One woman remained after the rest of the participants in my “Birds and Bees” seminar had left. Sheepishly she said, “My daughter is 9 years old. I have not [her emphasis] told her about the birds and the bees and I am not going to,” as if in defiance. Here’s her answer to my query of “Why not?” “Because I don’t want her to have sex before she is married.” This mom is enrolled in the ostrich school of sex education; her head is buried in the ground.
Children begin to learn about sex from the first time their diapers are changed. Whether it’s a two month old feeling the cool air on his exposed body or a one year old reaching down to feel his genitals or a 3 year old sharing a potty at school…this is the beginning. And you can’t stop it; the train has left the station.
Learning about sex is learning about bodies. It is also learning about how people treat one another. It’s about relationships. That’s why I explain to parents that it is in the kitchen that children learn about sex. It is in the kitchen where life happens—where Daddy plants the Marilyn Monroe kiss on Mommy when he gets home from work…or not! Because sex is about people and relationships…as well as all the other stuff.
The answer to the question, When should I tell my child about sex? is actually easier than you think. It’s just that it makes you sweat to think about it. Your children are already learning about sex. They are watching you as you relate to your spouse; they are seeing provocative bill boards, bus benches, and magazine covers; they are hearing what friends are saying…they are absorbing it all and learning about sex.
Around the age of four, the age of questions, most children will wonder where babies come from. In families where Mom or someone close is pregnant, it may come earlier. In some it may come later. But, as I explicitly discuss in my first book Just Tell Me What to Say in the chapter called “How Did the Baby Get in Your Tummy?,” if your child reaches six year old, and he hasn’t asked you, then it’s time. “So Michael, you have never asked me how babies are made. Do you wonder?” And if he replies with an emphatic NO! then at least you have planted the seed, if you’ll allow my pun.
What parts and how much you tell are up to you. But without question, your child needs to know the truth, the basic recipe and how to cook it. Yes, that does include the penis and the vagina. Regardless of how your child came to you, that is still the basic recipe.
Wouldn’t you rather your child hear this universal fact from you than from Steven who heard an embellished version from his eleven year old brother straight from the playground? I think so.