I have totally failed at Parenting Sex Education 101.
I’m no prude. I’m one of those dyed-in-the-wool pragmatists that insists on calling a penis a “penis”, a vagina a “vagina” and a vulva a “vagina”. Yes, I know that’s wrong. Roll your eyes all you like but I have two boys, and I figure that my three year old doesn’t need to know the comprehensive ins-and-outs of female flappy-bits just yet.
I generally pat myself on the back for the fact that we can drop the p-bomb and the v-bomb around here with aplomb, and without resorting to cutesy names like doodles, dongers, willies, flowers, fannies or front bums. However, the pats on the back seem to be somewhat premature because in every other way my pragmatic approach to age-appropriate sex education has been a monumental failure.
Here are some epic-fails from the archives:
FAIL #1: My kid thought I had a penis.
My eldest son brought this picture home from preschool when he was 4 years old. Like all mildly-attentive parents, I absent-mindedly quizzed him on the contents as I washed the dishes.
Hugzilla: 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.
Hugzilla: (pauses) Oh. Ok. That’s… great. Why was I weeing in the garden?
Mr 4: Because you needed to go to the toilet.
FAIL #2: My kids thought I peed out of my bum.
I once overheard a conversation between my (then) 4 year old and 2 year old when they were in the bathroom.
Mr 4: See this? That’s my penis. I wee out of my penis. Mum doesn’t have a penis. Mum wees out of her bum. That’s why she sits down.
FAIL #3: My three year old STILL thinks that girls have penises.
I had an interesting discussion with my three year old last night.
Mr 3: Girls have penises.
Hugzilla: No they don’t.
Mr 3: Yes they do. I saw it in a book.
Hugzilla: They don’t.
Mr 3: They DO!
Don’t be fooled by the brevity of that conversation: the real thing went on much longer, and with a lot more sighing and harrumphing and wild gesticulating (all from me – my three year old steadfastly refused to entertain the notion he could possibly be wrong, with all the characteristic arrogance of a typical threenager).
I finally managed to work out the book he was talking about, a lift-the-flap guide to the human body. The picture in question was an illustration of a girl’s body with a line-drawing of her kidneys and ureter. To be fair, it totally looked like she had a penis.
We clearly needed help.
That’s when I finally reached for “The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made” by Fiona Katauskas (yes, this is not just a self-lacerating review of my limited parenting skills, it’s also a book review).
I’d been meaning to get around to it for a few weeks, but there was never a “good time”. I mean, when IS it a good time to have the dreaded “birds and the bees” talk? (Probably some time before he comes home at 16 with a “SURPRISE!” in the guise of a knocked-up girlfriend).
I guess I figured that my husband would be tasked with this responsibility, much like I would have been tasked with explaining the mechanics of menstruation, labour and birth if we’d had female children. I smugly thought that I’d dodged a bullet there, but I was clearly wrong.
Here we were: two kids with genital confusion and it was kind of my fault.
The book bills itself as “funny, frank and embarrassment-free”, and it opens by debunking some of the quirky myths about where babies come from before getting right down to business with the genital issue, straight up.
Boys have penises and girls have vaginas (lightbulb moment for my kids right there, and “ner frigging NER” to my three year old). It goes on to discuss puberty in an age-appropriate manner, and there is a rather fetching illustration of a clown with rainbow coloured pubic hair (rainbows seem to be a recurring theme, because the book also features same-sex couples).
We get the kid-friendly lowdown on eggs, sperm, ovaries, fertilisation and sex. Breaking with the long-held tradition of dodgy illustrations in books of this nature, “The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made” is decidedly NON-creepy. The people look more or less like people, the anatomical drawings aren’t exaggerated caricatures and the picture of the baby crowning looks nothing like a Roman Polanski horror film.
Here’s the money shot.
And here’s the other money shot.
(Note baby crowning in remarkably non-demonic fashion)
“The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made” is thoroughly modern: you can throw away those dog-eared copies of “Where Did I Come From?” because it covers multiple births, premature babies, IVF and egg/sperm donation in a matter-of-fact way that is age-appropriate and unambiguous. I rather enjoyed that section, because it presented the perfect opportunity to blow the mind of my IVF-conceived eldest child.
Hugzilla: That’s how YOU were made. You were made in a science lab.
Mr 5: (wide-eyed) I DO NOT BELIEVE YOU.
(mentally adds exchange to my long list of parenting fails)
Aaaaaand, in the interests of full disclosure…
Here’s where I confess that I sneakily flicked past the sex page and went straight to fertilisation instead, inwardly breathing a sigh of relief that my kids were too young to notice my deception.
I’m so shit at this. Their dad can explain it to them when they’re older.
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“The Amazing True Story of How Babies Are Made” by Fiona Katauskas is published by ABC Books, an imprint of Harper Collins. This is an unpaid review. If I could actually get paid to humiliate myself like this I would be bloody rich.