How do you teach a child about sex?

As a parent, sex education for children is something that’s really important to me. I want my son to grow up with a healthy view of sex and relationships. I want him, if and when he becomes sexually active, to have a good understanding of how sex works, knowledge of contraception (and a feeling of personal responsibility for using it), informed consent and the issues surrounding domestic violence.

I am aware that most schools teach sex education from a fairly young age – I believe mine started in school around year 4, so I would have been about eight years old – but I believe that the sex education children receive in schools is greatly lacking and think that the greatest responsibility for sex education lies with parents.

For me, this means sex education starts early. From the moment our children start naming body parts, sex education begins. I hate it when children learn ‘cutesy’ terms for their genitalia. We don’t use euphemisms for any other body parts, and the use of them for genitalia, in my opinion, does nothing but teach them that their ‘private parts’ are taboo, dirty or shameful. Another important reason for teaching our children the proper terms for their body parts is so that in cases of abuse children can adequately describe what has happened to them. So from a young age, I have taught my son the proper words for genitals. He knows he, like most boys and men, has a penis and testicles and that Mummy, like most women, has a vulva and ovaries.

My method of teaching a child of such a young age is to answer every question he asks fully, but not to give any more information than he asks for. By not answering any more questions than he has actually asked, I reduce the risk of over-confusing him and allow him to learn about these things at his own pace.

For example, when he asked me what his penis was for, I told him it was for urinating and sex and he accepted that as an answer with no more detail. When he asked me what sex was, I told him it was something adults do for fun and sometimes to make babies. He hadn’t asked me about the mechanics of sex, so I didn’t go any further. When he asked me where my eggs came from, I told him “from my ovaries” and when he asked to see them, I found an excellent diagram. When he asked me how he got into my uterus, I told him that Daddy helped put him there, and when he asked how, I told him “with his penis”.

As he grows older, I’m fully expecting him to ask more questions, and that’s perfectly normal. Children are naturally curious people, and considering the reproductive system is a pretty impressive ‘piece of kit’ – humans growing whole other human beings within their bodies! – it’s only natural that they will ask questions about where they came from and how it all happens. I plan to continue my method of answering frankly, with no embarrassment or shame, every question he asks. I think that “with no embarrassment or shame” part is pretty important too, because as I said, the last thing I want to do is to make him think that any part or function of the human body is embarrassing or shameful.

I plan to introduce awareness of domestic violence, and have already started that by talking with him about violence in general, how it’s not nice to hurt someone’s feelings or their body, and encouraging him to express himself in positive and constructive ways.

Another thing I think is really important, especially when raising a boy, is to raise him with a good understanding of ‘enthusiastic consent’, though I’m not sure how or when I will raise that issue with him yet. Rape culture is so prevalent that I think it’s important that boys learn “no means no”, and that the lack of a no does not automatically mean consent, and equally that girls learn they can say “no” and that they have the right to have that “no” respected.

I’m really interested in other people’s methods – including people like me with young children, and perhaps especially parents/guardians of older children, so I can garner ideas for my son’s coming years. How are you teaching your children, male or female, about their bodies and their functions?

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