Explaining Sex, Vaginas and Assisted Reproduction to Four Year Olds

My four year old son has no idea what a vagina is.

My fault, I should have told him already but I am the sole vagina in a house full of phalluses and up until now it had just never really come up. Pun not intended – I swear – but a tiny little part of my infantile mind just snickered like a schoolboy.

He brought this picture home from preschool the other day and as usual I casually asked him to explain what all the random squiggles depicted, falling into that time-worn charade where I nod along authoritatively and act like of course I knew what they all were anyway.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 8.01.55 PM

It went like this:

Zilla: Oh wow baby, that looks great! What is your drawing about?

Mr 4: (pointing) This is a rainbow, this is a butterfly, this is Daddy and this is you. I drew you with your penis out because you were weeing in the garden.

Zilla: (pauses) Oh. Ok. That’s… great. Why was I weeing in the garden?

Mr 4: Because you needed to go to the toilet.

Zilla: Aha. Right.

My first thought was to wonder whether he had narrated that delightful little scenario to his teachers, quickly jumping to the conclusion that he most probably had. My kid is an incessant chatterbox, to the point where I’ve actually googled “does my child talk too much” to see if he is normal. I don’t think he is. Anyway, I’ve no doubt he told them all about it and now they think I’m some sort of feral weirdo who whips her vag out and wees in the front yard.

At the very least I’m the feral weirdo who hasn’t properly educated her son about basic anatomy. The mum of the poor little kid who thinks everyone has a penis.

It’s not like I’m some kind of prude and I’m not squeamish about using the proper terminology for genitalia. I taught my son that he has a penis. Not a willy, or a doodle or a donger or some other stupid cutesy label that makes them sound even more ridiculous than they already are. It’s just that he’s never really asked me why my bits are different to his bits and so I’ve never needed to provide him with a label for mine.

That will need to change soon, I know that. Being four years old and ready to start school next year he is getting to the stage where he has an insatiable curiosity about most things, in particular where he came from. Being told he was “a baby who came out of mummy’s tummy” is simply too bereft of logic and scant on detail to satisfy him anymore. Only just recently he quizzed me about all that.

Mr 4: (pokes my stomach) How did I get in there? How did I get in your belly?

Zilla: (pauses) Ummmm….

(thinks) Shit, what the HELL? How do I EVEN…?

(lightbulb moment) By a REALLY BIG NEEDLE!!

My kid is an IVF baby, so I wasn’t lying. I wasn’t strictly telling the truth either, but I wasn’t lying. Needles freak him out so that pretty much killed the discussion, as I totally anticipated it would in that evil, pre-meditated way that mothers exploit their children’s naiveté to deliberately engineer the outcome of pretty much any situation they want to manipulate. Awkward conversation successfully avoided.

I have to admit, I was relieved. When he threw that question at me it came so far out of the blue that I was totally unprepared to answer it on the spot. I honestly had no idea how to deliver an ad hoc conversation about sex and reproduction in a simple and age-appropriate way for a four year old.

I mean, it would probably have went something like this:

Mr 4: (pokes my stomach) How did I get in there? How did I get in your belly?

Zilla: (clears throat awkwardly) Well son, when Mummy and Daddy have special grown-up cuddles, Daddy puts his penis in Mummy’s vagina…

Mr 4: (interrupts) What’s a vagina?

Zilla: (mutters) CrapDAMMIT!

When really, the longer and somewhat more accurate version goes something like this:

Mr 4: (pokes my stomach) How did I get in there? How did I get in your belly?

Zilla: Well son, a lady doctor from the sub-continent injected you inside Mummy with a really big needle while your Daddy sat in the corner. This is what you looked like the first time I ever saw you.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 8.30.53 PM

Yeah, that’s totally not confusing for a four year old.

And so, to start with vaginas. Wish me luck.


Oh, and if you enjoy stories about public urination, here is one about the time my kid pissed all over the place at the bus stop.



2 thoughts on “Explaining Sex, Vaginas and Assisted Reproduction to Four Year Olds

  1. Actually the first thought that sprang to my mind upon seeing that Van Gogh family portrait was why his TEACHERS hadn’t enlightened him as to the birds and the bees. Surely that’s part of the preschool curriculum??

    Maybe you can bring it up at your next parent-teacher meeting. Don’t forget your kid’s drawing to preclude your suggestion…

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