Talking About Sex
By Mark Stephenson
Sex is a great thing. It’s fun. It’s good for your health. And it’s free.
I want my daughter to enjoy sex. (I have a daughter, but I believe all this applies to boys too.)
Well, whenever she chooses.
Making choices requires certain conditions.
She needs to know that she is important, and to like herself – the choice is for her. She needs to know there are options from which to choose. She needs to be in control of her own body, without fear or ignorance. Information leads to confidence in knowledge which leads to power to make decisions.
With knowledge comes ownership, and rights. The right to say no. The right to say yes. The right to protect herself from harm. Basic human rights when you think about it.
This is where you come in. Yes, you! Don’t go turning the TV on. This won’t go away. In spite of children acting all-knowing and worldly, you can still be your child’s best teacher. Or at least their most trustworthy and available guide.
This opportunity arises because you have only their best interests at heart, and they observe your behaviour and reactions all their lives. They see how comfortable you are with yourself, your body, and your partner. Also what causes you anxiety and what you avoid.
They hear what you discuss in front of them. If you are comfortable with talking about sex, it is likely they will be too.
Children are very much the centre of their own world. Things that directly concern them affect and interest them most. They show great interest in themselves as babies. My daughter loves to see videos of herself as an infant, feeding, talking, and being spoilt for attention by her parents.
Children are philosophers. Philosophers ask questions.
‘Where did I come from?’
Well, that’s easy – ‘From Mummy’s tummy.’
The next question is, ‘How did I get out?’.
No problem – ‘You were pushed out through Mummy’s vagina.’ That takes some swallowing, but OK.
‘How did I get in there?’ they ask, or, ‘Did I really need a Daddy, then?’
So you tell them how Daddy’s seed was put inside Mummy’s womb in whatever detail you feel comfortable with.
Then the obvious question is, ‘Why?’
It may not be voiced out loud, but, ‘Why would you do that?’
‘Because we loved each other and it felt really good, and we wanted to make a baby and that was you.’
So this needs to be said, and perhaps a relaxed atmosphere is as important as the actual information.
Whatever we say to our children, they are bombarded with information from all sorts of sources. Sexual themes and messages about the different genders are everywhere.
TV is full of complex, subliminal messages. Billboards show us women with large breasts, men with fast cars. Sex is all around us, in various guises, associated with money, power and even food.
Children are sponges and soak it all up. Likewise, they learn from observing adult interactions outside the home. Their peers at school pass on ‘information’ too. And some of it is pretty weird.
If there is a gap, they will fill it. Fortunately, there are better resources available for us to choose.
Schools are required to have sexuality education as part of the Health and Physical Education curriculum. The strands of the curriculum are: Sexual Development – physical, emotional, social; Reproductive Health; Personal/Interpersonal skills; and Relationship Skills.
Junior schools seem to concentrate mainly on self-esteem, naming body parts, feelings about the body, changes of puberty, and ownership (saying no). Later schooling includes more biology, reproduction, pregnancy, contraception and avoiding sexually transmitted infections.
They must consult with the school community (parents, BOT, teachers) and take into account the diverse local communities before preparing the programme they will teach. So, what is actually taught in the classroom will vary according to what is acceptable to a particular community.
The only way to find the details is to talk to the individual teacher responsible for your child’s class.
Books are a great source of knowledge. Wellington Central Library, e.g., has a range of books on sex for a range of ages. I picked out six of the best for younger children, i.e., the junior school age, or pre-schoolers.
Babette Cole’s Mummy Laid an Egg could be read to under 5s too. It is narrated by the children, telling their parents the facts of life, including how mums and dads fit together.
This is a nice touch, for younger readers who like to feel they are the ones with the information at hand. It’s funny for adults too.
Hair in Funny Places, by the same author, is in the same zany style but about the changes of puberty. Narrated by a teddy bear, the hormones are represented as tiny creatures making potions inside the body. It is a lot of fun but the information is accurate enough.
