Talking about sex with our 3-year-old
By Rasha Madkour
“Mama, I think these two things are my kidneys.”
I look up and see my 3-year-old holding his nuts. It’s not yet 7 a.m., but my brain cranks up. I recall that a few days earlier, my doctor husband had been explaining to our sons that kidneys make urine. And I can see why my son made that connection, given the anatomical proximity. “Oh,” I mumble, hoping my acknowledgment will suffice. Of course, it doesn’t. He presses on: “Are they?” This is how my husband and I ended up having the sex talk with our kids way earlier than we thought we would. But it turned out better than I could have hoped. Early on, though, I admit I was floundering. I reply: “Not exactly.” Him: “Then what are they?” Me: “They’re testicles.” Him: “Does pee go inside them then come out?” Me: “No, but they are part of your farfoora (Arabic for penis), so I understand why you’d think that.” Him: “Then what goes in them?” At this point, backed into a corner, I punt. “You know who knows a lot about this? Baba! Let’s talk about it when he gets home.” I call my husband to confer, and we reaffirm that we want to be honest and straightforward, yet age-appropriate, on this topic — no storks, no birds, and bees. Even if he is still in preschool.
I should have been more prepared. A month earlier, I unwittingly had a test run with our candid approach when my 6-year-old asked if a baby grows in the mom’s stomach. I talked to him about the womb, and later showed him a fabulous Dr. Seuss-style poem
I should have been more prepared. A month earlier, I unwittingly had a test run with our candid approach when my 6-year-old asked if a baby grows in the mom’s stomach. I talked to him about the womb, and later showed him a fabulous Dr. Seuss-style poem a friend sent me that sums it up: “A womb is a room/Where a kid’ll be soon.”
The illustrated poem mentions that when the kid gets too big, it’s time to come out of a small door – unintentionally inviting my son’s next question: “What’s the door? What’s it called?” I thought for a moment, opting for a super-specific answer: “It’s called a cervix.” In this new frontier, we agree to follow our younger son’s line of questioning until his curiosity is satisfied. My husband has an illustrious history with sex ed. In fifth grade, given the choice to present on any topic, he took on intercourse. Looking at the reserved adult he is now, you’d never guess it, but he was unabashed. He talked about genitals; about how people who love each other get a nice feeling that’s like an itch; about how sexual intercourse is “like playing soccer, you can’t do it all day.” The talk was so well received that his teacher asked him to give it again to the other fifth-grade class.
With our 3-year-old, who forgets where he leaves his toys but not that he has a question hanging, my husband gets straight down to business. Husband: “Testicles make sperm.” Son: “What’s sperm?” Husband: “Sperm goes into the womb and makes a baby.” You could see the wheels spinning in my son’s head as he processes the mechanics of this – “It goes into the womb?” he repeats to himself – but, blissfully, he leaves that discussion for another day. Questions resolved, he goes back to his Legos. Later, I overhear him pointing to the various characters from “Inside Out” and labeling whether they have a farfoora or a “bagina.” I imagine him taking this discussion to the preschool playground, to the horror of other parents, and casually mention to him these are private things we can talk about at home. While I faltered when challenged to carry out the frank approach to its extreme, my husband was unwavering. If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, they’re going to hear about it from their friends, and not necessarily accurately, he often says. “I’d rather my kid know the facts. If they ask, they’re ready to know.” I’ll keep telling myself that during our inevitable next round of questions. Rasha Madkour is a writer living in Boston.
*Original article appeared on washingtonpost.