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Choosing Your Sexual Vocabulary

with Mary Flo Ridley | August 30, 2011

Choose your words wisely. Especially when you're talking to your children about sex. Sex educator Mary Flo Ridley, a mother of three, encourages parents to develop a plan for teaching their children about sex early in their parenting. Mary Flo explains how she approached the topic with her own children and why she decided to use the right biological terms for explaining how a baby is born to her youngsters.

Choose your words wisely. Especially when you're talking to your children about sex. Sex educator Mary Flo Ridley, a mother of three, encourages parents to develop a plan for teaching their children about sex early in their parenting. Mary Flo explains how she approached the topic with her own children and why she decided to use the right biological terms for explaining how a baby is born to her youngsters.

Choosing Your Sexual Vocabulary

With Mary Flo Ridley
|
August 30, 2011
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: There are a number of reasons why parents shy away from talking with their children about “the birds and the bees.”  In some cases, it’s because they’re concerned they’ll get something wrong.  Here’s Mary Flo Ridley:

Mary Flo:  Parents think they have to do it perfectly, or it’s better not to do it at all.  I think it’s important to know that it’s not about perfection.  It’s about relationship.  It’s just about starting the conversation so that they can come back to you with their questions and you can go back to them with your concerns, pursuing them on this subject.  You know, our children will make mistakes, too, but at least they can come back and say, “Here’s where I’m really struggling,” or “Here’s what I’m dealing with.”

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today® for Tuesday, August 30th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Today Mary Flo Ridley joins us to talk about the ongoing conversation we need to be having with our children, starting when they’re young:  the conversation about sex.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  Do you remember?  Did your dad have “the talk” with you?

Dennis:  No.

Bob:  You didn’t get anything?

Dennis:  Zero!  It was like it didn’t exist on the planet.

Bob:  Really?

Dennis:  No, I was in the eighth grade.  I’ll never forget this because it had been snowing, and it’s just one of those moments etched in your mind.  Walking up a hill – I can take you to the spot in Ozark, Missouri –

Bob:  I bet you can!

(Laughter)

Dennis:  - just off the square that’s the county seat of Christian County.

Bob:  Some things you never forget!

Dennis:  There’s a spot in the snow, and I promise you there are still burn marks right there where Jimmy Fletcher – old Jimmy Fletcher – told me about sex.  I went, “No way, Jose!” 

Bob:  And you were in the eighth grade?

Dennis:  Eighth grade.

Bob:  So you were fourteen years old?

Dennis:  Hey, you know, it was a different era.

Bob:  It was a different era.

Dennis:  It was back before the earth’s crust hardened.

Bob:  You know, I remember my dad having “the talk” with me on the way to a Cub Scout fishing trip.  I think I was eight years old, and he was talking about stuff that I didn’t have any . . . . I mean he was using terms about body parts.  I didn’t know what he was talking about.  I was really thinking about fishing, not about whatever it was he was talking about.  He got all done and I think he felt great relief.  I had no clue what we had just talked about!

 (Laughter)

I was thinking about fishing!  It was only years later that I went back and thought, “Oh!  OK, alright!”

Dennis:  That’s what that was!

Well, I want to ask our guest today, because she speaks all around the country on equipping parents – not only to have “the talk,” but to develop a process of talks and of communication all within the relational realm of a parent and a child.  Mary Flo Ridley joins us again on FamilyLife Today.  Mary Flo, welcome back.

Mary Flo:  Thank you very much.

Dennis:  I want to ask you. . . now, you developed this DVD series called Simple Truths that is a book along with DVDs that walk through five stages of how you equip parents to talk to their kids about sex.  I want you to go to the moment you begin to instruct your two daughters.  Now you went on to have a third daughter, but I’m assuming you started some kind of sex education with your four year old, five year old, six year old?

Mary Flo:  Exactly.  Well, actually, we have two daughters and a son.  So we had the two girls and then Davis came along.  I want to say that our oldest was four or five when we came to the conclusion that we needed to start something.  We started, really, with Dave and with me.  We started with our message.  “What is it that we want our children to know about sex if they were growing up in our family?” 

We had to answer that question first; and I really want to encourage parents to do that very first step because then that sets the tone for your conversations.  But if you’re going to have conversations, then you have to have words.

