Here's to strong women...may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.
May 31, 2022

Sex Talk(s): How to Have Them and Overcome the Awkward // with Sarah Sproule


Ok, who of us hasn’t cringed a little bit, thinking about "having the talk" with your kids?  Why does this awkwardness exist, and can we make it less awkward for our kids, so there’s a healthier dialogue about sex and bodies and relationships?

 

In Episode 39, Sarah Sproule unpacks all of this with host Carmelita Tiu, sharing what parents can do to create an open atmosphere, build healthy attitudes towards sex and their bodies, and empower their daughters with tools to craft healthy relationships.

Some highlights:

  • Where the awkwardness around sex-related topics comes from
  • When and how to start talking about sex
  • Why it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it
  • A script for have an open conversation with older kids about sex, when you haven’t had one before
  • The importance of living the way healthy feels

Guest Bio:

When Sarah was 11 she was afraid she was only growing one breast and didn’t know who to turn to for help. 

Now as mother of three teens, with two decades experience as a therapist and a masters in sexuality studies, Sarah uses her skills as an occupational therapist and sex educator to ensure every parent and caring adult knows how to nurture deeper connection with their growing kid(s). 

Because no child should ever feel alone and unable to reach out for help with their body, their boundaries or their knowledge about sexuality. 

… and yes Sarah eventually grew two breasts roughly the same size.

To learn more about Sarah Sproule:


Know Them, Be Them, Raise Them

New episodes drop every Tuesday (and sometimes in between). Subscribe here: Apple, Spotify, Google

And leave a 5-star review – this helps other moms find and listen to the show. You’ll forever have good karma and my gratitude!

For more doses of information and inspiration:


Transcript
Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Hi, everyone. I'm Carmelita too. And welcome to know them. Be them, raise them a show to help busy, mindful growth oriented moms stay informed and inspired as they navigate their daughter's tween and teen years. Tune in each week to hear from experts, authors, moms who've been there and here a curated selection of articles read with the author's permission. Of course, with most episodes running 20 to 25 minutes or less. If you like what you hear or you find something helpful in the podcast, hit subscribe or follow, tell a friend and leave a review on apple podcasts or Spotify. I would so appreciate that. Okay. Who of us has not cringed a little bit thinking about sex talks with your kids. I have been pretty open with my girls, trying to talk about sex as things come up and answer their questions in an age appropriate and casual way. But even with a fair amount of practice talking about sex still kind of feels weird. I still hesitate and feel a bit cringy as the kids say, hearing sex related words, come out of my mouth when talking to them. It made me wonder why does this awkwardness exist? And can we make it less awkward for our kids? So we have a healthier dialogue about sex and bodies and relationships going forward. My guest today, Sarah. Sarah Sproul unpacks, all of this. When Sarah was 11. She was afraid. She was only growing one breast and didn't know who to turn to for help. Now as a mother of three teens with two decades experience as a therapist and a master's in sexuality studies. Sarah uses her skills as an occupational therapist. Pissed and sex educator. To ensure every parent and caring adult. He knows how to nurture deeper connection. With our growing kids. Because no child should ever feel alone and unable to reach out for help. With their body, their boundaries, or their knowledge about sexuality. And yes, Sarah eventually grew two breasts, roughly the same size. Here's our conversation. Welcome, Sarah. I am so excited to have you here with us. When I heard about your area of expertise, it kind of sent chills through my spine because I have absolutely been there and I've had conversations with other moms and parents about this particular topic. So, I'm so glad you're here to share with us today.

Sarah Sproule:

It's an honor to be invited. So thank you so much. I'm excited for the work you do here on your podcast. CA it's great.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Thank you. Well, jumping right in, I love this idea of you helping parents overcome the awkward. I saw that phrase pop up in your website and your bio. And it just resonates so much with me. So. I think a question I'd like to start with is where does this awkward come from?

Sarah Sproule:

So my work is to support families, to have conversations about sensitive things. And when I say sensitive things, it's a euphemism or it's, it's the way the parents, I work with talk about topics related to sex bodies, puberty, babies, consent, the darkness around sexuality when it goes wrong, all those sorts of things. And, oftentimes parents will, come with stories of, memories they have about growing up when either nothing very much was said about puberty. For example, that's just take one example. And instead they were given a book where they could learn about periods or, um,

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Oh, my gosh, raising my hand here. Yes.

