Raising Mary: When should you start talking to your kids about sex?


Mary was a toddler when she watched my belly grow for months, then two when I came home with baby. So I got questions a long time ago about “the birds and the bees”. 
In the ensuing months, she spent a big part of her day watching me breastfeed Adelaide. She sat on the floor beside us, pulled up her top and jammed the face of her dolly onto the general area of her torso. When I switched sides, she would, too. 
This was right around the time she got into make-believe play, especially pretending she was a mommy. 
Soon enough, she asked how a baby gets out of a mother’s belly, and I explained that mommies had to literally push their babies out. Then, a question another day about whether pushing a baby out hurt. I hesitated, but decided to tell the truth, watered down: it hurts a bit, but just for a minute, and then the baby pops out. She drew a sharp breath in horror and declared she was going to adopt. 
It was time to convey the message about private parts and good and bad touches and the like. I had been told you’re supposed to inform kids of the proper names of private body parts, which up until then, we called “peepee”. This was the word used for THE private part when I grew up, whether referring to a girl or a boy. Because the proper names were not used in my upbringing, I cringe at speaking or hearing the words “vagina” or “penis”. In fact, I cringe now as I type them.
I decided to get a book about body awareness for preschoolers. Near the end of the book, the creation of a baby is addressed in a way I love. There’s an explanation about how your body will one day start to make sperm or eggs – complete with an illustration of a huge heart, inside which there is a smiling sperm and smiling egg saying “hi” to each other. It totally avoids any reference to how on Earth the sperm and egg meet. 
Mary’s now six, and that’s all the information I want her to have for as long as I can manage. When we got to that part in the book, Mary didn’t clue in that there was a pretty major piece of information missing, and still hasn’t. 
But I’ll have to address it soon. When I was 14 I relied on the salacious information of a very experienced 19-year-old cousin. I want my girls to hear it from me instead!

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.

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