by Karen PlattMy son and I have always had up-front discussions about anatomy, babies, reproduction, etc. Recently, he asked me again how babies were made. I thought he wanted to hear the same information I had always given him but he said “No, Mommy, I know that. How do you get the sperm to the egg?” Screeeech...went my thought process; he wants to know about sex, a topic that hadn’t come up before as he hadn’t seemed to want that information. I explained as best as I could what goes on between a man and woman, but felt it was woefully inadequate. How would you suggest telling him?
“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” said Tennyson. Not coincidentally, every year I know spring has arrived because of a spike in the number of questions from parents about how to explain the actual “penis goes into the vagina to deliver sperm to the ovum” phenomenon. I know, it’s now August, but the reality of editorial calendars means spring questions get answered in summer. Besides, I suspect parents grapple with this question, even in the dead of winter.
It seems many of us are pretty competent when it comes to dispassionately discussing with our children how a baby grows in the uterus (note, I did not say “tummy”) but are at a loss for words when we are asked for the juicy details: “but how did the baby get in there?”
In her books and lectures, Canadian sex education guru Meg Hickling has always instructed parents to take a deep breath and simply state the “penis goes into the vagina...” line—a no-nonsense, matter-of-fact method of dealing with the question. While I think Meg has a pretty good approach, this response, without some embellishment, is a bit lacking in information that is important to give to young minds trying to figure out the workings of the world around them.
The penis does indeed go into the vagina to deliver sperm to the ovum (practice makes perfect) but without adding details—such as who one might do this with and when, whether love (or at least warm fuzzy feelings for the other person) is involved or how old one might be before thinking about this as an activity—parents are missing a golden opportunity. Here is a perfect time to begin to impart your feelings about these thorny questions related to values around sexual activity.
In Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (but were afraid they’d ask)
, authors Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster suggest something like this: “When a man and woman (or husband and wife) love each other and they want to have a baby, they get very close. The man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina and when they rub together, sperm come out of his penis and travel into her body. If one of the man’s tiny sperm meets one of the woman’s tiny eggs, they start to grow into a baby in a special place inside the mother called the uterus. This is something you won’t get to do until you are much older.”
Remember that children are literal. If you compare the process to a seed being planted, it is very likely your child will assume that babies will grow like flowers or vegetables, things they have seen growing from seeds. If you tell him the baby grows in a mommy’s tummy, he may wonder what she ate to get the baby in there. Keep it simple and try to think from a child’s perspective. Base the amount of detail you give on his readiness and curiosity. A number of great books to read with your kids are recommended at www.islandparent.ca.
Don’t forget to clarify what information your child is asking for. “Where did I come from?” may be a question of geography, not biology.
Above all, don’t wait for your child to ask. “It’s hard to imagine waiting for your child to ask what crossing lights are for before telling him to stop at the don’t walk sign,” write Richardson & Schuster. Many kids won’t ask, either because they think they know, they are embarrassed or they have picked up on your hesitation or discomfort. “Better you decide what you would like your kids to learn and when,” they continue. “And if they haven’t asked by then, teach them.”Karen Platt is a writer and sexual health educator. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.