Bob:  You told us that what you came up with was, “Sex is a gift from God for marriage.”

Mary Flo:  That’s right.

Bob:  Really simple.  “It’s a gift.”  You wanted them to understand that.  “It’s from God.” You wanted them to understand that.  And “it’s for marriage.”  That kind of covered the big ideas you wanted to make sure they got buried in their hearts.

Mary Flo:  Exactly.  We came up with that after a legal pad full of things that we hoped our children would learn from us and then we reduced that to one sentence because you can’t memorize paragraphs.  So once you have that really strong message that you want your children to get, then you hope you have conversations.

I knew that if I was going to have a conversation with my children, I was going to need words.  I did not have words.  I had one word, and that word was “privates.”

(Laughter)

Bob:  Right.

Mary Flo:  That was it!

(Laughter)

Bob:  Yeah.

Mary Flo:  So I was not going to pass along a lot of information by saying, “Well, Mommy has privates.  Daddy has privates.  They do something private.”  That was going to be my conversation with them because I did not have the right vocabulary.

I knew I needed to introduce medical terms and I was very shy about doing that – I was very reluctant to do that.  I was thinking about how I was going to do that; how I was going to introduce these words. 

Well, one morning I was washing dishes; my girls were watching Mr. Rogers.  Mr. Rogers was singing a song and a light just went off.  I thought, “That’s how I’m going to do it!”  He was singing a song called “Fancy.”  It said, “Some are fancy on the inside; some are fancy on the outside; everybody’s fancy; everybody’s fine; your body’s fancy and so is mine.”

You can probably sing it.  You probably grew up with it.

(Laughter)

Dennis:  Our kids loved Mr. Rogers.

Mary Flo:  We did, too.  It was so soothing!

Dennis:  He would put a tree to sleep.

(Laughter)

Mary Flo:  I know – exactly!

Dennis:  I mean, you had to know this guy.

But the point is that you have to have some mechanism, or some simple way of communicating it.  I’ve been looking forward to hearing this song you created. 

Mary Flo:  OK, well. . . .

Dennis:  I want you to sing it.

Mary Flo:  OK, I will.

It goes like this:  “Some of fancy on the inside; some are fancy on the outside; everybody’s fancy; everybody’s fine; your body’s fancy and so is mine.”

Anyway. . .

Bob:  That was excellent.  That was excellent!

Mary Flo:  Thank you.

Please. . . anyway.

Dennis:  We may have Bob get his guitar.

(Laughter)

Mary Flo:  The ukulele – let’s do it!

Dennis:  He can add a second stanza to that.

Mary Flo:  But, to me, it was sort of, “Eureka!  This is how I’m going to do it.  This is how I’m going to introduce these words!”  Because what I realized was that he was singing about body parts – he was singing about “privates.”

In case you didn’t get it, “Some are fancy on the outside.”  Think about it.  That would be the male, you know, baby-making equipment – it’s a fancy part of the outside of his body.

Some are fancy on the inside.”  Well that would be the female baby-making equipment.  Now, you may doubt that they were letting Mr. Rogers sing about sex on PBS, but the second verse says, “Only boys can be the daddies; only girls can be the mommies.”

So we sang this little “Fancy” song – you’re laughing at me – we did sing it for a few days while I was getting up my nerve to finally say, “Do you know what we’re singing about girls?”  They said, “No,” and I said, “We’re singing about ‘privates’.”

“There are fancy parts of our bodies that God has given us for special purposes.  But they also have some fancy medical names.  I’m going to tell you what they are. . . . tomorrow!” 

(Laughter)

Mary Flo:  No, I did tell them.

(Laughter)

Bob:  Were your palms sweaty as you went through some of this? I mean, did you. . .

Mary Flo:  I’m a splotcher, so my neck was splotching, yes!

Bob:  I mean. . .

Mary Flo:  No, that was a big step for me.

Bob:  You’re having a conversation with a four year-old, but it was anxiety-creating.  When your husband came home, did you say, “Guess what we talked about today?!”

Mary Flo:  Yes.  Actually, I did this while the girls were taking a bath, and he was in the other room laughing very loudly!

