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Many Parents Oppose Sex Ed in Elementary School, and Now I'm One of Them

By carolyncastiglia |

chickens mating, sex ed, kindergarten

Are kindergarteners too young to learn about the birds and the bees and the baby chickadees?

I consider myself a pretty liberal person when it comes to most things.  I believe in gay marriage, taxing the rich, ending the war (any war).  I’ve talked to my 5-year-old daughter about the fact that boys can love boys and girls can love girls.  I teach her about donating to those in need.  She knows what a tampon is, and that it’s something grown-up girls use when they get their periods (ewww!).  I haven’t been shy about much when it comes to raising my daughter; I even explained to her that the hole part of her pee-pee is called a vagina.

But when my daughter started yelling, “Penis, penis, penis!” down the sidewalk as we were walking home from school one day last week, all bets were suddenly off.  In that instant, I immediately switched camps and joined the 59% of parents “who do not think sex education should be taught to children in school from a young age.”

It’s not because I think my 5-year-old is going to want to have sex once she knows how babies are made, or that she’s suddenly gonna start flipping the channels for soft-core, but hearing the word penis come out of her mouth – and at such an intense decibel – was definitely a shock.  It’s partially my fault, too, because when she asked me if I wanted to know what a boy chicken pee-pee was called, I could have said no.  In fact, I did say no, but then curiosity got the best of me.  I caved and said, “Okay.  Tell me what a boy chicken pee-pee is called.”

“I think it’s called a pernis,” she replied, ever-so-hesitantly.

“It’s actually called a penis,” I said.  Why?  WHY did I say that?!

“Penis?!,” she asked.  And then I giggled.  That’s what did me in.  I laughed at my kindergartner using the fancy word for boy pee-pee, and from that moment on it was just, “PENIS PENIS PENIS!!!” as we walked by a nice, cute, young gay couple headed up the street.  I was sure they’d either call child protective services or ask my daughter precisely where all that penis was, so they could take care of it.

“Don’t say that!  Shhhh!,” I begged, to no avail, so I tried a tactical change.

“Who taught you that?,” I asked.

“Our teacher did,” my daughter said.  She had started to act a bit cocky about it, too, which is only fitting, I suppose.  ”It was in a book.”

I was stunned.  I knew her class was hatching baby chicks in an incubator, but I had no idea there would be penis involved.  I was reeling with questions.  ”Is it bad that she knows what a penis is?  Does she really know what it is, or just the word?  Do I want her to know about sex?  I do, but I don’t.  In terms of reproduction, I guess it’s okay.  But not for pleasure!  Oh God.  Do chickens even have sex???” I wondered.  ”And why don’t I know that?”

It turns out, a rooster’s “penis” – though I can’t seem to find it referred to as anything but an “organ” or a “member” online – remains inside his butt – yes, his butt – until it’s time to do the deed, at which point the rooster mounts the hen and they do it like most animals do: quickly.

You’re welcome.

Now that that’s out of the way, one question still remains: do I want my kindergartener to receive this type of sex ed?  I don’t know.  I wish I’d been there to observe the lesson.  Then maybe I’d have a stronger feeling one way or the other.  It’s hard to know as a parent how to teach what when, but I guess now I don’t have to worry about breaking the penis barrier.  It’s already been done for me.

It’s interesting to note that among British parents surveyed about sex ed for youngsters, 22% of them have the same concern about it that I do, which is: does teaching a 5-year-old about chicken penis mean she’s going to develop an interest in the human penis?  I’m sure the answer is no, since it hasn’t come up yet.  But it’s definitely unsettling to think about.  I felt prepared to start to talk about the birds and the bees in a few years, but not now.  There’s currently a bill in British Parliament that says, “For children aged three to six teaching is centred around issues like, ‘where do babies come from?’, ‘why are girls’ and boys’ bodies different?’ and ‘which parts of my body are private?’”  In our house, we’ve gone over the third question, a little of the second (not the why but the how) and not at all the first.  My daughter knows that a girl can’t get pregnant until she’s started her period, but as far as I know, my daughter still thinks girls just “get” a baby, like a manicure.  I was content to leave well enough alone.  Or maybe I was just too chicken to correct her.

What do you think?  How much should a 5-year-old know about sex?  At what age should kids know everything there is to know about doin’ it?  Or not doin’ it.  Gulp.

Source: BBC News

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About carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

carolyncastiglia

Carolyn Castiglia is a New York-based comedian/writer wowing audiences with her stand-up and freestyle rap. She’s appeared in TONY, The NY Post, The Idiot’s Guide to Jokes and Life & Style. You can find Carolyn’s writing elsewhere online at MarieClaire.com and The Huffington Post. Read bio and latest posts → Read Carolyn's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “Many Parents Oppose Sex Ed in Elementary School, and Now I'm One of Them

  1. Little girl screaming penis loudly in public? Welcome to my world, Carolyn. For the record: all for sex ed in school for the little ones, especially since all they’re really talking is biology.

  2. Boys Have 'Em says:

    If your daughter had a brother, she would have said ‘penis’ a lot sooner. Why is it okay for her to know vagina but not penis?

  3. Bunnytwenty says:

    I can’t really say that there’s any inappropriate age for girls to know that boys pee out of a different part than they do. Doing anything else with a penis, on the other hand, seems like the kind of thing that maybe parents should explain. But knowing about the existence of penis, and finding it tremendously entertaining? That’s totally innocent. And I’d rather have kids know about it young than find it shocking later – “They pee out of a what now???”

  4. Jenny Ondioline says:

    My 5 YO daughter has known about penises for years. Her older brother has one and is not shy at all about sharing that information. We’ve talked about it many times, and how some parts of our bodies are different from one another’s, and how we keep some things private, etc. In theory I’d be happy for my kids’ school to start teaching anatomy that early. Not sex ed., but anatomy.

