answer might be, if we are honest, for the majority of us (and I know I can speak for many Dads) this whole area of sex education just feels a bit uncomfortable. I will use the word “embarrassing”.

I’ll share a story with you. In our house the subject of sex education was first raised when P came home from Primary School (year 6) and asked me outright:  Dad, is it true that girls have a button and that if you stroke it, it makes you feel nice?”

Once I picked myself up from the floor and finished choking, I simply asked in an effort to divert the direct questioning,  “who told you that”?

“My teacher, Miss N…” came the reply.

Quickly putting all thoughts of Miss N’s “button” to one side, I replied, rather sheepishly, that I am sure Miss N was right. At that precise moment I had rediscovered belief in God and was praying nineteen to the dozen that the conversation would stop right there.

I have been thinking about writing on this subject for some time, and it strikes me that there are four levels of sex education that could really be taught best at home as well as in school:

1 – the basics – the actual mechanics.

2 – sexual health  – avoiding unwanted pregnancies and STI’s etc…

3 – the fun bits

4 – insight into the deeper emotional and relationship perspectives

Thinking this through, I am on safe territory talking about levels (1) and (2) to my own kids. Get me onto level 3 (the fun aspects of sex) and I am, very suddenly, completely out of my depth. I am sorry to say that I am one of those parents who will provide their daughters with what @venaramphal describes as the “good girls script”. It’s depressingly true – the sex education I will deliver to Priya and Anya will extend to something akin to “Here’s how to do it, be safe, and try not to do it until you’re much older”

Half an education!

And the saddest thing of all is that as their Dad, I feel unable, incompetent, and unqualified to talk through the emotional issues that will arise when they start sexual relationships. Not just because they are girls and I’m a man. But, as with menstruation, there will be things I just won’t know; it seems to me that like most men, talking about relationships and emotions does not come as second nature. Couple that with the fact that I have already admitted that sex is not really something I want to talk to my girls about anyway, and my inarticulate ramblings would become well, just that. Inarticulate.

And the thing is…all of this I have just written – well I think most Dads and maybe some Mums will be able to relate to at least some of it…but for me, I have this feeling that it just might not be good enough. I know much of this is taught in schools (probably a much better education than we had at school), but look at any UK statistics in this area and the picture is one of rising STI’s, especially among women under the age of 20, and ever rising numbers of unwanted pregnancies.

As they get older I want my girls to enjoy healthy sex and have fulfilling relationships. Of that there is no doubt. But, against this worrying statistical backdrop I have this growing, rather unpleasant feeling, that if I am to do my bit to help them achieve this, I may need to shake myself down, find the right words and the right time and work my way through some difficult conversations!

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About onlydads

Single Dad living near Totnes in Devon. I founded www.onlydads.org in 2007 and live with my daughters Priya, 14 and Anya 11. I write about single parenting, work, overcoming trials and tribulations and sometimes not overcoming trials and tribulations.
This entry was posted in Bob blogs, Family life, Talking to kids. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Sex Education – A Dad’s Perspective

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Sex Education – A Dad’s Perspective | OnlyDads -- Topsy.com

  2. Rachel says:

    That’s a great piece. As a single mum of 3 sons, 19, 14 & 12 I am only too aware that I haven’t really had all the conversations I should have with my boys. And I’m also aware that there are many things, as a woman, that I don’t know about being a male in a relationship. We’re discovering this, as my eldest son is having a very upsetting breakup from his first ‘long’ (18m) relationship. I’m not sure all the ‘prep’ talks in the world would have prepared either of us for dealing with the emotional fallout side of things. I guess all we can do is be there & be ready to offer what little & useful wisdom we can!

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you for reading. You make a good point and I wonder how many other single Mums feel the same? Good luck to your eldest though. I broke up with a girl aged 19 who I had been with since 16. It’s “end of the world” stuff for him probably. But he’ll bounce back!

  3. urbanvox says:

    now THAT is a piece I found inspiring…
    I’ve been thinking about writing about that for ages now… But I was about to take a different approach to the subject…
    I think I need to get back to properly blogging…. 🙂

  4. Julietsh says:

    Brilliant blog. I will come to you when 3 yo son gets a bit older as I won’t know where to start. Be aware though, that my own mother never discussed anything about sex or relationships with me and I survived (although some may disagree). As with many things, the differences within the genders are probably far greater than between. If my mother had had half the awareness that you do, I would have been better for it. It looks to me like you’re doing a fantastic job, both as a father and a mother.

    • onlydads says:

      Very kind words – and i think your experience of mums and dads ducking the issue is common. I do feel sure a bit more thoughtful home education can help children grow up with more confidence in this whole area.

      …and being both “Mum and Dad”…well that’s a whole new blog!

  5. Oli says:

    Bob, with you as a Dad I think your girls will be just fun.
    In an odd way I hope that my Anya will come to me with questions about sex because for me that will mean there will be a deep trust and openess in our relationship but yes I am terrified.

    I just hope my advice will help her avoid the mistakes I made.

    Great to see you blogging- and what a starter.

