The big talk. The birds and the bees. Where babies come from. It’s the conversation most parents dread. When their tiny innocent child looks up at them with their big angelic eyes and asks, ‘What is sex?’
Once upon a time, parents might have been able to put it off for longer. But now it’s talked about everywhere and your child hearing the word is pretty much inescapable. Pip was two years old when she asked us where babies come from. We told her they come from their Mummy’s tummy, where they grow. She accepted this readily.
It was a few years later (thank goodness!) that she asked what sex was. I’m not quite sure where she first heard the term. As I said, it’s such a common subject that it’s quite difficult even to pinpoint where a five year old might have heard it. She could have overheard the news, a conversation in the street or indeed a conversation between myself and Husband that wasn’t really intended for her to hear (anyone else had that horrifically awkward moment when you’re discussing grown up stuff and you turn to find a child you had no idea was in the room, blinking up at you with a very confused look on their face?).
I find she asks about these things every now and then, perhaps a couple of times a year. It’s like she’s aware that she’s grown a little older and more knowledgeable and is ready for an update. She does glean a little more information each time. There have been issues I wrestled with. Commonly parents seem to tell their kids that sex is nothing more or less than how you get a baby. I can see the appeal of this explanation. It leaves out anything about adult relationships and sticks to something that can be explained in scientific terms. But this does not fit in well with our family rule of never telling our daughter lies, for that is what this is. Sex, for most adults, is not simply for reproduction. It’s an important aspect of most adult romantic relationships and it’s enjoyable! So I told her this. I didn’t go too much into the mechanics of the act, deciding instead to tell her that it’s ‘like a special cuddle only for grown ups’. Again, she seemed to just accept this and ended her line of questioning there.
Now she’s seven and getting to a stage where playground gossip is playing a part in the information she gets. I’ve made it clear that she can talk to me about anything a friend tells her, there’s no need to be embarrassed. Which is probably why a couple of weeks ago she asked me if grown ups have sex in the bath. Bearing in mind again that I don’t lie to her, I said yes, sometimes they do. I then asked where she’d gotten that idea from. She replied, ‘I don’t know. It definitely wasn’t [name of schoolfriend]!’ Aha.
I really think the key to these tricky issues is a balance of honesty and openness while keeping in mind what a child will understand at different ages. I might have skirted the sex in the bath question if a three year old had asked it, for example, and probably been far more concerned about where they’d heard such an idea.
Sex is a part of the adult world. It’s our job as parents to make sure our children are prepared for that world.
How do you handle questions about sex and adult relationships?