BC Parent Magazine
No one ever said that talking to your child about sexual health would be easy. And if you, like the majority of parents today, did not grow up in an open environment regarding sexuality, this task may be particularly daunting. But in order to stay healthy, safe and protected, children must be educated about sexual health. First, children need to be taught the technical terms of their private parts (no, this does not include pee-pee, dinky or woozle!) from the day they are born. Second, children as young as pre-school age need to be provided with basic information about healthy bodies and healthy sexuality before they need to ask.
But no matter how much information young children receive, they will always come up with some tough questions to stump you with. Below are some examples of responses that may help to guide you as you answer your child’s questions. Since many of these questions will be asked at somewhat inopportune times, don’t feel that you need to provide a response right away. It is perfectly alright to explain that you need some time to think about the question, and to suggest that you discuss it later. You’ll need to fight that instinct to pretend you didn’t hear the question and to hope it never comes up again, but be honored that your child feels comfortable asking you about his or her body. You can also be proud that your child is educated and, therefore, protected. It is also important to remember that there are no “right” answers to the questions children ask– appropriate answers will vary according to your own comfort level. And don’t forget, practice makes perfect!
1. “How are babies made?”
There is one key phrase that is useful when answering this classic sexual health question. Ready? Here it goes… the penis enters the vagina to deliver sperm to the ovum. In order for the penis to deliver the sperm, it has to be hard, or erect. So, the man and woman lie very close to each other and the man puts his erect penis into the vagina (contrary to popular belief among young children, the penis is not detached from the man’s body and replaced after the deed is done!). To expand on this, you can explain that once the sperm has been delivered to the ovum, a baby begins to grow. The baby grows in the uterus (not the tummy!), a very strong bag of muscle located above the vagina. The uterus stretches bigger and bigger to accommodate the growing baby, until it is ready to be born. The baby is born through the vagina, one of the openings between the woman’s legs, which stretches up to 10 centimeters wide. It is important to mention that the vagina and uterus shrink back down to original size after the birth. You may also want to stress that making babies (or “having sex” or “making love”) is an adult activity that is engaged in by two people who love each other very much.
2. “Were you a virgin when you got married?” or “Do you and dad have sex?”
The answer to these types of personal questions really depends on your own comfort level. Some parents do not feel that is necessary to reveal such information, and can simply explain that details about one’s sex life, past or present, are private. Assure your child that when he or she is older you will respect his or her privacy too by not asking such questions. If you would like to take a more open approach, you could say, for example, “No, I was not a virgin when I married your dad, but the world was much different back then. We didn’t have to worry about life-threatening diseases such as AIDS.”. In regard to your present sex life, you could respond that “Yes, your dad and I do have sex because we love each other very much”.. You may have to do a bit of reading between the lines when asked these questions. Your child may not be that interested specifically in your sex life, but is seeking guidance in the development of values and morals. That is, he or she may be more interested in knowing not if mom and dad had sex before they were married, but whether or not it is O.K. in general to have sex before marriage.
3. “What is condom?”
Try to maintain a positive attitude when talking to your child about condoms. You could explain that they are clean and healthy when they are bought at the store, and are made of the same rubber (latex) as are doctors’ gloves. When describing what a condom is used for, you could explain that when two adults love each other, they will probably want to have sex a lot. They may not, however, want 40 babies. For this reason, the man puts a condom over his hard penis so that when the sperm come out, they don’t enter the vagina to make a baby. When polite people are finished using a condom, they put it in their own garbage at home. But there are rude people who throw their used condom on the street or in the schoolyard where children can find them. Stress to your child that he or she should never, ever, pick up a used condom off the ground, no matter how interesting it looks. Instruct your child to tell you or another adult immediately so that it can be disposed of safely. The main concern here is the possible transmission of viruses such as Hepatitis B, which can survive in dried human fluids for several days. You may want to mention that condoms do not only help prevent pregnancy, but also sexually transmitted diseases. In simpler terms, they help stop the spread of germs from one person to another. In addition, it is important to point out that, although condoms can be very effective, they are not foolproof. The only way to guarantee a person will not become pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease is to abstain from sexual behavior.
4. “Why do girls get their period?”
Here’s one way you could explain menstruation or “having your period” to your child: When girls are 8 or 9, or older, their uterus begins to practice for growing up. It does this by making kind of a waterbed inside itself, made of soft skin and a little bit of blood. Each month, when there is no baby in there, the uterus changes the waterbed and the old one comes dripping out. Although the drips looks like blood, most of it is water. You have to wear a pad (sanitary napkin) in your pants during your period to catch the drips. You may want to mention that some women wear tampons instead, which are inserted inside the vagina to catch the drips from the inside. Stress to your child that we are very glad girls and women menstruate because it is a good, healthy sign that their uterus is working properly and that they can be mothers one day. This would be a good time to explain that boys’ bodies practice for being grown up as well—they have wet dreams, or nocturnal emissions. That is, when boys are 8 or 9, or older, their testicles begin to make sperm for practice. Sometimes some of the extra sperm come out at night and make a small wet spot on boys’ pajamas or sheets. Again, stress that we are very glad that boys have wet dreams because it is a good sign that their testicles are working properly and that they can be fathers some day.
5. “Is masturbating bad for you?”
Masturbation is completely normal and healthy. After all, we are sexual beings born with the ability to have and orgasm. It is, however, a private activity that must be done when no one else is around, such as in the bathroom or alone in the bedroom. It is important to stress this to your child in order to prevent possible opportunities for sexual abuse. Sadly, much of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known to the child. If a child is sitting on the couch masturbating in front of a babysitter, for example, this may be an open invitation for some exploitation to occur. Therefore, a positive, healthy attitude toward masturbation should be balanced with a concern for the safety of the child.
Speaking of Sex: Are You Ready to Answer the Questions Your Children Will Ask? by Meg Hickling, published by Northstone.
Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle, published by Lyle Stuart.
What’s Happening to Me? by Peter Mayle, published by Lyle Stuart.
Belly Buttons Are Navels by Mark Schoen, published by Prometheus.
What’s Happening To My Body? For Girls/For Boys (A Growing Up Guide For Parents and Daughters/Sons by Lynda Madaras, published by Newmarket Press.