When my nine-year-old son asks about the birds and the bees
Parenting is full of daily challenges. Recently, my nine-year-old son popped a question at the dining table: “Mummy, how do men transfer sperm to women?” Somewhat at a loss on how to explain to our son and how much to tell him in order not to make it too graphic, we started asking for help from our friends with kids.
Parenting is full of daily challenges. Recently, my nine-year-old son popped a question at the dining table: “Mummy, how do men transfer sperm to women?”
My wife’s knee-jerk reflex was: “Ask your science teacher!”
My boy then turned to me: “Daddy, please tell me. Is it very disgusting?”
There was total silence at the dining table for a short while.
How did such a question come about?
I later found out that that my son’s science teacher had taught his class about a human life cycle, starting from an egg in a woman.
“An egg develops into a baby inside the mother until it is ready to be born,” explained the teaching material.
As for the word “sperm,” my son could have remembered it from something I taught him on a trip last year to Moalboal in Cebu.
While we were exploring the intertidal pool on the beach, we found two sea rabbits stuck to each other through a slimy, reproductive organ.
My curious son asked me if they were mating.
“Yes, the male sea rabbit inserted its penis into the female reproductive organ and sperm was transferred,” I said as a matter of fact.
My son’s question over dinner made my wife and I realise that both of us were never taught such things by our own parents.
I remember asking my parents and my uncles how a baby was made. They laughed at me and told me I would know when I grow up.
Somewhat at a loss on how to explain to our son and how much to tell him in order not to make it too graphic, we started asking for help from our friends with kids.
Some suggested that since I am a doctor, it would be appropriate for me to explain mating in scientific terms.
One even advised me to choose an appropriate Youtube video and let it do the explaining.
I tried searching on Youtube, only to realise that if one is not careful, one may be directed to videos that may be too saucy. So that option quickly went out of the window.
Some parents gave me references for children books. There are actually many books in our public libraries on this topic, and they typically show human reproduction through cartoon illustration.
They look quite reasonable.
But I think the best advice came from a few friends – mothers with children - who taught me that sexual education is incomplete without stressing the emotional part of it.
The scientific and physical aspects are simple.
But it is crucial to teach children about intimacy, love, responsibility and even marriage. Sexual education must include the emotional part of a sexual intercourse.
After much deliberation, I decided to take the bull by the horns. I feel that being the father, I have the duty to educate my son instead of letting him learn from the wrong source.
I talked to him privately in his room, without his mother.
I explained to him how a baby comes about, from what is sexual intercourse to how an ovum is released from a woman’s ovary once a month.
“The ovum only lives for one to two days. If a sperm happens to fertilise the ovum, they will combine to form an embryo. The woman will be pregnant then. The embryo will multiply and grow into a human being in about nine to 10 months,” I added.
Looking fascinated, my son then asked, “Does sperm have legs and walk to the ovum?”
I replied that it has a tail and swims like a tadpole.
My boy probed: “You mean a man inserts a penis and pee inside a woman?”
“No, the man does not pee inside, sperm will come out from the penis, not urine,” I replied.
“But the sexual intercourse should only happen between two persons who are in love. The man can only put his penis into the woman he is married to. And a woman will only allow the man she loves to have sex with her,” I added.
“If a man forces his way in, it is called rape, and the man will be jailed and caned.”
My boy then asked: “You mean if I have sex with a B (a girl he met during our last vacation to Cebu), she will bear my children?”
I replied: “No, you cannot do that, you and B are not married. Police will send you to jail and cane you. You can only have sex with one person and that must be your wife, after marriage.”
Our conversation ended there.
I am glad my 9-year old seemed contented with my answers for now and our birds and bee talk was not as embarrassing or difficult as I had thought.
I don’t know how much my son understands. He has stopped asking anything on the subject since then.
What I do know is that explaining biological stuff to my son is more challenging than explaining medical stuff to my patients.
But if we don’t teach our children, someone else would. And it is better for us to take the lead to teach them properly.
There is always an emotional part of every question and issue in life. As parents, we ought to teach our children to view issues and situations from both the technical aspect, as well as the emotional aspect.
My wife and I are fortunate that we bond well with our son and he turns to us for information. If he had relied on his friends or other older kids, he may have learned things very differently.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr Desmond Wai is a gastroenterologist and hepatologist in private practice.