When my mother was thirteen years old, my grandmother handed her an information booklet that came with a packet of sanitary napkins. It addressed all the necessary topics in relation to “becoming a woman”. She instructed her not to read past page ten and astonishingly, my mum obeyed this directive.
I’d love to get a hold of that book and turn straight to page ten. Obviously that’s where the real action kicks in. Nothing like a piece of 1950’s sanitised porn to spice up your family planning conversations.
Now a parent of children who are full of inquisitive questions, my secret hope was that my eldest would absorb sex education, by osmosis from his classmates, and pass it down his sibling line, with minimal intervention from me.
Then again, I remember sniggering with friends over “Where did I come from?” in the school library when I was in primary school. The word penis
was pants-wetting hilarious. I recall someone joking about a condom
and I laughed along, then snuck off to look up its meaning in the dictionary. “Prophylactic” “latex” and “intercourse” did nothing to aid my understanding of the word.
Perhaps having my eldest receive Chinese Whispers style sex education via his mates at school is not the best course of action.
Failing that option, I expected my husband might pick up the slack, with three boys his captive audience, and I could hang in the back stalls, smiling encouragingly.
No such luck.
Whilst pregnant with my fourth child, my five year old stared at my stomach, gave it a rub and then asked, “How do you get the baby out?”
When I gave a bare bones explanation, vaguely alluding to vaginal birth and c-section options, he pondered the information for a while.
Then he asked, “Oh. But how does the baby get in
?”Oh yeah. Here we go. C’mon, you knew this question was coming. You can’t walk around with a baby in your stomach and not expect to be asked how it got there. You should’ve prepared for this, you moron! Why didn’t you read up on “Where did I come from?”? Even better, why didn’t you memorise it as a kid, in preparation for this day?
“Well. There is a seed. And an egg,” I begin, trying to sound at ease, and without breaking into an unnatural sweat. Keep It Simple, Stupid
, I prompt myself.
“The man has the seed. The woman has the egg. They join together and the baby begins growing.”Wow, that was truly pathetic
. I smile at my five year old, waiting nervously for the next question.
“What’s for dinner?” he asks. Phew. There’s a question I can answer.
Given that abysmal explanation, I decide to undertake more extensive research about addressing the topic matter with children.
A Google search for sex education introduces me to a whole world of pain. I should’ve known the “s” word only means one thing on the Internet. Plenty of offers of friendly conversations with 18-year-old girls who are fun loving and firm-breasted. Not exactly the information I was after.
Parenting books tell us it shouldn’t be a topic we shy away from. No need to be all uptight about it. Just answer the kids’ questions, as they arise, age-appropriately. Skip making a big deal, building up to a conversation that ends in nervous diatribe about eggs and sperm and birds and bees falling in love, and just relax.
Not always possible when our children save the most intricate questions for the least convenient times, often catching us (and all the people in the supermarket queue) off guard.
“Why does my willy go hard when I touch it?”
Is this when I throw to the checkout operator and let her answer it?Dr Phil
says “be truthful but abstract” for children under six. Defer the graphic and gory details – don’t “[talk] about sexual penetration because it can scare them.” It scares me too, Dr Phil. Actually “Dr Phil” and the word “penetration” in the same sentence, scares me most.
So, random storks and cabbage patches are not the accepted explanations.
Like Dr Phil, Sex therapist Dr Laura Berman
also urges parents to be open and honest. She advises that sex education should be an ongoing and evolving subject, rather than one "big talk". For young children, she suggests: a) giving them a language they can use for their sexual organs and
b) making sure they don't get negative messages about those organs that can set them up for feeling that sex is going to be "dirty" or "bad".
Teaching them the anatomically correct names for their genitals is all well and good until the not-quite-three-year-old informs his baby sister in the bath, “Boys have penises. Girls have China.”
I can appreciate open, honest, accurate discussions about the human body and sex, while they are young, are a great way to set up easy communication between children and parents. I’m just not very good at it.
Best I get myself to a library and read up on China.Have you had any tricky questions about sex from your kids? Did you have a “big talk” or just let the information filter in gradually?