Sarah Sproule:

or erections or whatever it was. Okay. So that's, that's one story or. There was just very little conversations at home. Or maybe a parent said something like, I, you know, you can ask me anything. Right. And they were left thinking, well, I don't really feel like that. You're saying that, um, I have a story when I was 11. My mom came in to talk to me about periods and I was so. Sort of horrified at the idea and so embarrassed and awkward about it, that I sort of yelled at her get out of my room, get out of my room, get it, just get out, get it, you know, until she got out and I sort of shut the door forcefully. And I was like, oh, I th that was just so awkward. So when we're talking about that awkwardness, it's. Not only is it maybe coming from our child who, when they're at a particular age, they just feel this sense of they need their privacy. They don't want to talk about embarrassing things related to their body. And it can also be from our side too, that we haven't had an experience of open natural conversations about sensitive things. And when I say that, when I say we haven't had an experience of it, first of all, that means it hasn't been modeled to us. But the other thing is our nervous system or our body has not had proof that talking about these sort of conversations is a natural, normal everyday part of being human. So the opposite of that is in fact, the case we've had evidence that these sort of conversations are actually things that you don't talk about. You're only read about in books, people sort of allude to them, or if they're talked about at school and everyone giggles and sort of titters, and maybe you get out of class and someone shows you something embarrassing. You know, on a piece it my day it was a piece of paper nowadays, it would be a phone. So it's not just our absence of modeling, natural open conversations, but it's the presence of awkwardness being modeled to too. So we're taught almost to associate that feeling with these topics.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

as you mentioned that, I also think there's media messaging that reinforces awkwardness between parents and kids. So I know I've seen any number of movies. Maybe the parent is reluctant to talk about it or they're passing off who has to be the one to have this difficult conversation. And, uh, as if it's a burden And, a chore and something that you're inevitably going to mess up or fail and, and that's a bad thing. So yeah, those are really interesting insights around the source of that.

Sarah Sproule:

You know, I think about that, that's a lovely sort of awareness that you've just brought there to how the media models this part of parenting to us. And I sort of think about like what other part of parenting is modeled in that way. Like giving our kids the experience of eating of wide variety of vegetables. There's no parent discussion about who's going to give the vegetables, right? There's very little parent discussion about, should we do swimming lessons because it's sort of almost universally accepted that there are things that children need from caring adults that protect them and support them in their growing up. But this thing that we're talking about here, natural open conversations about sensitive things related to sex. It's got that like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I sort of thought

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Earmuffs. Yeah. Can't hear you. So as parents, do you have suggestions on how we can shake those feelings or processed them instead of feeling overwhelmed by them or letting that control how we approach a situation?

Sarah Sproule:

yes. So the, the first thing to do is to give yourself permission to feel them because anytime we have a strong emotion, I mean, this is just not in parenting. This is in sort of every aspect of being human. When we have a strong emotion or a strong belief that we should able to. Doing something. And yet we can't do it. If we are sort of pushing ourselves, pushing, pushing, pushing, it is counter productive and that's especially true when it comes to conversations about sensitive things, because, um, what we're doing, if we, if we're modeling to our child that even though this doesn't feel good, I'm going to push through and try and have this conversation with you. not modeling consent. So already in conversations about sensitive things, the way we treat ourselves, as we attempt to get clear about the fact that, you know, what we're trying to do something new than what we had in our past, that modeling is teaching in our family.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Right? Oh my gosh. That just gave me, uh, an aha moment, it's not enough to say the words, it's how you say them too, and how you show up for that. I think on some level. Having the conversation in my mind felt like the box was being checked. But that's a really, really good point, if I'm reluctant, if I'm doing it in a way that makes it seem as if I don't want to be doing it, uh, Yeah. I never thought about that tie into consent And what that can imply.

