It was bedtime for my seven-year-old, and I’d just finished reading a few pages from her favourite book and was about to say goodnight when she asked,
“Mummy, how exactly ARE babies made?”
Oh no, I thought, not now.
“Can we talk about this tomorrow,” I pleaded, hoping to postpone the conversation. “It’s a bit complicated.”
“Come on, mummy, how complicated can it be?” my daughter snapped, “you must know how babies are made since you made two with daddy!”
“Well, you need a man and a woman…” I began, but my daughter cut me off,
“I know that already, and I know about the mummy’s egg and the daddy’s sperm, but HOW do they come together to make a baby?”
I’ve always believed in being straight with children when they ask questions, but at that moment I suddenly felt unsure about how much information was appropriate. So, I heard myself blabbering, “Well when a man and a woman are deeply in love, and they decide to make a baby, they lie together….”
My vagueness only prompted more questions from my daughter who, I realised, wasn’t going to let me off the hook until she had all the facts.
“But you must be at least 25 years old to do any of that,” I said, wagging a finger in the air, once we’d clarified the business of baby making. “And it’s not a discussion for the school playground,” I added, worried that my daughter might want to share her information with other children.
“You’re such a prude,” my husband laughed when I relayed the conversation to him later that evening. Perhaps I am, or it’s just that I’ve got no experience talking to children about sex, whereas he’s got plenty since he used to teach sex education to teenagers. Besides, I have had ‘the talk’ with my older daughter, who responded, “Isn’t there a less disgusting way to make babies?”
How did I learn about sex when I was young, I wondered? I don’t remember my mother ever talking to me about it. When I was twelve, she gave me a book about puberty, the body, and sex, but that was the extent of my sex education at home. I do, however, recall her admonishing my older brother once she found out he had a girlfriend, “make sure you use a condom.”
There was that awkward talk by the school nurse when I was eleven or twelve, and where everyone giggled hysterically and nothing much was learnt.
How we talk about sex and relationships with our children matters a great deal though. What they see and hear at home hugely shapes their attitudes to intimacy, romantic relationship and sex as they grow up.
So, prudish or not, if we want to make sure our children develop healthy, respectful and loving attitudes to themselves and future partners, we need to learn to talk openly and honestly about sex and intimacy with them.