No parent enjoys talking to their children about sex, they dread it. But there comes a point in every child’s life when they start asking those questions. Lots of those questions:
How are babies made?
Why can’t daddies have babies?
Why does my penis get so big when I touch it?
The questions may be different but they all result in the same awkward conversation – the sex talk. I don’t remember my own questions and subsequent sex talk, but my mother definitely remembered and she used to tell me about it.
Through the power of Sesame Street and The Electric Company I taught myself how to read at a very early age. My relatives used to joke about how I was reading The Wall Street Journal at age 4 which is just absurd because at age 4 I preferred the liberal-elitist bias of The New York Times. Since I was such an early reader, sometimes I would read books that were meant for older children. I doubt that Judy Blume’s book Are You There God It’s Me Margaret is on a list of recommended books for first graders, but that’s when I read it. There’s a reason Are You There God It’s Me Margaret is intended for 9-12 year olds and not 7 year olds, a reason made crystal clear by the question I asked my mother when I finished reading the book:
What’s a period?
After the initial holy-shit-my-7-year-old-daughter-is-asking-about-periods shock, my mother picked her jaw up off the floor, told me to stop reading Judy Blume books and handed me some “what’s happening to my body” book to read instead. That was it – no sex talk, just a book. My mother felt pretty proud that she found a way to avoid the uncomfortable parent/child sex talk. She wasn’t so proud when she found out that I had taken my new period knowledge and shared it with my classmates…in detail. So my mother did end up having some awkward conversations that week – with the other parents!
I guess I learned a thing or two from that “facts of life” book since I made it through puberty, had sex, got pregnant a handful of times and had a couple of kids. I remember holding my firstborn son, being in awe of how small, sweet and innocent he was. But even when he was just days old, I knew he wouldn’t be that sweet and innocent boy forever. He would grow up and one day I’d find him secretly looking through my medical books in search of pictures of naked girls. One day I would have to have that unpleasant sex talk with him. Sure,I could let my husband handle that conversation but do I really want a man who giggles every time he passes the restaurant named Booby’s to be in charge of the sex talk? Besides, I am the medical professional in the family so it makes perfect sense for me discuss the birds and the bees with my sons. I figured there was no reason to delay the inevitable, so I gave my firstborn son his first lesson in sex education at a very early age:
He certainly seemed to enjoy that lesson!
When my son was 3 years old we had a baby on the way. I knew he would have questions about the pregnancy and the new baby. I wanted to explain things so he’d understand them but I really wanted to use some anatomically correct words too. Maybe it’s because I’m a doctor, but I think having my 3 year old walk around and tell people, “My mommy has a baby in her uterus” would have been hilarious. But that plan went uterus belly up because my son was a late talker and at age 3 he still hadn’t uttered his first words. The odds were pretty good that uterus wouldn’t be his first word. He used a portable computerized talker to communicate, but this Stephen Hawking-like talking device was programmed with common words and uterus isn’t a common vocabulary word for a 3 year old. So when we told him about the baby, we opted for the classic “Mommy has a baby in her tummy” explanation and he accepted that story without hesitation.
As he got older, from time to time he would have some sex related questions. Obviously he wasn’t at an age where the complete birds and bees talk was necessary so sometimes the answers to his questions were brief and superficial.
Q: Why doesn’t Mommy have a penis?
A: Because she’s a girl. Girls have vaginas. Boys have penises. Hey, I think it’s time for a snack, let’s go!
Q: How does the baby get out of the tummy?
A: It comes out the vagina. Hey, it’s a great day for the park, let’s go!
Q: Why does my penis get so big when I touch it?
A: Because it does. Now stop touching it!
These answers satisfied him when he was 4 and 5 but when he turned 6 things changed. He was older, smarter and would not let us tap dance around the questions any longer. He wanted to know exactly how babies were made. Since he was also an early reader, I thought if my mother gave me a book about this topic to read on my own, maybe this could become a new family tradition and I could hand him a book that would answer all of his questions. How could a book like It’s NOT The Stork not become an instant family classic? But when I offered my son a book he said he didn’t want to read a book, he wanted me to answer his question…NOW. Uh-oh. There was no escaping this time. So I took a deep breath and explained how babies were made. I don’t remember the exact conversation. I know I used some anatomically correct words like vagina and penis but I also used some more family friendly terms like egg and seed. My son listened intently and when my awkward explanation came to an end he had only one thing to say:
So, you and dad did that 2 times?
Yes son, 2 times. Hey, it’s a nice day for a bike ride, let’s go!