Teachable Moments with My Father

by Allyson Sandak

As I celebrated Father’s Day with my family, I reflected a lot on sexuality education. Being a sexuality educator, I tend to do that quite often, but this year’s Father’s Day was a bit more poignant than usual. I am expecting my first child and wanted to explain my pregnancy to my five-year-old niece so she could understand what was going on with my body and that she would soon have a little cousin. Mostly, I wanted her to stop playfully kicking me in the belly.

Today’s conversation also reminded me of my personal experiences with family-based sexuality education. What I remember most are my conversations with my parents.

Father’s Day took me back to a fond memory of a conversation with my Dad. I was in junior high school, watching the TV Show Dear John with him. A character known for his sexual proclivities ended up in a priest’s office, with condoms falling out of his coat pocket. The studio audience laughed. My father laughed. I, not having any social context for what was happening but still wanting to appear in the know, laughed. My Dad, sensing that I didn’t understand, used this as a Teachable Moment, something sexuality educators frequently suggest to parents. Here’s how our conversation went:

Dad: “Do you know what those (referring to the condoms) are?”
Me: “Uh-huh” (in classic one-word adolescent speak, and blatantly lying because I had no idea what condoms were).
Dad: “Those are condoms. Do you know what they’re used for?”
Me: “Uh-huh” (still not knowing).
Dad: “They go over a man’s penis to prevent pregnancy.”

He further explained the social and religious context humor of the situation in fairly teen-friendly language. By sexuality educator standards, he did a fabulous job harnessing the power of the teachable moment!

We didn’t talk much more about sexuality while I was a child, but we did revisit the topic years later when I first started my career as a sexuality educator. I was still living at home with my parents and preparing to conduct my first male and female condom demonstrations at a program the next day. My father walked in as I was pulling the female condom out of the wrapper. After my initial panic, I realized that this was a teachable moment. Here’s how our conversation went:

Me: “Do you know what this is?”
Dad: “I believe it’s a female condom.” (I was impressed he knew.)
Me: “Do you know how it’s used?”
Dad: “I don’t believe I do.”

I proceed to demonstrate the condom’s proper use on an empty toiled paper roll (this was before I had a fancy pelvic model).

I left that conversation thinking that I harnessed the power of a teachable moment – years after my Dad first did so me. It all came around full-circle.

I pose some questions to our readers:

Parents – how have you addressed sexuality with your children?
Sexuality Educators – what tips do you have for parents looking to address sexuality with their children?

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to all the wonderful sexuality educators out there – professional and otherwise!