How did I Begin by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom starts with the ‘special cuddle’ between mum and dad, which is really important. It goes on to explain sex, conception, chromosomes, development and birth, but in the style of a young child’s picture book. A good one to read with a child.
My Amazing Journey by Pat Thomas is also in the picture book format. This one asks the questions children ask, then answers them with a strong focus on the relationships involved.
It talks of love and the different ways of showing it before moving through sex, conception to birth. The drawings are simple but useful, and never divorced from the people involved.
Peter Mayle, the author of the infamous ‘Willy’ books as well as Toujour Provence etc wrote a book, Where Did I Come From. Though now somewhat dated and ‘willy-centric’, it has a more detailed description of sexual intercourse. It has rather more text than the others, suited to older children who read to themselves.
Let’s Talk About Where Babies Come From, by Robie H. Harris, is a wide-ranging resource book. A great one to have available on the bookshelf when need arises. It is more detailed than the others and includes chapters on the questions, the biology, puberty, ‘What’s sex?’, ‘What’s love?’, the foetus, birth, babies, genetics, keeping safe, and even HIV.
Though it sounds a bit serious, it is told in partly comic-strip style, with plenty of excellent drawings. A mine of accurate information. It would be useful to read with a child, or to read themselves.
Then there is the internet. The volume is staggering. If you have the time to wade through the dross and the advertising, good luck to you. Try a google search for
In the area of sex education, it may be better to begin earlier rather than later. Children are often further ahead than you are aware. Like an iceberg, there is so much more under the surface than a single question would suggest.
If you don’t bring something up, they may think you don’t know or aren’t interested. They will still absorb information, but what quality will it be? The best quote I found was this: ‘If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.’
Far better to sit down with this special person with a book. And spend time with them in a safe place while they discover and learn about the world.
They might just have as much to teach as to learn. After all, that’s what good relationships are all about.
Learning to Suck Eggs – A Personal Story
We were sitting in bed, savouring a cup of tea in the quiet of early morning. Enter Gina. Seven and a half years old (if you please), of the long,blonde haired angelic variety.
She stood in thought, twisting a lock of hair round her finger. Suddenly she looked up. ‘Daddy, do you know what sex is?’
There was a staccato choking sound on my left. I glanced across at Ann. Face a fetching purple colour, her eyes protruded to an alarming degree; a minor apoplexy she later claimed was due to an inhaled toast crumb.
There was a pregnant pause.
I managed to gain control of a swig of tea, and said with a gulp, ‘Yes I do.’ I put my tea down. ‘Do you know what sex is?’
‘Of course.’ Came the obvious reply.
‘Oh.’ I said, beaming at Gina.
Clearly, I was cast in the role of naïve older person. Sad really. She had discovered something important and was in a position to give out information on the subject. It wasn’t to be broadcast willy-nilly, however.
After a moment’s silence, I said, ‘What is it, then?’
‘Well,’ she began, weighing up how best to broach a curly topic to an innocent parent, ‘it’s when people get under the bed-clothes and cuddle each other.’
Then followed a rather tortuous question and answer session during which I discovered that babies came from the mummy’s tummy and they get there by them swallowing worms. And yes, I was the one asking the questions.
There was more than a grain of truth in what my daughter asserted and she seemed content with the level of information she had.
She didn’task any more questions so we left it there. We did not follow through to where the worms come from (everyone knows worms come from the ground after all).
I think fielding difficult questions is part of the joy of parenting children of Gina’s age. To watch them working the world out is great fun.
Explaining things in the right terms for your child can be quite a challenge. I don’t know if there is a ‘right time’ to explain sex to kids. I reckon it is best to use opportunities as they arise and have honesty as a guiding principle.
I wonder what experiences other parents have had. I would love to hear how other readers have dealt with this kind of situation. In practice rather than in theory.
Next: A Womans Work?