So here’s a conversation I had with my kiddos several years ago when they were quite a bit younger. One son was 3 years old, joined in by my 5 year old son as they were getting dressed during the day.
“Mommy, what is this?” Lifting his penis and touching his testes.
I feel my anxiety rising a bit but try to remember what I preach about staying calm and honest.
“Those are your testes.”
“Testes?” Repeated this word several times giggling.
“Do I have testes too?”
“Under your penis – they kind of feel like small balls.”
Giving his own personal demonstration: “See, right here!”
“Do you have testes, Mommy?”
“No, only boys have testes.”
“What do you have?”
“I have a vagina and a vulva. Boys have a penis and testes.”
“What’s a vagina and vulva?”
This is when I realize we are in for the long haul.
“The vagina is a special hole that girls have. It is the hole that babies come out of. My vulva is what you can see from the outside – just like you can see your penis.”
“Do I have a special hole?”
“Well, we all have a hole in our bottom where our poopies come out of. Boys and girls. But only girls have the hole where babies come out of and that’s the vagina.”
Likes to repeat things.
“Why do I have testes?”
“That’s where boys keep sperm.”
“They are like seeds that you will use someday to make a baby. Someday when you are a grown-up you’ll probably want to get married and have a family.”
“Does Daddy have sperm?”
At which point they are both satisfied and probably even bored with our conversation and run off together to play and eat cereal.
Phew! I survived.
Developmentally speaking, these are the ages when boys and girls start having normal and appropriate curiosity regarding their bodies and to develop the sense of what makes them different from the opposite sex. It is also when they are wanting connections to their same-sex parent. My hope was that by offering correct terminology, by controlling my anxiety, and by being willing to answer questions simply but accurately we could start the lifelong process of sexual education. I still try to take every opportunity my children give me to make an impact on healthy sexuality. In fact just today in the car, these same boys (now 12 and 14) listened to me talk about the difference between testicles and the scrotum (where the testicles are held). Most of these opportunities are not “planned” events. They just happen in our day-to-day lives.
What are your thoughts about how I handled this situation? Do you agree or disagree with my approach? Are there similar stories in your parenting experience? How did you handle them? Are there things you would have said differently? I welcome all comments…
Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST
Natasha is the owner and founder of Symmetry Solutions. She is a Licensed Clinical Marriage & Family Therapist in the states of Kansas and Wisconsin and a Certified Sex Therapist. Natasha has been in practice for over 20 years and works with adults and adolescents. She specializes in mental health therapy, sex therapy and sexuality concerns, family/couples services and faith transitions within spiritual journeys.