(Laughter)

Bob:  Once you had done that, though, it was kind of like the ice was broken, and it must have come much more easily and naturally in the weeks ahead.

Mary Flo:  Well, I have to tell you that my children don’t have a lot of memories of these conversations, and I think that’s a good thing.  It’s like they don’t remember when we taught them to put their napkin in their lap, or when we taught them not to chew with their mouth open.

Dennis:  Yes.

Mary Flo:  It was just subtle conversations at appropriate times on their age level.  So, every once in a while it was a monumental conversation that you would have to say, “Now this is a family conversation.”

And I did even tell them, “Now even though these are the medical terms for these parts of your body, we still say ‘privates’ when we’re out in public.”

Dennis:  Yes.  You know, when our kids were little, we did the same thing in terms of calling it what it was.  We used to laugh with them and say, “This is your elbow.  You don’t call your elbow your elbow-y.”  It’s an elbow, for goodness’ sake!

So why would you kind of crawfish backwards and kind of try to hide under a rock as you talk about some of these “fancy places”?

Bob:  You probably did it because the parents who said, “We don’t talk about this in public” got surprised one Sunday in church when Johnny stood up and said, “Guess what I have?”

(Laughter)

Bob:  So you have to, at some point, coach kids that, “Yes – it’s OK to talk about this, but only in certain settings.”   Help them understand that.

Mary Flo:  It’s just manners.

Dennis:  It is manners.  You’re doing this because you want to shape a child’s sexual character.  Explain to our listeners what you mean by that phrase, “sexual character.”

Mary Flo:  What I mean is what kind of an adult you want your child to be in this area of their life.  We want them to be respectful to their own bodies and to other people’s bodies, so we want to speak respectfully about their bodies.  Back to the vocabulary – if we’re using wingy-wangy words, or we’re avoiding those things, then we’re not opening them up to be respectful and knowledgeable about their own bodies.

Then, also, a main part of their sexual character is how they come to think about sex.  You know, to know that it’s from God and that He has designed it.  He put it in Genesis from the beginning.  This is something important to Him.  It’s reflective of a mystical union between husband and wife.

So, how they think about this prepares them for their life in this area – not avoiding it.

Dennis:  What I like about what you’re encouraging here, Mary Flo, is you’re calling parents out and calling them to step up.  In other words, don’t let the world be the sex educators of your children.  Don’t let your children find out there, from them, what they need to be finding out from the two most important people in their lives – parents are the most important people in a child’s life.  We should bear the responsibility of having these conversations no matter how difficult it is.

Mary Flo:  I agree because you’re going to be that person when they come home from a date; you’re going to be that person in the kitchen.  So if you have not laid the groundwork with them, then who are they going to talk to?  They can’t go to the school.  They can’t find that speaker.  They can’t find the author of that book.  You need to have already had credibility with them.  You need to have already worked through some of these things before they’re teenagers, when it’s very awkward.

Bob:  You found out just how important it was to address this subject early with your children when your daughter was five years old and came home and found you in the kitchen and shared a conversation she had had with a friend, right?

Mary Flo:  That’s exactly right.  Our second daughter, Jill, was three weeks into kindergarten.  The first day of kindergarten, when she walked into her room, she was a little bit distressed because her best friend was in another room.  So Dave and I had said, “Let’s not worry about that.  Kindergarten is all about making new friends.  We’re going to be excited to find out who your new friends are.”

Well, three weeks later she came home and was talking to me after school and having a snack, and she said, “I made a new friend today, Mommy, but I don’t think you’re going to let me play at her house.”  I said, “Oh really; why not?”

Her response was, “Well, after school her seventeen year-old brother watches her and she watches her seventeen year-old brother have sex.”  Of course, that shook me to the core.  I could hardly even stand. 

I said, “Well, sweetie, I’m so sad for your friend.  That’s not a good situation.  You’re right.  But you’re only five.  How did you know that was not a good situation?”  She said very calmly, “Well, you said that sex is supposed to be for people who are married.  They are not married.  I asked!” 

(Laughter)

She said, “They are not married.  I asked.”

She had just heard this on the playground.  Then she went on to say, “Also, Mommy, daddy said that it’s very private and no one should ever watch.”  I thought, “I wonder when he said that.”  Then I remembered that when we would watch TV – and we were very careful about the TV that we would watch, but even if you were watching the World Series or the Olympics, the commercials that would come on would be pretty offensive.  Dave usually had the clicker and he would click away to The Weather Channel. . . .

