About the birds and the bees
Even though we've conceived, fathered and given birth to children, talking about sex with our offspring can be sensitive and sometimes embarrassing.
But talking about the birds and bees is inevitable. "Where do babies come from?" is bound to be asked of parents, but it fills most of them with dread as they feel ill-equipped to answer the question.
Most feel unsure of the facts, lack confidence and don't know what approach to use. Talking about sex in today's "sexy" world can be difficult.
Certain topics, like sex, are considered taboo in some cultures, and there is still a belief that talking to a young person about sex will encourage experimentation. This is not true.
Age-appropriate information about the basics of sex and sexuality enable young people to negotiate relationships more safely and responsibly.
Children get information from many different sources and are exposed to different and confusing messages about sex and sexuality. Some messages emphasise the risks and dangers of sexual activities, and others, such as TV shows and magazines, promote the idea that being sexually active makes one more attractive and grown-up.
Parents have a responsibility to know how to provide the appropriate information and when to offer it. Seek help from books and counsellors .
Getting started helps if you already have an ease of communication, but if you don't, try not to panic.
Listen for cues. The subject of body changes, or body parts, should come up naturally in some form and can be casually expanded upon.
Keep it light (and amusing if you can). Encourage questions from your child. The more interactive the discussion, the more he or she will absorb.
You might start by saying something like, "When I was growing up I had so many questions about what was happening to me."
- Meyersfeld is co-author of 'Tell me about the changes in my body', published by Ndlovu Medical Trust
WHAT children can understand, age by age
AGES 2 TO 3
The right words for body parts, such as "penis" and "vagina" (the "vulva" is the correct name for the outside part).
AGES 3 TO 4
Where do babies come from? A simple explanation, "Mom has a uterus [womb] inside her tummy, where you lived until you were big enough to be born". No details of reproduction.
AGES 4 TO 5
How is a baby born? Stick with the literal response: "When you were ready to be born, the uterus [womb] pushed you out [through Mommy's vagina]."
AGES 5 TO 6
How are babies made? Provide a general idea like "Mom and Dad made you". If your child demands more details you can say: "A tiny cell inside Dad called a sperm joined with a tiny cell inside Mom called an egg."
AGES 6 TO 7
What is sex? A basic understanding of sexual intercourse. You can say, "moms' and dads' bodies fit together like puzzle pieces. When the penis and the vagina fit together, sperm, like tadpoles, swim through the penis and up to the egg." Talk about your ideas on sex and love. For example: "Sex is one of the ways people show love for each other."
Ages 8 to 9
That sex is important, which your child has probably picked up from the media and her peers. Most children of this age can handle a basic explanation on just about any topic, including rape. You can say: "Remember when we talked about sex being part of a loving relationship? Rape is when someone forces another person to have sex, and that is wrong." You can encourage your child to ask you questions about things she has heard from her peers.
AGES 9 TO 11
What is happening to my body? The changes that happen during puberty. Be ready to discuss sex-related topics your child sees in the news.
At this age most kids are formulating their own values. Keep communicating and check on them every so often to provide a better context for the information they are getting. Avoid overkill or you will be tuned out. Acknowledge that sexual feelings are normal, but reinforce the message that while their bodies might be ready for sex, their hearts, minds and emotions are not. - Saranne Meyersfeld
REMEMBER, young people absorb information a little at a time
- Not everything can be discussed in one conversation
- The more participation in the conversation, the more the learning
- Encourage them to ask questions
- Allow the young person to set the pace, the mood and the intensity
- Praise their strengths
- They have wide-ranging knowledge of adults' sexual practices
- Children are aware of sex work, pornography, transactional sex and drug and alcohol abuse. - Saranne Meyersfeld