Talking About Sex With Adopted Children

"Mom, what is sex?" How telling the birds and bee’s story may be different with adopted kids

Karen White December 04, 2016
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Talking to your children about S-E-X is never something a parent looks forward to doing. And the questions never seem to come at an opportune moment. All it takes is an older student mentioning it on the playground or a teen who etched the word into a slide at the park to elicit the dreaded “Mom, what is sex?” question. And it is usually asked loudly. And in public. As the other parents around you snicker while you tell your child that you will discuss it later at home. And you will silently pray that his or her little mind will forget about. And your child may, for a few days, forget, but will surely bring it up again sooner than you’d like.

Having the birds and the bee’s discussion can be tough for any parent. You see your child as just that, a child. But acknowledging that your child will one day be a sexual being, it is important to start these discussions earlier rather than later. Sex talks with kids are always tough for parents, but when you add an adopted child into the mix the nice “Mommy and Daddy loved one another and shared a ‘special’ hug” story doesn’t always apply. While some adopted kids did have two birth parents who loved one another, not all did. And many were not married at the time of conception. And some were conceived through horrific acts of rape or incest. So how do you tell a child with a different past how babies are conceived without going into too much detail?

Kids under eight tend to want facts, and most won’t imagine too far past what they are told. So specific details of conception aren’t required with a younger child. You can explain that it takes a man and woman and they both have parts that are needed to make a baby. If your child has more questions it is a great time to explain that boys have penises and girls have vaginas and that it takes both parts to make a baby. Keeping in mind your child’s history, it can be important not to tell a child who was conceived by rape that it takes two people who love one another. Kids at this age are too young to understand the complexities and emotions that go along with sex and may be confused down the road.

Kids under eight aren’t usually embarrassed by these discussions and are more apt to ask questions. At this age you aren’t yet the ‘dumb, old parent’ and they are more receptive to learning about topics like puberty. Talking to your kids at this age also lets them know that they can ask questions when they have a better understanding. Especially for those with tougher histories having this open dialogue will be very important as they come to terms with how they were conceived.

With tweens, or preteens, things can be tougher. Kids over nine tend to think they already know everything. And once puberty begins they tend to think that discussing anything to do with their bodies is embarrassing or disgusting. Unfortunately the pressure for kids to engage in sexual activity does start in this age group. No parents wants to think their child will experiment at this age, but truth be told it does start happening for some kids, especially those who start puberty sooner rather than later.

Talking to pre-teens about what sex is, is important. And don’t assume that your child knows what you mean. While tweens are usually more knowledgeable than younger kids, they are often easily confused. While there is no way to prepare yourself for your 10-year-old asking at dinner what a ‘blow job’ is, it is your job as a parent to give them an honest answer. But don’t feel like you have to answer right away. Give yourself a few minutes by saying, “Well help me wash the dishes and I will explain,” gives you a few minutes to compose yourself while you clear the table. And washing the dishes will give you something to do with your hands while you explain. (Bonus points for being able to explain that your red face is from the hot water!) Plus kids tend to be more open when you aren’t looking them straight in the eye. You may even be able to determine where they heard about the subject in the first place.

Discussing that you can become pregnant the first time you have sex, and talking about STD’s is very important at this age. It is better to have an embarrassed kid who knows the facts, than an embarrassed kid who has to ask after they have experienced something they are too young to fully understand the ramifications of. Having these uncomfortable conversations now will let your child know they can come to you and ask questions when they are ready (whether you think they are or not) to engage in these activities.

It also lets your child begin to understand his or her adoption story. Kids at this age can understand that it doesn’t take two people to be in love to make a baby. That there is a difference between sex and love. Being honest with your child about his or her conception can also lead to more open conversations about your child’s adoption story. It is hard to explain to your child that maybe his or her birth parents didn’t love one another. But being honest with your kids now will set the stage for them being honest with you down the road.

If you wait until the teen years to discuss sex you are likely too late. But it is always better to discuss it late than never. Teens are exposed to sex and sexuality on TV, social media, music, video games, and more. Talking to your kids about how they are feeling and changes they are experiencing is not only important to help prevent teen pregnancy and STD’s, but to help them recognize how these ‘sources’ can skew their opinions of their own sexuality.

The pressure to fit in as a teen is immense. And being an adopted teen can be even tougher because your teen begins to really question why he or she was adopted in the first place. What situation led his or her birth parents to be unable, or not want to parent can be difficult to grasp. For any person this is a tough thing to reconcile, but since a teen’s world revolves solely around themselves, often he or she can’t see past his or her own feelings. Adopted teens are more apt to either assume they are a product of their birth parents and therefore inherently must be prone to early pregnancy because their birth parents were young, or try to ‘right the wrongs’ by becoming a teen parent themselves.

Keeping the lines of communication open with your teen about adoption, its impact on life, and sexuality can help them cope with the feelings that may arise as they muddle through the heavy pressure of the teen years. Knowing that even if it is embarrassing, that they can come to you with questions will help your teen become secure in his or her own sexuality and adoption story.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. And sex talks are probably one of the most dreaded parts of parenting. But talking to your kids from an early age, in age appropriate terms, about sex and sexuality, will help them form a more positive identity. And also help them better understand the circumstances surrounding their adoption story.

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Karen White

Karen White is the self-proclaimed leading authority on being "that mom." You know the one. The PTO Vice President, room mom, baseball team mom, AND leader of well-behaved kids (OK, the well-behaved part may be stretching it . . . like really stretching . . .) When she isn’t threatening to tackle one of her boys on the ball field if they don’t run faster, or convincing her 4-year-old daughter that everything doesn’t HAVE to sparkle, she is also a wife and stay-at-home mom of three. One of the three happens to have been adopted, but good luck figuring out which one it is, since they all have pasty white skin, blond hair, and blue eyes.


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