I knew my son would ask me about sex one day. What I did not know was when he would ask.
When he finally did, I was caught flat-footed. I did not know what to answer a curious seven-year-old.
The topic came up one evening when we were watching prime time news. The grandmother of a four-year-old boy in a village in Nyanza was appealing for medical help after his genitals were cut off by attackers who had raided their home. After the news item, my son asked; "Mama, does it mean he won't have sex?" My jaw fell to the floor. The boy obviously knew that genitals are used for much more than excretion. I then asked him what he thought sex is and he said it is when a man and a woman remove their clothes. I congratulated him and told him I would look for time to tell him more about sex. He seemed satisfied with my answer.
For several weeks I consulted with friends and relatives who have children. Most of my friends said they dealt with the topic on a need-to-know basis. They only answered questions the kids asked and never volunteered too much information. Others had been proactive and had had the ‘birds and bees’ conversation before their kids “ambushed” them. I also went around book shops in Nairobi looking for a book about sex. I found many but they were not what I wanted. I was specifically looking for one that was simple enough for a seven year old to understand. Sadly no bookshop had any that met my expectations.
I shared my frustrations with a friend and one of them offered to check book shops in Toronto, Canada. He got back to me with a recommendation of a book titled; It's not the stork! The book is one of the best rated in North America and is a New York Times bestseller. It targets children above four years.
Answering questions about sex
As parents, we mislead our children stories about where children come from or how babies are made. Some say children are bought from the supermarket (what my mother told me). In North America, some parents tell their children that babies are dropped through a chimney by a stork (a type of bird) through a chimney. I guess that was what inspired the book title - It's not the stork! Written by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Michael Emberley.
The author of It's not the stork! acknowledge that young children are curious - especially about their bodies, where they came from, how they were made, why girls and boy have different sexual parts and many other questions. They say they created the book to answer all these questions. What impressed me about the book is the background research the authors did. They spoke to parents, teachers, librarians, nurses, doctors, social workers, psychologists, scientists, health professionals, and the clergy to make sure that all the material was age-appropriate, scientifically accurate, and up-to-date.
When I got the book, I decided to read it before I showed it to my son. There was no recommendation of how I was going to use the book. I could either read it with him, give it to him to read cover to cover alone or pick specific areas based on questions he asked. I opted to read it with him.
The book is 60 pages and is based on two characters – a bird and a bee. The book is very heavy on illustrations and starts with the bee and bird wondering where babies come from. They share many ideas where babies might come from. “I think I know where babies come from! Maybe the mommy swallows a watermelon and seed and it grows so big it grows into a baby,” says the bird.
“Or maybe the daddy types on the computer, “send a baby!” And that’s where babies come from!” says the bee. At the end of their conversation, they both wonder, “So where do babies come from?”
The entire book shows the bird and bee cartoon characters conversing and asking a lot of questions. The main body has text that answers the questions in easy to read and understand language. What is very interesting is that the same questions the bird and bee ask each other is exactly what my son asked me as we read the book.
The book has a chapter that highlights the differences between boys and girls. This is specifically about body internal and external parts. I must admit I broke into a sweat when I got to this part. The book (forgive the cliché) calls a spade a spade and not a big spoon. Girls and women have a vagina and boys and men have a penis. There are no nick names that parents use to describe body parts. Children learn the correct names of body parts and their biological function. “These are some of the special parts of our body that makes a person a boy or a man – or a girl or a woman,” writes Harris. The book goes on to further explain the difference in how boys and girls use the toilet.
I found the most useful part of the book to be the drawings showing the body parts of boys and girls. As expected, my son giggled and laughed when we reached the part of the buttocks. Until this point he had never seen how a girl’s body looked like. It was his “aha!” moment. I must admit the book is very detailed and some drawing may look inappropriate so as a parent you must remain calm and allow the child to react.
The book describes the reproduction parts of men and women in great detail. It also explains the reproduction process – where and how sperms are made, where and how eggs come from to how they travel from the fallopian tubes. I felt like I was in a biology class.
How babies are made
“To make a baby, a sperm from a man’s body and an egg from a woman’s body must get together,” I tell my son. Since the book has explained what the egg and sperm is and where they come from, he is now able to understand. So I continue… “When grownups want to make a baby, most often a woman and a man have a special kind of loving called “making love” – “having sex” – or “sex”. This kind of loving happens when the woman and the man get so close to each other that the man’s penis goes inside the woman’s vagina,” I read from the book. Next is an illustration of a man and woman in bed.
At this point, my heart is racing very fast and I am very nervous. I then ask my son if he has any question.
“Only men and women have sex?” he asks.
“Yes! Only grownups have sex,” I answer.
The next chapters get into details of how the sperm fertilizes the egg and how the baby grows in the womb. When we get to the part of how women give birth, since we had already discussed the body parts in detail in the beginning chapters, I briefly explained that the baby comes out of a woman’s vagina and it made sense to my son.
I have been criticized by my friends for giving my son a lot of detail and information. Some have told me that I should have given him the information in bits. However, I am of a different opinion. I decided to put all the facts on the table from the beginning. I feel that I did it late. We should have had a conversation about sex earlier. While he may not have understood the biological terms and words, he now has an idea.
I have seen my son reading the book several times. Once we finished reading I told him to keep it. I did not hide it from him. He keeps reading and often comes to me to clarify things that he does not understand. Once I observed him and his friends discussing the parts of the body using the book and my son used the book to show them the correct the names of body parts.
There has been talking about teaching sex education in schools. I believe this role falls in the docket of parents. We are the first teachers of our children and we must fulfil our obligations instead of delegating the responsibility to the television, nannies, religious leaders, the internet or friends. You may assume your child is young but we live in a world with many sources of information. Be the first person your child runs to for information and let that information be true.