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Seven-Year-Old Asking About Sex
Q: My seven-year-old has been asking where babies come from. We've told her that when two people love each other, they get married and then they have sex, which creates a child. And of course she said: "Well, I still don't understand what sex is." I'm not against telling her the facts (although I admit I do feel uncomfortable) but I was wondering how far I'm supposed to go. I just don't want her growing up with a warped sense of sex (i.e., holding a too clinical view of it or being overly fascinated by it).
We are very open around our house, so it shocked me that I would feel at such a loss for words and so uncomfortable talking about this. Any advice you have would be great. I guess what I'm asking is, how much to tell her and the best words to use. Thanks!
A: Don't be shocked or disappointed with yourself: Talking to kids about sex and sexuality is the most uncomfortable subject for parents to discuss with their kids, at any age. What you may learn about your daughter's initial inquiry, "Where do babies come from?" and your subsequent answer, which involved talking to her about a couple getting married and then having sex to create a child, is that she just asked "where" babies came from--she didn't ask "how" they were made.
By introducing the notion of a married couple having sex to create a baby, you took your daughter's question into a realm that she wasn't asking about. Now you find yourself having to answer questions about having sex. The lesson here is to find out first what your child knows about the sexual question she is asking; then, give her simple, honest, age-appropriate answers to her specific questions, without elaborating on more information than she requested.
As you give your daughter the correct information about where babies come from, use the accurate words to describe the process--uterus, vagina, etc. As you discuss the sex/making love that makes babies, also use the correct words--penis, sperm, egg, etc.
Certainly, underscore the values that you attach to sex with your explanation of the sexual act. A description of sex, one you have referred to as "clinical," should always be accompanied by language that emphasizes the loving expressed during sex between a mommy and a daddy. Children will only take in as much information and detail as they are able to handle at their stage of cognitive development.
I wouldn't have the "big talk" with her about this topic. I'd have a series of shorter discussions and always take the everyday opportunities presented to you (a pregnant relative, a newspaper or TV story) to extend these talks.
A child's sex and sexuality education is an ongoing dialogue, throughout her childhood. Here are a few books that will serve as fine resources for you: Flight of the Stork by Anne Bernstein, Did the Sun Shine Before You Were Born? by Sol and Judith Gordon, and When Sex is the Subject: Attitudes and Answers for Young Children by Pamela Wilson. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has many helpful resources as well.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.