When my wife was pregnant with Lael, we faced a common dilemma: how and when should we explain to our toddler son about his future sister?
Book publishers solved our problem by sending us Where Willy Went for Anne’s kid lit review site. Seth loved learning about Willy training for his big swim race from Mr. Brown to Mrs. Brown. And he seemed to understand that Willy fertilized Mrs. Brown’s egg, which resulted in a cute baby girl.
I don’t think we ever worried much about providing Seth a little sex education before he was 3. The lesson was needed to explain why mommy’s tummy was growing.
But some parents today have a different reason for teaching toddlers about sex: these moms and dads want to inoculate their children from eventual exposure to naughty images they will see on TV, on the Internet and in other media, reports The New York Times.
This education goes beyond our “Where Willy Went” story:
According to this approach, toddlers should learn words like “vulva” at the same time they learn “ears” and “toes,” benign-sounding myths about storks and seeds constitute harmful misinformation, and any child who can ask about how he or she was created is old enough for a truthful answer.
While many of us grew up believing that it’s detrimental to learn about intercourse at a tender age, experts such as Dr. Justin Richardson, author of Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask), are calling that a myth. “If you’re talking about how babies are made, there’s no age at which it is harmful to learn that the penis goes into the vagina,” Richardson tells the Times.
Other experts go on to explain that lying – even a half truth – is the worst thing you can do if your child asks about sex. Just keep the answers simple and honest, they urge.
I have no idea if that early sex ed a good thing or a bad one. I’ve always been happy with the idea we would tell Seth and Lael as they express interest. Because we control TV, Internet and movie access, we don’t feel any pressure to hurry up sexual education. That may not be true in other families.
We don’t hesitate to teach the correct function of body parts, either. Otherwise, Seth would still believe that he was going to get pregnant when he became older. And we had to dissuade him of the idea that he would grow boobs and breastfeed Lael.
But it is interesting that our sexualized culture today is forcing parents – and preschools – to change values held for generations. I hope the experts keep in mind that in general it should be up to parents to decide when and how kids learn about sex.