How a Student Dictionary Almost Prompted the Sex Talk with an Eight-Year-Old

My relationship with Max up until the custody change had been a series of snapshots.  One weekend he was crawling; two weekends later he was standing; the next time I saw him he had taken his first steps. Between visits he would decide that he loved peas – the very next time I tried to serve him peas, he hated them.  Every time he visited he was a new, different person.  From my perspective he was growing up in flash frames, like he spent his visits with his dad and me under a strobe light.

I now find myself having to remember to slow down with him.  I see him just about every day. We have time.  But I often forget that he didn’t actually grow as fast as it seemed like he was growing.  So it was to my amusement and delight that I found myself (almost) having a conversation with an eight-year-old about sex.

Max was given a “student” dictionary at school.  (It’s like a regular dictionary, but with all the swearwords and stuff taken out.)  OF COURSE the first thing he and his friends did was look for all the nasty words they could think of.  Max came home that day and proudly displayed his new dictionary, saying that it was a student dictionary so he could use it.  “Except, it does have one…inappropriate word in it,” he told me.

I raised my eyebrows.  “What word is that?”

He immediately began to fidget. “Ummmmm….I’m not supposed to say it.”

“Max, I’m asking you to tell me the word.  You’re not using it, I just want to know which word you found.”

He leaned close (we were the only people in the house) and whispered, “S-E-X.”

After I stopped choking on my laughter while trying unsuccessfully to hide it, I told him that sex is not an inappropriate word.  It’s actually really important at certain points in your life to be able to talk about sex; it’s just not something he’s likely to need to discuss at his age.

“Yeah,” he said, “because I’m really young.  But I already kinda know what it is.”

My eyebrows went up again. “You know what sex is, huh?  Tell me.”


“Tell me what you think sex is.”

He started fidgeting again.  “Well, it’s like, kissing…and stuff.”

I told him no, sex is not the same thing as kissing, although they’re related.

“Well, like…love.  And stuff.”

I was a little quicker to correct him this time. “No, sex is not the same thing as love, although people who are in love might have sex.  But you can have sex without being in love.”

Max, desperate now to demonstrate how worldly he is, blurted out, “Okay, well, I do know that if you add a “y” to the end it means a beautiful woman.”  (This is the point in my later retelling of the story to my husband where he burst out laughing.)

“Um, that’s not exactly what that means either, and that was a little sexist, kiddo.”

Max, exasperated, said, “What does that mean?”

Having determined that the kid, appropriately, knows very little about sex, I put him out of his misery at that point and told him that he does not understand sex yet and that’s perfectly okay because he’s eight.

It was a great reminder for me that, no matter how much growing up he’s done, he’s still got more to do.  And I will be here to help him with it.


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