Sarah Sproule:

and, you know, I'm thinking about what we're talking about here and realizing that that could be an additional burden, like, um, someone could be listening to this going, oh, hang on. You mean, I can't just say that, um, this is the way babies are made that there are sperms and there are eggs and a penis comes together with the, with the vagina and the sperm is delivered in the egg. And you mean, I don't just say that? Um, and the answer is no, because first of all, there are lots of ways that babies are created. Second of all, there are lots of reasons why people have sex that are not related to making you humans. And, the third part of it is that the emotion and the experience of it is important. And so when we acknowledge and we accept that we have awkwardness around this topic, what it shows us is that the world is a weird place when it comes to talking about bodies and when it comes to talking about genitals. Right? So, um, one of the ways to make it easier is actually to start earlier in our kid's life. If that is possible.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Is there a right time to bring it up, because I know that at schools, oftentimes it's introduced through health or sex education, maybe around 10 years old. What are your thoughts?

Sarah Sproule:

So all the work I do is about building deeper connections in families. Okay. So, that's the glasses on which I look through everything.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Um,

Sarah Sproule:

um, when I think about conversations particularly about sex, now, we're talking about what sex is I think about, well, what is going to be the most connecting thing, a family. Can do when it comes to this topic. And the most connecting thing is to have that conversation. And when I say that competition, I mean, it's a series of conversations, everything we're talking about here. There is so much richness and depth to it and detail, um, that it's almost like the way we teach table manners to young children. Like we don't just sit down one day and teach table manners over years, we start. You know, teach them how to use a spoon and reminding them that they sit at the table, they don't run around and that, um, we don't throw food on the floor and we remind and we remind and we repeat and repeat and they get a bit older and then we add something in, we add something in. So that's the same thing for conversations about all sorts of weird and wacky sensitive things. Um, so while health class might do it at 10, 11, sometime around then my recommendation is to be actively talking about bodies and using accurate names for genitals, from a very young age, we are creating the foundation of much more comfortable conversations. can talk about, you know, that your body is your own and you get to decide what happens to it. And your body can tell you. You know, you, don't something doesn't feel right. And then you go up to the next level and then you can start talking about spans in eggs from sort of four and around the age of six or seven, you can talk about, well, how the sperms and eggs get together. Right. And so, and when we have this ongoing led conversation, cause that's what it is layering over time, a bit like. a pastry you know, how you layer it out and he gets a beautiful, fluffy croissant. That's what we're doing. We're trying to make the beautiful, fluffy croissant of sensitive conversations. And so that when they get to health class or biology or whatever it is, the information is not new. And their nervous system does not get signals of. I haven't heard this before. Everyone's laughing. What's going on instead they're sitting in their class going, oh yeah, I know. Well, this, um, why are people giggling? This is just normal everyday sort of information that our family, we talk about it. And I suppose. The other reason why we start early is because it sends a signal to our child that even if other people don't talk about these things in our family, we do, we are a family that talks to each other. We are a family that will do things that, um, say things and talk about things and answer questions. Even if other people, um, say, oh, no, you don't need to know that if our child is asking questions, We answered them. If a child isn't asking questions, then we'll bring up the topic because we know it's so important. So the earlier the better and, um, early and often is the mantra in sexuality, education speak early talk often.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Now, if we have older kids say there's a listener that has a 16 and a 14 year old, is it too late? What would you suggest for them?

Sarah Sproule:

It's never too late. One of the stories I tell about this is, I work in Ireland, so it's a little island off the coast of Europe. Um, and we had a referendum a few years ago that was talking about, who was allowed to be married under the law in our country. And because that referendum was happening, what it meant was that families all over our country were having conversations about things they had never talked about before. I, and when I say families, you might think that means families of 16 year olds and 12 year olds. And that was happening, but actually families, um, older parents who are in their seventies and eighties who were having conversations with grown adults in their fifties, who they had never been able to be open to. The fact that the reality of what their life was like, what the gender of their partner, for example, and in those moments, we were hearing stories about these families who that the love and the acceptance that were starting to flow because a conversation was happening around sexual orientation that was open and willing. People were willing to listen to each other's reality. connection that grew from those conversations was quite extraordinary. And the lesson of that is it isn't, it doesn't matter how old our children are. It doesn't matter how old we are. There is still an opportunity to use conversations about sensitive things in a way to show acceptance and love and support for our children. No matter who they are and who they grow up to love. So when it comes to a 16 year old and a 14 year old, if we have not ever had an open conversation about something to do with sex with them, then we can start off with taking the responsibility on ourselves because we are the adult in this relationship. Right. And so we could start a conversation. Somebody like, I need to apologize.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Um,

