Do you recall how you were told about the ‘birds and bees’? I have a vague memory of a book my mother gave me when I was about six. I must have been asking questions because she was pregnant with my youngest brother at the time. It had paper cut out pictures of a rooster and a hen, 2 rabbits and a very happy mummy and daddy standing naked holding hands, then cuddling under the covers in bed. There was an egg and a white wriggly thing that looked like a miniature snake. All I did was laugh and point at the nudey pictures.
That was the sum total of my sexual education until I hit early high school, where I was horrified to learn in sex education class (presented by a red-faced male science teacher called Mr Mortimer – poor bloke) that a man actually puts his PENIS INSIDE A WOMAN! At thirteen this idea was frightening, fascinating and revolting.
Having been brought up Catholic, I had the impression that all things to do with the body were shameful, regardless of whether love was involved or not. Religious dogma had me weirdly separating sexuality from romantic relationships. Sex was a taboo subject. I wouldn’t have dared ask an adult about it. I didn’t even have the words for the questions. Up to that point everything I learned about puberty and sexuality I’d learned from peers with older sisters. And there was no trusted adult in my world to set me straight.
So, last night when my nine year old daughter brought up the subject of sex over dinner, I decided not to shy away from it. She’d asked a few times about sex (mostly as a result of conversations she’s been having with friends) but never at a time when it was easy for me to respond. This time it was just the two of us home, we were relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, which made the ensuing conversation a lot easier. I did, however, shy away from the detail about the mechanics of sex. Mostly because she seemed so horrified by the idea of...well...I’ll let the conversation itself do the explaining:
Miss 9: My friend told me sex is when a man and a woman get naked and rub their vagina and doodle together (giggles)
Me: Did she? Who told her that?
Miss 9: Her big sister.
Me: *smirking* That figures.
Miss 9: I told her sex is how babies are made. I mean, really, being naked and rubbing your vagina and doodle together? Ewwww.
Me: Did you just say ewww?
Miss 9: Yeah!
Me: Actually, she's right you know.
Miss 9: What? Really? People get naked and rub their doodle and vagina together?
Miss 9: Do they kiss?
Me: There's usually some kissing involved, yes.
Miss 9: Do they hug?
Miss 9: Is that how you make babies?
Me: *giggling* Yes.
Miss 9: *eyes wide & horrifed* I am NEVER having sex. I'm keeping THAT (covers vagina) to myself.
Me: * laughing so hard I spit dinner *
Miss 9: I'm having babies the way I was made
(NB: She's an IVF baby)
Me: *shut eyes with laughter*
Miss 9: YOU didn't want to have sex to have me did you?
Me: What? With Daddy?
*We both snort soup through our noses and choke with laughter.*
I could see from her point of view how the thought of her father and I doing THAT to make a baby was just too ridiculous to entertain.
At that point I had to get her organised to go to drama class, but I didn’t attempt to clarify the ‘rubbing their vagina and doodle together’ idea because a) I didn’t want to terrify her, and b) I didn’t know how to tell her, and c) I basically chickened out.
I figure it’s no big deal. This will probably be the first of many conversations to come. I’m glad she has the confidence and ease to discuss it so openly with me. I just hope at the appropriate time I can do the same, get over my own awkwardness and tell her straight what’s involved.
How did you find out about sex? Have you ever discussed it with a child? How did it go?