Our daughter was barely 3 years old when she started asking about the birds and the bees. She wanted to know how mommies got babies inside their tummies and how babies came out of their tummies. Her curiosity has always kept us on our toes. Our son (now nearly 8 years old), in stark contrast, has always been relatively uninterested in learning about the “facts of life.” The last time we raised the topic, he responded, “Do we have to talk about this stuff again? I just want to be a kid!”
Regardless of your child’s curiosity level, most parents find themselves broaching the topic of sex education at some point with their children. Often, parents don’t want to have these conversations; it is an awkward topic and no one is sure what to say or when to say it. The good news is that there may be some really significant rewards to having “the talk” (or many talks) with your children – and earlier rather than later seems to be best. For example, children whose parents discuss sex with them are more likely to use contraception when they decide to have sex later.1 And – importantly –no data suggest that talking with kids about sex makes them want to go out and “do it” (the thing is, they usually already want to!). Let us repeat: Sex education does not increase sexual activity.2 Of course, there are many topics to cover and many issues worthy of discussion. Below, we provide a sample of some of the funniest questions we have heard from kids and parents we know; we’ve included our science-based answers. These questions are from elementary school-aged kids; chances are, if you haven’t discussed any of this with your preteen or teenager, he or she probably already sought information via the power of Google (which isn’t the best place to learn about sex). We hope you find this information useful (and perhaps, entertaining), but we realize it is impossible to write generic “one size fits all” answers to every type of sex ed question for every family. There are many ways that parents are blessed with children and many moral and religious views that color families’ understanding of sexuality. Therefore, parents might need to modify some of these answers to fit their own unique family.
If you have additional questions, submit them here and we will address them in a future article. Enjoy!
How does the baby get into the mommy’s belly?
Women have eggs inside of their bodies. When they are born they already have a whole bunch of little, tiny eggs. When a girl becomes a teenager, these eggs are able to grow into babies, but they have to be fertilized first.
(There is obvious room for elaboration here, but depending on the age and maturity of the child, you may want to stop with limited information such as this. Ways to extend the conversation are below.)
How does the baby get out of the mommy’s belly?
(For this question, we tend to be broad but factually correct.)
The baby can get out of the mommy’s belly by coming out of her private parts (in the front; or vagina – depending on the language you use in your home) or sometimes (like if the baby is too big), the doctor does a surgery and cuts open the mommy’s tummy and removes the baby from her stomach. It is hard to have a baby, but there are different kinds of medications that can make it easier if a mommy wants to ease the discomfort. It is really cool to see your baby after waiting for many months to see it!
Sometimes kids ask a follow-up question, such as, “Isn’t the baby too big to get out of the mommy’s private parts?” We have a friend who just answered, “Yup, you’re right!” when her daughter asked this question. Another option is to matter-of-factly explain that, the mommy’s body stretches in unbelievable ways when it is time to have a baby and that makes it possible for the baby to come out. Mommies can be sort of like super-heroes.
Why does the baby look like the dad when he didn’t do anything to make the baby?
Well, a baby is made in a mom’s body, but a dad is involved in helping to make the baby. A man must provide the “fertilizer” that makes a baby grow. In fact, a baby is made up of half of the mom and half of the dad. So, babies look like both moms and dads because both moms and dads help to make them! Sometimes, a baby looks more like the mom or more like the dad, but the baby is still always made from the mom’s egg and the dad’s fertilizer.
How do the mommy’s eggs meet up with the daddy’s “fertilizer”?
The scientific name for the fertilizer is sperm. Sperm are very tiny and you can’t really see them without a microscope, but they look like little tadpoles with tails that help them to swim. Sperm is made in boys’ penises when they become teenagers. In order for the sperm to get to the woman’s eggs, a man will insert his penis into the woman’s vagina (private parts, or whatever your family’s preferred term is). Then, the sperm swim to the eggs to try to fertilize them.
(This is an opportunity for elaboration, again, depending on the age, interest level, and maturity of your child.) When men and women’s private parts (or, penis and vagina, if you want to be more technical) come together it is called “intercourse,” “sex,” or “making love.” Men and women often do this because they love each other and want to have a baby. (This may be a good stopping point, or you may want to continue if you have an older or curious child.)
Making love can be a special experience for men and women who care about each other. I know it sounds really strange to you now, but it is something that you will probably find enjoyable when you are older. When you stop thinking that this all sounds gross and start thinking that you might be interested in doing this with another person, we need to talk more about important safety issues involved in having a loving relationship with another person. (Preteens and teenagers need more detail than this, but that will be covered in a separate article.)
What if the man’s penis doesn’t fit?
This is not usually a problem. People’s bodies were made to work together so that they could make more people. In fact, when men and women make love, their private parts (or, again, use the terms familiar to your child) change so that they can come together more easily. A man’s penis will become harder so that it can go inside of the woman’s vagina more easily. The woman’s vagina will become softer and wider.
What happens to the egg shell when the baby starts to grow?
(Hmmmm… it is important to remember that kids take what you say quite literally at times!) Women’s eggs don’t have shells like the eggs that we eat. You don’t have to worry about broken eggs or eggshells!
Do I have to do “it” if I want to have a baby?
Most of time when people make a baby it involves a man and woman making love so that a woman’s egg and a man’s fertilizer can come together. However, there are lots of ways that doctors can help people to make babies, because sometimes this doesn’t always work easily. (If your child was conceived with the aid of fertility treatment and this is something you plan to share with him or her, then you can elaborate here. For example: Doctors helped us to make you by bringing the egg and sperm together in a dish and then putting it into my body/your mom’s body). So, really if you don’t want to do this to make a baby, you don’t have to. However, I bet when you get older you will think that it is a good idea to try to make a baby the way most people do.
Web Resources for Parents and Educators:
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1Eastman KL, Corona R, Schuster MA. (2006). Talking Parents, Healthy Teens: a worksite-based program for parents to promote adolescent sexual health. Prev Chronic Dis [serial online]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2006/oct/06_0012.htm.
Dr. Charlotte Markey – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey’s research addresses issues central to both developmental and health psychology. A primary focus of her research is social influences on eating-related behaviors (i.e., eating, dieting, body image) in both parent-child and romantic relationships.
Dr. Patrick Markey – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Markey’s research focuses on how behavioral tendencies develop and are expressed within social relationships, including unhealthy dieting, civic behavior, personality judgment, and interpersonal aggression after playing violent video games.