Sarah Sproule:

And, you know, I don't know. I have teens, I've got an 18 year old, a 16 year old and a 14 year old. And I need to apologize to you. Oftentimes I'll go. Right. Okay. Like, cause, cause they're like, what's going on? This is, she's not blaming me for something. There's something that's gone wrong and she's apologizing. What's the deal there. Right. I need to apologize to you. And then we can follow along. I have just realized that there was a whole pot of talking openly to you, but I didn't know about, or that I felt awkward about. And I didn't do. And I'm really sorry

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Um,

Sarah Sproule:

that means you may not feel supported or you might not really feel able to come to me with worries or concerns or questions. And, um, I know that now, but I didn't know that then.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Oh, that is so good. I just, I don't mean to cut you off, but I just have to say that is so good. Thank you for that script uh, I can see myself having to use that at some point where I've forgotten to bring something up and those words And those sentences, and that idea of starting out with taking responsibility. it also models so much. It models.

Sarah Sproule:

what I was going to say. Yes.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

So continue. I cut you off.

Sarah Sproule:

no, no, because it's beautiful. I love this conversation. I think you're right there about modeling because wouldn't, most of us want our young person to grow up into an adult who can take responsibility for their part in complex conflicts or situations, you know? I definitely want that for my children. In fact, I know that, um, in my relationship, The bedrock of its success and its progress has been both of our ability to claim responsibility for our part of whatever is going on. And so parenting gives us the opportunity to model that as well. And I think with older children, particularly, um, we need to understand that. We need to get their buy-in for when things change. So if we're changing the habit in our family, like we haven't talked about things related to sex and bodies and consent and all that. And now we realize we need to, um, we can't just say so on your parents or here's what's going to happen because that's not consensually. Like it's more about, um, could we sit down. And maybe have a meeting to try and work out a way that this, we could do this in the best way for you. And in a way that I feel like you've got everything you need, right? So it's those two needs are held with equal respect. Our young persons need to feel comfortable, and our parenting needs to feel sure that our young person has the information that is going to keep them safe and give them skills to, to have healthy and happy relationships.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

That seems like such an important thing that it's not just the what, but the how. Hmm. Love it. Now I, you know, learning about sex and kind of layering on these topics as teens have more agency to be on their own they may find themselves in situations where parents aren't around to protect them and say, is sexual assault something that is, is that an added layer to that sex discussion in a way?

Sarah Sproule:

Yeah, well, actually that can be woven through a conversation. So that's not something that we wait and talk about when our teens have got more independence. Right. Um, so go back to the table, manners analogy. We don't wait for our young person's first invitation to someone else's house for dinner to sit down and teach them all the things. Right. So we're talking about how, when we go out, Well, we are quiet and we talk with our inside voice and we use a knife and fork together and all those sorts of things. So we're leading up to that point where they will be in a situation where we're not there and they need to rely on their skills. So in the same way, when it comes to this conversation and you're talking about abuse prevention and, um, in my world, I would describe that as learning consent skills, that we are creating situations at home where our kids and our young people, um, experience what it feels like to have their voice respected, for example. So we're setting up situations where they are offered choices for things around our home, rather than the dynamic of you do what you're told. Right. Because if we have particular. Daughters or, um, quietly spoken, gentle kids, the importance of modeling to them, what respectful listening and acknowledgement of their opinion and their needs feels like that's a body sensation. You know, hearing ourself treated with respect in our home. And so when they're going out then their body, once they know what it feels like to be respected, that they've got a radar for when it doesn't like, um, I heard a 16 year old was telling her mom a few months ago that she was talking to. It was a boyfriend actually. And she came home to a mum and said, like, he doesn't listen. doesn't listen. Like he's not listening to what I'm saying is just going off and doing something else. And the only reason that she knew that is because she understands what it feels like to be heard. Right. So there's that opportunity to judge against what healthy and good and respectful feels like.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Yeah.