Bob:  By the way, I would like to thank cable companies for The Weather Channel.  It’s generally a safe place to go in the middle of a sporting event.

Mary Flo:   Exactly.

(Laughter)

Dennis:  So far!

Mary Flo:  So far.

Bob:  So far.

Mary Flo:  Right – we better watch it!  So he would click away and he would say, “You know what?  I hope they’re married but this is very private and no one should ever watch.”

Dennis:  How about that!  She picked up on that.

Mary Flo:  And at that moment I realized there was a sponge in the mind, not only of my child, but of every child.  You could label that sponge “curiosity” about sexual things.  They just want to know.  They are curious and they’re drawn to that kind of information.  So, I realized that sharing with our children a few facts at a young age – just the basic biology and your theology, your message – is actually their protection. 

I find a lot of Christian parents don’t want to talk to their children because they don’t want to . . .

Bob:  They don’t want to spoil their innocence.

Mary Flo:  That’s what I get.

Dennis:  Right.

Mary Flo:  What I’m trying to do is help them protect their innocence.  At some point, they’re going to find out so much better from a loving parent.  Then you can know what’s in that sponge.  You can know what they’ve learned.

Dennis:  There’s a passage in Romans 16.  Paul exhorts the Roman believers, “I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent of what is evil.”  I think parents really bear the responsibility of attempting to train their children to be wise.

Actually, what you’re really challenging parents to do and what you call it in your book that you’ve created that goes with the DVDs is for parents to give their child a cultural vaccination. 

Mary Flo:  That’s right.

Dennis:  So this sponge has some antibodies in it?  So when it sees the wrong thing like your daughter did, they’re going to know what’s right and what isn’t right.

Mary Flo:  That’s right.

Dennis:  I’m just thinking of the culture today.  In fact, I’ve got this email that just recently came to us from a young listener.  This young man illustrates how his sponge is filled with the wrong thing. 

He said, “Thank you FamilyLife Today.  I am thirteen and I have had a porn addiction for the past two years.  With God’s help and all of the encouragement from your station, I feel that I can face life and turn over a new leaf.” 

Thirteen years old!

Mary Flo:  That’s right.

Dennis:  A two year porn addiction.

This is what we’re setting our kids up for if we don’t fill the sponge with a godly perspective from a mom and a dad who may fumble the ball – they may fumble the words – they may have cold, clammy, sweaty hands.  I promise you, you will.  If you don’t, there’s likely something wrong with you, honestly.

Mary Flo:  That’s so right, and I think parents think they have to do it perfectly, or it’s better not to do it at all.  I think it’s important to know it will never be done perfectly.  Dave and I didn’t do it perfectly. 

It’s not about perfection.  It’s about relationship.  It’s just about starting the conversation so that they can come back to you with their questions and you can go back to them with your concerns, pursuing them on this subject.  You know, our children will make mistakes, too, but at least they can come back and say, “Here’s where I’m really struggling,” or “Here’s what I’m dealing with.”

Bob:  You talk about using the right language; the right terms.  Just about every parent I know, when mommy gets pregnant, talks about mommy “having a baby in her tummy.”  Is that OK?  Did you use that phrase?  Because technically, it wasn’t the tummy.

Mary Flo:  Exactly.  No, we said “uterus.”  That’s what we said.  You cannot get kicked out of the carpool for saying “uterus,” so we decided that was OK.

(Laughter)

Bob:  I think that’s safe, right?

But you would be that specific to help them understand everything that’s going on inside of the body?

Mary Flo:  I think it dazzles them.  I think that they should hear us talk in an authoritative, loving way.  We want parents to be the loving authority on this subject.  If we use the real words then we must know about this subject.  So, yes, we did use the medical terminology.

Bob:  OK.

Mary Flo:  We were trying to dazzle them.

Dennis:  Alright – here’s what I want you to do:  I want you to turn and face all of the parents who are listening right now who are convicted that they need to do this.  I want you to give them a charge, and then commission them to do what they’re supposed to do as parents to educate their kids with God’s view of sex.  Are you ready?

