Mothering is marked by transcendent moments. I’ve had those moments while nursing my infants, watching my children in school plays and sports, and looking on proudly as they crossed the stage for graduations. This, however, is not about those moments. This is about teaching children the facts of life.
As a gynecologist, I always vowed that I would not subject my children to agricultural theories of human reproduction. None of that “daddy plants a seed” stuff for us. I planned on anatomically correct, age appropriate, completely truthful answers to any questions about sex. Each of my children learned where babies come from as soon as they asked, and each child got some version of “the talk.”
There were occasional complications; one child received his “talk” in a car at highway speeds. He was so embarrassed by the entire issue of sex that he always ran away when I attempted to discuss it. Only by giving him no option of escape could I make sure he learned the basics.
I was also motivated by my experiences as a practicing gynecologist. I have seen firsthand the results of the mistruths, half truths, and outright lies that pass for “information” among teens. The staggering toll of this misinformation is measured in unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Often teens lack basic information because no one ever bothered to tell them the truth about sex, about birth control, or about protecting themselves.
Whenever I talked about sex with my young children, I had the best of intentions. So why did I often end up answering completely unanticipated questions while struggling desperately not to laugh?
While cooking dinner one evening, I was approached by the youngest of my four children. She asked, “Mommy, do you remember all four times you had sex?” I tried to look thoughtful while biting the inside of my cheek in an effort to avoid laughing.
“Actually,” I said, “I’ve had sex more than four times.”
Her eyes widened. “Why would anyone do that?”
“Sex is not only for making a baby,” I explained. “Most of the time people have sex because they enjoy sex itself.”
She thought for a bit and made a face. “Really? I can’t imagine why.”
I wasn’t the only one to have awkward moments. When one son related misinformation he learned from friends at school, my husband pulled out the children’s book, Where Do I Come From? He sat the two youngest children down to read it with him. The book contains excellent explanations that made it clear to my son that what he had heard at school couldn’t possibly be correct. My husband was very proud of how he had handled the situation … or he was until “the question.”
Our son, an angelic boy of eight at the time, had a big smile on his face. “I understand now,” he said happily. “I just have one question.”
Pointing to his little sister, he asked: “Can she and I practice this at home, so we’ll know what to do when we get married?”
My favorite story, though, is not my story at all. It was told to me by two friends, both physicians, who shared the philosophy that sex should be described truthfully in an anatomically correct way. They carefully planned the “talk” with their youngest daughter and were pleased at how well it had gone. She, too, appeared to understand, and she, too, had only one question.
“I just want to know,” she declared, “how after the man takes off his penis and puts it in the woman to make a baby, how does he stick it back on his body?”