by Alex Durrell
My daughter turned five last September and she’s still a sweet, innocent little sprite of a girl. She still watches Treehouse TV, doesn’t know who Hannah Montana is, or what kind of life Zack and Cody lead. She sings nursery rhymes and Raffi tunes and otherwise her musical interests extend only to classical and jazz (her choice, I assure you). She is the very epitome of a little girl, but she’s not naïve.
My daughter knows she has a vulva and vagina and she uses the words regularly. She knows her baby brother has a penis and scrotum. She knows that she and her brother were somehow created by her Daddy and I, grew in my womb and exited through my vagina. She doesn’t know exactly how the process happened, but when she asks questions, we answer her honestly.
We don’t pretty it up for the kids, but we don’t go into graphic details, either. We believe in age-appropriate education in all subjects, sex included. Since birth we’ve been perfectly frank with our kids about our bodies. To them, genitals are no more awkward to discuss than their noses.
Sure, it can be slightly embarrassing to hear my little kid blurt out, “Mommy! My vagina is TINGLY!” at the supermarket. (To which I respond, “We don’t talk about our genitals in public!”, and blush wildly.) Yes, it would be cute if we could call their genitals sweet little nicknames like “flower” and “dingle dongle”, wouldn’t it?
But here’s my point of view:
Educating our kids about sexuality starts early. When I didn’t balk at a friend’s Facebook status asking how her friends felt about sex ed in grade one, it made me take a look at the choices my husband and I have made about what we teach the kids.
Growing up, I’m not really sure I ever heard my parents use the proper terms for body parts. I didn’t even realise women don’t urinate from the vaginal opening till I was in at least grade six and I got my period – which I had NO education regarding (imagine my horror?). That was no way to be introduced to my own body.
I want my children to learn information about their bodies at home, not in the playground. Though, as adults we sometimes squirm at the idea of our kids being “sexual”, the reality is that sex ed doesn’t equal sexual intercourse. My kids need to know they can ask me or tell me about anything. They need to know the correct names and functions of their genitals the same way they need to learn about the respiratory or nervous systems. They need to know that genitals are private, and that it’s ok to touch them (in private, dear toddler, please). A vagina isn’t a bum-bum, folks. It just isn’t.
You may not like the idea that your “innocent” seven-year-old is learning about sperm and menstruation, but these topics are only uncomfortable if you make them so. Giving kids confidence in their bodies and feelings early will help their transition to adolescence during those crazy hormonal times that are (sadly) right around the corner. Sex education isn’t about teaching kids how to have sex, it’s educating them on the processes, names and functions so they’re able to identify their feelings (emotional and physical) properly.
Just this week, my daughter came home from kindergarten with some new education thanks to a bratty classmate: she told me about “making out”. Yup, it gives me hives to think my daughter will ever be making out with anyone, but I was happy she was confident enough to come ask me some questions about why kids might be doing that. Her classmate had witnessed some older kids hiding on the school bus he rides every day and he had kindly told his little classmates about it.
While I’m not thrilled, it’s also no big deal. My daughter came home giggling and I explained that when she’s older, she won’t be as “grossed out” by the idea of locking lips with someone. Her response? “If I decide to kiss a boy or a girl, I’ll let you know.” And that’s right: boy or girl. Because even at her age, we’ve addressed the fact that people can be attracted to those of the same- or opposite-sex. It starts early, and we want her to feel comfortable no matter what.
In our house, we’ve started our kids’ sexual education right from birth, and even if that makes you squeamish, I’m not apologizing. I can’t guarantee that my kids will always want to discuss this stuff with us, and I can’t predict what their choices regarding sexual behaviour will be. All we can do is give them an education, impress upon them what our morals are, and hope they make educated decisions when their times come.
How do you teach your kids about the birds and the bees?
Alex digs her humour like she likes her wine…dry. With a bite. She knows the lyrics to pretty much every song ever written, has a weakness for plaid and for all her complaining, she always finds the silver lining. Her two kids and one husband (for now…she’s evaluating the benefits of Brother Husbands) are the things that make her happiest and most frustrated in life, and there’s not a thing she’d change about that. Despite the name, she blogs here and here but is usually found in her pajamas on Twitter.
Great article. My son is 4 so I am going through the same thing. My not being male though, I never quite realized the true fascination with the penis they males have. I am learning.
great article. We also refer to body parts by proper names and my oldest (4) knows about periods cause he likes to come with me to the bathroom most of the time.
Sexual orientation isn’t something we have touched on, only because it hasn’t come up.
WE tend to answer any questions he has as honestly as we can and as age appropriate.
We are going through this at Little T’s dayhome right now. One of the parents overheard my dayhome lady say the word vagina and freaked out. Apparently, talking about “private parts” is not right. Way to make a kid feel dirty and bad about their body. Thankfully, my dayhome lady stood up and said that kids need to learn about their bodies. Exactly what you wrote Alex. Sex education isn’t always about intercourse.
Thanks for writing this.
That blows my mind! Yes, we should never discuss these dirty bits. They’re best left secretive and weird.