  6. Beki Davies says:

    Honesty must always be the best policy. Im the eldest of 6 girls, by the time my parents were explaining points 1 & 2 to my youngest sister, they had gotten quite a bit better!! My experience will be a subject of one of my blogs eventually! However as long as your girls feel able to ask you anything (they probably won’t) then you have done a fantastic job!

    • onlydads says:

      eldest of six girls you say….your poor Dad 😉

      Thank you for the comments on here and via Twitter – all bring a smile.

  7. Steve says:

    Great article. I’ve just become a Dad to a beautiful daughter and I surprise myself at how useless I feel when I think of all the questions I will struggle to answer as she grows. It helps to know that other Dads somehow work it out.

    • onlydads says:

      Steve – the very fact you recognise this means you are and will continue to be an ace dad!

      Thank you for commenting

  8. ABeautifulMind1 says:

    I love this post! Thanks for writing it.
    Do you know what I did first? I bought a sex education book that I PAID them both to read….they were at the age when money talked! It was something that they could do in private, and give them real facts. It broke the ice and then it was a lot easier to talk about it.
    I found it a lot easier to chat about with my son rather than my daughter.
    What I found hardest of all was the emotional side. My son had a very long term relationship right from the off. It was his first girlfriend, they were both 12 when it started. She finished it 2 years later and he was completely on the floor. I was totally unprepared for dealing with my own child’s heartbreak, especially while they were still so young. I am bad enough dealing with my own! They got back together a few months later and then he was the one to end it, just before they were 17. Upset all over again…..
    Their relationship was a delight though; incredibly mature and loving. He called her beautiful every day, always walked her home (it was just up the road!) and I think they were really good for each other.
    So although, initially, I thought relationships for my offspring would be scary; I found this experience incredibly positive. I think it was a very stabilising thing for them through their teenage years.
    You are amazing, Bob; you will sail through the teenage years. How could you not? I don’t envy you with two girls though 😉
    The best you can do is give them as much independent information as possible, offer broad shoulders, and have faith in your parenting that the values you display without even opening your mouth will guide them through their decisions.
    Next post please? 😀

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you SO much for these comments!

      As for “sailing through the teenage years” though – you are just plain wrong! I’m going greyer by the second!

      Being an old softy…I now wonder if your son and his childhood sweetheart will end up together in later life??

      Tell us if they do!

  9. Rosanne says:

    What a brilliant post. Where were you when my children needed to know this. Oh and the periods dont worry they grow out of them…eventually!

  10. Tom Matlack says:

    *loved* this piece. Reminded me of the recent piece about dads’ advice to moms about raising boys http://bit.ly/Raising-Boys and much of the stuff I aspire to write on http://www.goodmenproject.com

    Thanks!
    @tmatlack

  11. Ruth says:

    My parents never gave me “the chat” they knew it was in the school curriculum and left it at that.
    I think I’ve turned out okay, but it meant that in not saying anything I felt as if I couldn’t talk about sex with them. Their silence kept me silent.
    Be brave Bob, speak up, however nerve wracking and embarrassing for all involved you can’t do much worse than staying silent.

    • onlydads says:

      Thank you Ruth 🙂

      “you can’t do much worse than staying silent” is worthy of a tweet!

      Your comment is very much appreciated

  12. bishtraining says:

    I really like this piece. I think you speak for a lot of parents of teens who worry not just about their safety but about how they will deal with having sexual relationships and all the difficult emotional issues that can come up.

    I’m not a parent but I’ve got experience of talking to thousands of teens face to face about sex and relationships. I’ve got a few tips for parents over at my website bishUK.com. I would say a couple of things here though.

    I find that it’s ok to admit you don’t know stuff. Sometimes there might be factual things that you aren’t sure about, in which case it’s ok to say that you don’t know but will look it up – or even better find out together. Or give your kid the task of finding out and teaching you. Make it a collaborative thing.

    However there will also be stuff that you don’t know the answer to because we are all trying to work out the answers to them. Making that clear to young people is really honest but also really empowering. That we are all on a journey of working out sex and relationships for ourselves. We can fall in and out of love without ever really realising why (for instance). Also our values and attitudes change and evolve. Nothing is ever set.

    The other advice I have is to just try and be as matter of fact as possible. Frequently chatting about this helps. Rather than focussing on one big talk try to make sex and relationships chats as everyday and almost mundane as possible – as though you were talking about anything else. It helps to talk about it in the 3rd person. Talk about celebs for instance or something happening in a soap opera.

    Also on periods, as a cis man I have limited personal experience so I asked people to contribute some of their stories, which they did here. http://bishuk.com/2012/10/16/period-stories/

    Thanks for posting. I’m glad we were put in touch on twitter.

    Justin / Bish

  13. Diane prince says:

    How’s it gone since then bob? My eldest is a similar age and whilst I found it hard at first I now find that she cringes less when we speak. I am very open with her but not always to the gory detail extent. She knows she can ask me anything. Also as you know I’m separated, I do think this has helped us, me being me and having lots of friendships with males (as I havnt before) I can sort of explain from an emotional side too. Although gawd knows what will happen if I ever did enter into another relationship……. Think ill steer clear 🙂 haha

    Diane x

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