by Deborah Roffman
Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012
Review by Hennie Weiss on Dec 25th 2012
Are you embarrassed about talking to your child/children about sex? Do you dread the infamous “sex talk” about the “birds and the bees”? Deborah Roffman, author of Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person about Sex, states that overcoming any embarrassment and making sure that you are the first person your child/children will talk to is essential when teaching about and discussing sexuality. Roffman also states that discussions about sex should not be restricted to an isolated time or “sex talk” but that discussions about sexuality, sexual behaviors, feelings, and body functions are essential topics to teach and elaborate on as children grow, mature, become teenagers, ask questions, and have their own experiences.
What Roffman encourages is using a matter of fact (no slang words, or made up words) language, devoid of stereotypes that encompasses the broader notion of sexuality, not just sex. Roffman provides an interesting analogy using vegetables as to why it is important to talk about sexuality (including behaviors, attitudes, feelings, body parts and body openings, not just sex); “Almost universally, Americans make use of the word “sex” –in thought, speech, and written word – as shorthand for vaginal intercourse. That’s the equivalent of using the word “vegetable” as shorthand for “celery”. Not only would we linguistically wipe out the entire vegetable department (except for the celery), we would have no language for talking or even thinking about peas, carrots, or broccoli” (p. 18).
As much as Roffman states that notions of sexuality have changed, they have also stayed the same. Therefore, it is important for today’s parents, who perhaps did not talk about sexuality with their own parents, to initiate discussions with a child, to listen carefully, be truthful and help clear any confusion about what that child might hear from others, the media, or overhear adults talking about. As children today have greater access to information (including incorrect and one-sided information) through media sources such as social networking sites, television and other online sites, Roffman stressed the importance of being the first and most central person when discussing sexuality with your child. Children are likely to draw conclusions based on very subjective information or erroneous beliefs, and think that their peers are engaging in behaviors that they are not. Roffman states “Kids have far off-the-mark beliefs about older kids’ behaviors, too, so that when they think about next year or the year after, or even beyond, they anticipate (incorrectly) what “everyone is doing” and what they’ll have to do, too” (p. 183). Playing on those incorrect assumptions is the entertainment media, who further spur the notion of engaging in certain (often risky) behaviors. This is only one reason why Roffman believes that talking to your child first is essential, as your child will then use those discussions and the knowledge derived from them when making decisions and gauging consequences.
Throughout the book, Roffman is able to integrate information about physical and mental development that is more or less universal among children of certain age groups with more specific suggestions pertaining to notions of gender (such as the sexual double standard for girls and the notion that “boys will be boys” when it comes to male sexual behavior) with conversations about sexual orientation (LGBTQ), pornography, along with discussions concerning “newer” behaviors, such as grinding and sexting. What Roffman also does exceptionally well is to maintain a witty and funny stance when discussing the best way to talk to a child, while doing so in a very frank and matter of fact way. At the same time, Roffman blends theory with experience, to provide the reader with a guide about talking to children that is age appropriate, diverse and that permeates the whole book. Roffman also dedicates a whole chapter (chapter 9, Practice Makes Proficient: Let’s Go Fishing) to providing examples of how to differentiate between your needs as a parents and the child’s need, while also integrating responses to behaviors and questions, and additional scenarios. The appendix is also a valuable tool as it described and provides ways for parents to discuss the female and male reproductive system, organs, systems, and openings, hormones, STIs and much more.
The intended audience is parents (guardians, grandparents) of a child or children no matter the age. The book is intended to be used as a learning tools stretching from birth until adulthood, but Roffman argues that just because you start reading the book when your child is a teenager you can still implement the examples, suggestions and developmentally appropriate directions on how to speak with your child. And parents will surely find the book interesting and valuable as they navigate through developmental stages, difficult questions, and gendered experiences.
© 2012 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master’s degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.