Sarah Sproule:

Well, there are lots of other abuse prevention sort of strategies where I come from in my work is how can we live what healthy feels like. And as we live, what healthy feels like, and we're offering our young person a chance to sort of shape how they get information, then they're understanding what healthy feels like. And they're getting information both in a way that feels good. And, um, and that way, then everything comes together and we're doing the best, the best we can. The reason I say that is because it doesn't matter and this will be a little bit dark, but I think it's important to say it doesn't matter how many conversations we have and how careful we are and how upskilled out young prison is. There is still an element of chance, horrible chance, you know? And so as adults. Skills can we put in place in ourselves to be there, even when things go, go badly wrong and so that we can stay calm and really be there for our young person, because at the end of the day, we're their parent, whether or not they. Do something to someone else inadvertently or just because they didn't know, or they are done to in some way by someone else's, um, by someone else's young person, you know? So it's all about setting ourselves up to be there, no matter what.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Yes. Being able to accommodate those moments as well, living in a, way that makes it okay for them to come to you with also the not so great things and the confusing moments, et cetera. Um, you've covered so much. I feel so much smarter after a short time talking with you. I'd love to know if you have any affirmations or maybe phrases of encouragement that you'd like to leave the listeners with as we tackle difficult and hard conversations.

Sarah Sproule:

The thing that is really helps the people in my world that I work with, but actually personally has made such a difference has been the practice of self compassion. And, um, there are three simple self-compassion phrases that apply so much to parenting, but specifically to conversations about sensitive things and they are, um, this is hard.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

Um,

Sarah Sproule:

Anyone would find this hard and, you are not on your own. So if it's possible, Sort of step into the, yeah, this is complicated. You're not on your own that it's complicated and in the moment when you acknowledge it's complicated, give yourself a bit of a hug and say, you know what? It's okay. This is just like any other part of parenting. It's hard. Um, that's the thing, rather than running away from the complexity of the moment turning and face, it has like a balm to my soul. And so, um, I offer that.

Carmelita (Cat) Tiu, Host:

I loved this conversation with Sarah and I'm stunned by how much I learned and how many nuances there are to this topic. Here were my top takeaways. Number one. I actively talk about sex, genitals and bodies from an early age, if possible, to. Create a foundation for more comfortable conversations that way when your child gets to health class or their peers start talking about it. The information isn't new and they don't feel awkward as it's been normalized. Also, it sends a signal that your family talks to each other, and it's safe to ask and answer questions. Even if other families don't operate that way. Number two. Give yourself permission to feel awkward. It's okay to feel that way. If we model to our kids, that conversations about sensitive topics are a burden. Like you don't want to do it, but you're going to push through and try to have this conversation anyway. That's not muddling consent. It's not enough to say the words. It's how you say them too. Number three, it's never too late to start having an open conversation about sex with your kids. There's always an opportunity to use conversations about sensitive things. In a way that shows acceptance and love and support for our children. Number four it's on you to claim responsibility for not talking about things sooner. Here's a sample script for late comers to the open conversation game. I need to apologize to you. I just realized that there are a lot of things I didn't know about or that I felt awkward about, and I didn't do. Do. And I'm really sorry. Because that means you might not feel supported or able to come to me with worries, concerns or questions. I know that. Now, but I didn't know it then. Number five. If you are introducing a topic for the first time when your child is older, get buy-in for this change. Try to work out a way that makes sense for both of you where they can feel comfortable and you can share with them the information they. I need. Number six, create situations at home where your child's voice is respected. So they know that sensation and will be able to recognize situations when they don't have that. Live what healthy feels like. And number seven. Treat yourself with compassion. Remember, anyone would find this hard. You are not on your own and give yourself a little hug and tell yourself. It's okay. To learn more about Sarah Sproul. Visit Sarah sproul.com. That's S a R a H S P R O U L e.com. And follow at. I am Sarah Sproul on Instagram. You can check out her podcast too. It's called sitting in a car. Where she discusses sexuality relationships and consent for parents of teens and little kids. You can find sitting at a car on all the major platforms. And she also offers a 15 minute training on how to talk to really young kids about what sex is for making a baby. At Sarah sproul.com/bio. These links are in the show notes as well. So feel free to head there to get them. A huge. Thanks for listening. I am honored and humbled to share a portion of your day with you. If you found something helpful or insightful, remember to subscribe or follow, tell a friend and leave that review. Again, so grateful for you and here's to strong women. May we know them, may we be them? And may we raise them?