As a sex educator and the mum of a six-year-old boy, I do my best to practise what I preach. What I preach is comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education starting at birth. Of course, as my child grows, so is my firsthand knowledge about what those words actually mean.
Case in point: Before I had my son, I would have said that a six-year-old doesn’t need to know about condoms. Now, although I still believe that it’s much more important for a pre-teen or teen to learn about condoms, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling a younger child in an age-appropriate way.
Here’s how it happened in our house.
One day I was getting ready to teach a sex education workshop, and I had some condoms in colourful wrappers on sticks that looked like lollipops. They sure looked like candy, so my son was drawn to them and wanted to know what they were. I hesitated for a moment, thinking of course this isn’t something he needs to know at this point. But the last thing I want to do as a parent is lie to him about sex – or about anything important for that matter.
“These are condoms,” I said. “People use them when they want to have sex and not make a baby.”
That answer satisfied his curiosity. He already knew how a penis and a vagina could make a baby, so I didn’t have to explain that part.
Later, he asked for more specifics.
“How does it keep from making a baby?” he wanted to know.
“The condom goes on the penis and then the sperm get blocked and stuck in the condom and can’t swim in the vagina,” I told him.
And again, he was satisfied with that simple, yet truthful, answer.
A couple of months later, I was staffing a table at our local LGBT pride event. We had some condoms on our table, along with some snacks and gifts to give out. My son was with me and I had put him in charge of giving snacks out to any kids who came by. Then, I heard him talking to a boy who looked a bit older than him.
“These are condoms,” he was saying. “You use them when you don’t want to make a baby.”
The older boy was playing it cool.
“I knew that,” he said. Although I wasn’t so sure he did. I started to wonder about the possible consequences of being so open with my child about things that other parents might not want their kids to know about quite yet – if at all.