Beyond the Birds and the Bees: Talking with Your Children About Getting Pregnant

“Where do babies come from?”

It’s a question children have asked adults for decades. We use different stories and legends – such as storks delivering babies in baskets – to answer those questions until children are older and ready to talk about relationships and sex.

As an educator, I have the opportunity to talk to teens about important topics such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs,) sex and pregnancy. Many teens I meet never learned the candid, straight-forward facts about how you can get pregnant. And, many don’t know who can get pregnant or what they can do to prevent pregnancy. Parents should not assume that their children understand the basic mechanics of conception.

Although it can be an uncomfortable topic, it is important to make sure our teens understand the facts before they become sexually active so they can be informed, safe and protected. There are many myths and inaccurate facts out there. Here are some things to think about when talking candidly with your teen, or pre-teen, about pregnancy.

Having the Talk.

You should not wait for your child to ask questions about sex. Children are curious, but most are not bold enough to openly speak with their parents about sex and pregnancy. It’s important to remember that sex is a natural part of life and they shouldn’t feel ashamed by their feelings.

There is not any perfect age for “the talk.” Instead of one long (and probably awkward conversation), parents should always be open to answering their kids’ questions, looking for appropriate times to bring up a topic – such as something you see on TV or the internet, or something they learn in school. Look for times when there aren’t a lot of distractions or other kids around.

Parents should never act angry, threatening (“you better not do that!”) or use scare tactics when talking with their kids. Children who are afraid of what their parents might think or say do not feel comfortable discussing these topics. Parents need not act horrified or surprised if their kids ask a sex-related question; it is quite normal for children to be curious. Both parents can engage kids in the conversation and should not defer answers to the other parent.

The Facts:  What to Share.

Anyone who has reached reproductive age can get pregnant. Once a female gets her first period, and a boy is able to ejaculate they are physically able to conceive a child. You do not have to be married or in a relationship to have a baby.

You can get pregnant the “first time.” Many teens don’t understand that having sex, or sexual intercourse, is the act of conceiving a child. And, many teens don’t understand how a child is conceived.

How exactly does conception occur?  First, it’s essential to begin teaching proper names for body parts as soon as children can understand them. As they get older, they can learn how these body parts function. Many kids learn names for genitals that parents create to ease their discomfort. These terms can be vague, confusing or inaccurate. Using books that provide accurate information in an age-appropriate way can be a valuable resource for parents.

Here’s one way to explain it to your children using proper terms: When the male ejaculates into the vagina of the female, his sperm swim up the vagina into the uterus, where the female has an egg. Each month, during a woman’s cycle (ovulation), a new egg travels to the uterus from the ovaries to await being fertilized by the sperm. Once the sperm reaches the egg, it attempts to break through the lining of the egg to achieve fertilization. If the egg is fertilized it can develop to become a baby. It only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, but each drop of ejaculate contains millions of sperm! So, it only takes one act of sexual intercourse to make a baby.

Unplanned and Unprotected Sex Can Have Consequences

It is important for your child to consider the impact of an unplanned pregnancy. About half of pregnancies are unplanned and many who have sex do not want to become pregnant. They want to finish school, start a career or be in a relationship before having a baby.

Since approximately 42 percent of teens are sexually active, many of these teens feel like they are too young to have a baby. However, if people who have sex do not use protection such as birth control, no matter their age, they are putting themselves at risk for not only an unplanned pregnancy but also a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Many young people who choose to have sex regret their decision later. Teens who are in “the heat of the moment” may not be thinking clearly about the consequences of sexual activity. Encourage your teen to take the time to make sure they are ready for sex. Know that having sexual intercourse, especially if it’s unplanned or unprotected, can result in STIs and/or a pregnancy!

Protection is Important.

It’s important for teens to learn how NOT to get pregnant. Many different forms of contraception (birth control) are available to prevent pregnancy. Visit www.NationwideChildrens.org/BC4Teens for more information or to schedule an appointment and listen to our PediaCast for more tips from our experts. Remember to ALWAYS use a condom along with a hormonal method of birth control to be protected against STIs and pregnancy!

Sarah Saxbe
Sarah Saxbe, MS, MSW, LISW-S, coordinates community outreach and marketing for Nationwide Children's Hospital Teen and Pregnant Program, BC4Teens birth control clinic, and the Ohio Better Birth Outcomes collaborative.

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