"Where do babies come from?'

2010-08-17 00:00

THE first sex talk I had with my daughter was conducted entirely in 16th-century verse. I was explaining a Bible story, when I noticed her confused face. I did a 15-minute parallel park around the issue and then eventually gave up: “Do you know what sex is?” I finally asked. But before she could answer, her five-year-old cousin leapt in with delight. Waving her arms in the air, she said: “Oh please, please, please ask me.”

“Okay Hannie,” I said, “what is sex?”

“Well it’s when a man lays with a woman,” Hannah explained ceremoniously, “and the woman receives his seed.”

“Woohhh,” I burst out laughing, “where on Earth did you get that from?” But she continued undaunted, explaining step by step to her attentive cousin, in fine Old King James poetry, just exactly what sex was. I had to paraphrase here and there, change a few thees into yous, but otherwise I couldn’t have done better myself.

“Ahhhaa,” I thought afterwards, “so sex education is actually ridiculously simple. But, someone doesn’t want us parents to find that out. I had always had a suspicion that a big businessperson somewhere was profiting from our insecurities — suggesting to us that his or her books, DVDs and seminars would explain sex to our children, in a way that we never could. And so us gullible parents bought book after book of rose-tinted pictures, explaining how mummy’s baby got where it is today; and attended course after course on when to say what and how to say it and how not to cause permanent self-esteem damage as we say it; while some cunning entrepreneur turned our self-doubt into hard cash.

“But what I’ve realised now,” I explained to my husband a couple of days later, “is if you just drop the word sex around the house a few times, then someone is bound to ask what it is, and then you just explain it to them. It’s as simple as that. And I mean you can’t read much literature for long before stumbling over the issue — from the story of Hagar, to the story of Cleopatra, it’s lurking in every line. So, just let it come out naturally and then explain it. And,” I wound up to my argument clincher, “no matter how you explain it, you are going to draw judgments. The nature of sex is that it’s not neutral, so surely there will never be a one-size-fits-all sex education book. Every family is going to explain it in different ways — some through pictures and some through archaic verse.”

A few months later, while watching a nature programme, our four-year-old-son asked, “What are those animals doing?” He wasn’t one for fine poetry, but he liked a good National Geographic. “Well Jo,” I said triumphantly, “they are having sex. When animals have sex it’s called mating, when people have sex it’s called sex.” And then to his attentive face I explained how it all worked. He listened, he thought and he listened some more. “Oh,” he said at the end, “so do you mean that mums and dads have sex like wild animals?”

His sister said: “Yes, but it’s only something that you speak about in the family”, and I made a mental note to start reading him more poetry.

• Sarah Groves is a freelance writer living in Pietermaritzburg.

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