I had ‘the talk’ about exactly how babies are conceived and born with my kids after they persisted and were not satisfied by ‘Mommy and Daddy love each other very much and decide to have a baby’.
We went through body parts, sperm & egg. “But how does the sperm get in there, Mom?” was the question I could not avoid and secretly dreaded. They were 5, 7 & 8. After a deep breath, I explained about sex and ejaculation. SILENCE. Then, “Eewwww, gross!” followed by the chorus of giggles. They haven’t really asked again.
Now our oldest is almost 13 and our conversations are changing – and I am relieved I already have the BIG one out of the way. We can talk about feelings and responsibility about sexual behavior and nobody feels weird about it.
See, that’s awesome, Kelly. Getting the “big one” out of the way takes away some of the intimidation, right? It’s like by not discussing it, it gets more and more important and awkward. Much easier to just ease them into it early, and make sure it’s never too awkward.
We use the proper names, too. We also talk about same sex relationships and opposite sex relationshop. We’ve even touched on transgender.
If my 4 year old son asks me a question, I answer it honestly with as much detail as he can process at his age. It was also how I was raised – my mom told me what a blow job was when I was 8 and asked what “BJ” meant.
Also – with regards to ‘making out’ I remember trying to “kiss like on the soap operas” in Grade One. It happens and it happens early.
I think as parents, we want to believe our kids are innocent and in the dark about this stuff. It can feel a little like stealing naivete, but it’s just really not. You’re right Sarah, it happens SO early.
Thanks for reading, everyone! I have to say… I’m surprised nobody against this has commented. There are a lot of parents who prefer not to talk to kids about this stuff. Where are they? 😉
Same situation over at my house and my mom always cringes quietly when she hears my kids say “penis” or “vagina”, but somehow I’ve managed to keep menstruation out of it. I wonder if my 4 year old will freak out when she finds out that I bleed for so long each month? hahaha I’ve wondered about how to bring this up. It would be better to just tell her about it instead of trying to get away from her to go to the bathroom… that is always a struggle as she’s a bit of a cling-on. Have you explained it to Story?
Gah, yes. Yes we’ve had that talk. She gives me zero privacy in the washroom so has seen me in there taking care of stuff.
I basically said, “You know how mommy had Mason in her tummy? Well, when girls are a older, their bodies get ready to have a baby grow every month. And you know how there’s an egg and a seed that start a baby? Well if they don’t get together, no baby grows, so the body knows that it can get rid of all the stuff it made to protect a baby in there. So most of what comes out is just tissue, but there is some blood, too.”
She stared, and said, “Oh. Ok.” HA!
I’ve talked to Q has about this, too. He was concerned I had an ‘owie’ so I set him straight. He was barely 3 at the time, so I just said “I’m fine. This happens when girls grow up so we can have babies. It’s called menstrating.” (or something to that effect). It’s important to me that he doesn’t grow up to fear a box of tampons.
Alex, I love this. I don’t have children, but I am a very proud auntie to an adorable 2 year old. Being in my biz, and generally being passionate about positive expressions of sexuality and peoples’ rights to express their sexualities in safe and consensual ways, I read and talk a LOT about sex. And whenever anything related to children’s sex education comes up, I’m always a little saddened when some of the people I speak with – even people in my industry – are appalled by the idea of teaching kids about their own body parts.
I have met a lot of women (and some men) who are ashamed of their bodies, and frightened of their own sexual feelings. What I think a lot of them don’t realize is that this is LEARNED behaviour. We aren’t born embarrassed about our vagina and vulva, or penis and scrotum… we learn this through our interactions with society. and these interactions with the world start VERY early. An outburst of “that’s disgusting!” when a parent finds their child exploring his or her own body can leave a lasting impression…regardless of age. No one at any age should ever be felt to be ashamed of their body or their emotions. Never ever. Because the scars left by what seem like innocent “socially-appropriate” comments can last forever.
Thank you so much for this article. I’m going to spread it around like wildfire!
We’re the same way in this household. I can’t imagine why people would want to obfuscate certain body parts, social relationships, and general biology. It’s confusing to ponder.
I can’t wrap my head around wanting to keep kids in the dark over this stuff, either.
There is no benefit to sugar coating it and ignoring it. My mom was very open and honest with me about sexuality and body parts and I think know I could ask questions and get answers saved me from exploring too much on my own. We have had to have some very frank and shocking discussions thanks to the kids taking the bus with high school kids.
I was terrified of my body and those of others for SO long. I think it’s great that you talk to your kids so they never experience that. 🙂
Bravo. I don’t remember the words ever coming out of my parents’ mouths, and my ‘education’ was provided by my older sister, her friends, and the inevitability of nature.
Around our place, we may use the word yoni as often as the word vagina, but they certainly know what it is, where it is and (some of) what it’s for. They also see us naked on a regular basis, so are not freaked out by the human body. Our goal is, boundaries without shame.
I love that: boundaries without shame.
That’s something I’d like to reinforce.
Such a fantastic article!! Completely agree and this is exactly how my husband and I have chosen to raise our now 12 year old son and 9 year old daughter. I would rather give them the correct information rather than have them be educated incorrectly from someone else’s!!
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