Our six-year-old son Toby has always been an inquisitive sort and he loves nothing more than understanding how and why things work.
Aside from wrestling, playing at the beach or on the iPad, he loves settling down with my husband Jules to watch a David Attenborough documentary. While I originally added a soft background commentary like, “that baby seal is just having a sleep”, as a killer whale threw it into the air, Toby soon cottoned on that no, that baby seal was not asleep, it was stone cold dead.
I watched anxiously as he processed the hard facts of life and while he was sad and pretty angry at that particular killer whale, he dealt with it much better than I ever did as a child and well, so far, so normal.
When the questions inevitably started coming about babies and how they get into a mum’s tummy, I began in my usual way to try to confuse him with pseudo-facts. For a while this seemed to work, all my talk about seeds and eggs and two people wanting a baby, kept him happy for a time.
Just recently however there was a baby explosion in our immediate family with not one but three rounded tummies, the most important one to Toby being mine.
His excitement at being told he would soon be a big brother, was soon replaced by exacting questions – “yes but how did daddy put his seed in your tummy?”.
I knew that it was time to bring out the big guns.
Teaching consent is a cup of tea. Post continues after video.
My English heritage (I’m blaming it anyway) meant there was zero chance I could say the words “semen” or “erection” in front of Toby without having a hysterical fit of giggles or simply passing out from embarrassment.
While my parents were not particularly repressed when it came to talking about sex, I don’t have a clear memory of being told about the birds and the bees. I know we had a copy of the 1970s Peter Mayle book Where Did I Come From? that I giggled at with my sister, and my catholic school did the best they could with a slide show of illustrations showing a married couple (of course) naked and ‘procreating’ in a four-poster bed behind a floaty net curtain.
My husband Jules, a GP and a very practical fellow, comes from a family of no-nonsense country types. Jules and his siblings were told the facts of life straight up and with no messing around. His dad was an obstetrician and so the words “vagina” and “sperm” were just part of his everyday conversation. I on the other hand have never heard my dad utter either of those words in 37 years, so it was clear who was going to be the parent with the right genetic make-up when it came to answering Toby’s questions.
We had a copy of the classic Where Did I Come From? because, well of course we did. Jules knew it would be the right book for the job and it turns out, aside from its hilariously dated illustrations and terminology, it really was.
Jules sat Toby down and read it to him without blushing or laughing or making a big deal out of it in about 10 minutes.
Toby listened enthralled while I was in the background internally cringing when they got to the part where the “penis goes into the vagina”.
The reading thankfully and eventually ended and there were no questions. Toby was happy with that explanation for now and he went off to play Angry Birds seemingly unscathed.
It was essentially a non-event, another one of his questions answered sensibly by his ever-practical dad and on we went with our weekend.
He hasn’t mentioned it since.
Interestingly when I put a photo of Jules reading the book to Toby on Facebook it got a HUGE response from my friends, some rather shocked that perhaps we were telling him “a bit early”, others found it hilarious. Some wanted Jules to come to their house to talk to their kids.
I totally get it, I am the parent that finds it confronting to talk about sex and death and all the hard stuff to my child and I understand that it is a big deal in most families. Mostly I think because our own experiences of being told about sex were frankly a bit weird, too late or mucked up by the 1980s catholic school curriculum.
But being coupled up to a practical man like Jules has taught me a lot about my own squeamishness and that sometimes, depending on the child and the situation, the direct and factual approach is best.
When you consider that every single one of us is here today because a sperm met an egg it fancied (ewwwww) it is a bit strange that we find it so hard to explain to our kids what is the most natural and obvious thing in the world.
I think when it comes down to getting sex-ed “right” it pays to know your child, their ability to cope with the facts and getting the timing right for you and your inquisitive little one.
If all else fails, just buy a book or download an app and if you still can’t cope, I’ll be sure to send Jules round for a chat.