Mary Flo:  I’m ready!

Dennis:  Go!

Mary Flo:  I do want parents to know this is a high calling to be a parent.  The young ones at your feet can hear some things from you.  What I want you to know is that you don’t have to do it all at once.  This is not one conversation.  This is eighteen years of conversations.  All you have to do is get started. 

So what I want to encourage you to do is just begin.  Begin by thinking about your mission statement.  Begin by using respectful words.  Begin by explaining and answering their questions.  Even begin by saying, “I’m going to start talking to you about these things – next week.  Get ready.”

I will say that it is a privilege of parenting.  Don’t shy away from it.  Don’t miss that opportunity.  I can’t tell you how many parents have come back to me and said, “This made all the difference in the world, that I was able to talk to my children and that we were able to have these conversations.”

Dennis:  OK, parents, face the radio.  You are now charged and commissioned.  

Mary Flo:  You can do it!

Dennis:  Write us and tell us about your great flubs in the coming weeks.

(Laughter)

Bob:  And if you need some help in the process, get in touch with us and let us send you the curriculum that Mary Flo Ridley has put together called Simple Truths.  There’s a DVD kit that you can order to watch that – either just watch that as a couple, or invite some other folks over, or use it at your elementary school for the next PTA meeting.  There’s a booklet that goes with that that’s got a discussion guide that walks you step-by-step through the process of establishing the right kind of values in the home; answering some of the tough questions that young children will have about sex.

Find out more about the Simple Truths booklet when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call us toll free at 1-800-FLTODAY.  Also find out about the Passport2Purity® resource that FamilyLife has put together.  This is a resource that FamilyLife has put together.  This is a resource designed as a getaway weekend for a mom and a daughter or a dad and a son so that you can make sure that the issues that you’ve been covering throughout their childhood.  Make sure they understand it and make sure they’ve got the big picture. 

Find out more about Passport2Purity online at FamilyLifeToday.com or call us toll free at 1-800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word “today.”

Now, it has been encouraging this month.  We’ve heard from a lot of FamilyLife Today listeners; a lot of you who have been regular listeners for a long time, but you just never got in touch with us and let us know you were listening.  Many of you have made a first-time donation to help support FamilyLife Today over the past four weeks.  We appreciate those of you who stepped forward. 

We set a goal back at the beginning of the month to try to hear from 2,000 listeners getting in touch with us for the first time.  We’ve been keeping track of that with a thermometer that we’ve got on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.  It’s been fun to watch those numbers creep up over the course of the month. 

Of course, tomorrow’s the last day of August; so if you’ve been listening this month and you thought, “You know, I ought to do that,” and you just never did, how about today?  Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  When you make your donation, we’d like to send you, as a thank you gift, a CD sampler that features some of the messages from our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.  Dennis and I spoke at one of these recently, and we have six of the messages from the Weekend to Remember that are included in this CD sampler.

It’s our gift to you when you help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month.  If you’re making your donation online, type the word “SAMPLER” into the key code box so we can send you the CDs; or call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, and just ask for the CD sampler from the Weekend to Remember.

Speaking of the Weekend to Remember, we’re about to kick off the fall season of weekend conferences here in a couple of weeks.  If you’re not registered yet for an upcoming conference, let me encourage you to go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and get more information about when the conference is coming to a city near where you live and how you can plan to attend. 

And if you’ve never made a donation to FamilyLife Today and you make one today or tomorrow of $100 or more, you can request a certificate so you can attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway as our guests.  Type the word “HUNDRED” into the key code box on the online donation form and we’ll send you the certificate, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  Again, if you make a first-time donation of $100 or more, feel free to ask for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway certificate and we’re happy to send it out to you.  You can use it for yourself or you can pass it on to someone you know.

Now tomorrow we’re going to continue our conversation with Mary Flo Ridley.  We want to talk about what you do as a parent if you waited until your kids were in middle school or even high school to have a conversation with them about sex.  What do you say if they start asking you about your background?  We’ll talk about those things tomorrow.  Hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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Fun, engaging conversations about what it takes to build stronger, healthier marriage and family relationships. Join hosts Dave and Ann Wilson with FamilyLife Today® veteran cohost Bob Lepine for new episodes every weekday.

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