    My son’s in 4th grade and I think they may have gotten a gender-specific anatomy lesson this year. I don’t know if they do a sex ed. class before the kids go onto middle school or not. I hope they do, personally. I attended Catholic school in the 70s and the sex ed. was, in a word, abysmal. As you can imagine. I really want my kids to be educated about the birds and the bees just like they would be on any other science topic, without it being some big “taboo” subject. I think if we adults show we’re uncomfortable with the topic, the kids will pick up on that. That said, I’ve struggled a lot when the kids ask me those “big” questions.

    When I was teaching Lego League last year, my students (grades 2-4) wanted to learn about chickens and egg production so they could build a model of a mobile chicken coop. I found this DVD about egg production and the first chapter was all about — you guessed it! — chicken reproduction. When I showed the DVD I skipped that chapter because a) I didn’t know what, if anything, the kids had already been taught; and b) I didn’t want the wrath of angry parents, teachers or principal coming down on my head. It was just a whole can of worms that I didn’t want to open. In hindsight I wish I’d used that opportunity to ask my kids’ principal what they teach and when, because that would be good to know. She’s an awesome lady and would have gladly answered my questions.

    Good luck to you, and to all of us parents who are struggling with this topic!

  5. Robyn says:

    My son has known he has a penis since he could talk. We call it a penis or “his private parts” depending on the context. He’s asked what I have, because I obviously don’t have a penis, and I told him a vagina. I don’t think he remembers that word. Knowing the right names for the body parts is just common sense. Knowing that no one is supposed to be touching private parts – that’s why they’re called “private” – probably protects kids.

  6. NoVa Mommy says:

    I remember my daughter asking–loudly–who had a vagina and who had a penis at the pool after we’d had an impromptu home biology lesson. I think she was three. *shrug* I figure her friends and the media are going to beat me to the punch with false or more damaging information no matter what I do. So demystifying words like “penis?” Yeah, I could use some back-up, and if the school is willing to help, then yes, please. Even in kindergarten.

  7. Nasrin says:

    When I was pregnant last year, my 11-year-old niece asked if the baby would come out through my belly button. I was shocked. I glanced over at my SIL who shrugged and nodded, so I explained exactly how the baby came out, barring surgery. She didn’t know any of the terms, neither labia nor vagina. At 11!! My SIL said she would be happy to have me explain how the baby gets in there, when the time came. Considering that many girls are now getting their periods at 11, I think the time should have come already. Yes, by all means, body parts should be discussed as young as possible. Not come as a surprise at 11. And yeah, that means that like my own sister at 5, your kid may address guests by asking “do you have a penis or a vagina?” But it’s our kids’ jobs to embarrass us once in a while. We’ll get them back when they are teenagers.

  8. marni says:

    when i was teaching nursery school camp one summer, we were changing the kids into their bathing suits (boys on one side of the room and girls on the other, but no real separation) when the girl i was helping glanced over at one of the boys and shouted “HEY! HE’S GOT A THUMB IN HIS PANTS!”

  9. Amber says:

    My 2 year old son will tell you, with glee, that he has a penis, a scrotum and “two round testicles.” He’ll also tell you that girls have a vulva, a vagina and a clitoris.

    I couldn’t be more proud. I didn’t know all those words until I was in my teens and I don’t think I’m alone in that. If we teach our children from day one about anatomy and sexuality, we wouldn’t be so messed up about sex as a society.

  10. carolyncastiglia says:

    So much to say and I want to respond to all of you:

    @Madeline – I’m not entirely opposed to it, it’s just that I didn’t know it was coming. (Remember, we just started last week, so I don’t know if parents were informed at the start of the school year that reproduction would be studied. I certainly didn’t study it in kindergarten. We just learned to write letters and numbers… on the cave walls.) Maybe I’m out of touch to assume the word penis won’t be used in kindergarten, but that’s why it was a surprise.

    @boys have ‘em – you’re totally right. I’m not saying it’s not okay, I just wasn’t prepared.

    @BUNNYTWENTY – I’m basically of that mind. She knew boys have “long pee-pees” – I mean, I know she’s seen one before, we just never really delved into the subject matter, if you know what I mean.

    @Jenny O – Interesting to know that there isn’t set policy about that in your school. Something to look into for sure!

    @Robyn – That’s why my daughter wasn’t familiar with the word penis. There hasn’t been too much reason to use it. We were 3 women living together from the time she was 3, so…

    @Nova Mommy – I hear you. What I wonder is, even in terms of a biology lesson, what do the kids process? What can they wrap their heads around?

    @Marni – Ha! Thumb is better than snake.

  11. CDN Mummy says:

    I’ve been using the proper names for penis and vagina since my son was a baby. I was thinking along the lines of, boys have penises and girls have vaginas. Therefore you have a penis and are a boy and so is your dad and grandpa and uncle Ben and I am a girl and so are your grandmas etc … I think I would be torn about sex ed depending on how much I’ve talked to R about sex up until that point. I remember my 1st sex ed class in grade 4 or 5. I was so shocked and appalled but only because no adult had ever talked about sex before. It was such a taboo subject with kids. I hope I have enough courage to bring it up before sex ed starts.

  12. carolyncastiglia says:

    Amber – “If we teach our children from day one about anatomy and sexuality, we wouldn’t be so messed up about sex as a society.” I’m sure that’s true to some extent. The question is, what should a 5-year-old know about sex? Names of body parts, okay. The fact that a penis goes inside a vagina? I don’t know.

  13. Voice of Reason says:

    Hey, you should know this:

    At a parenting night last week, I found out that the more children know about sex, their bodies, their body parts, etc., the less likely they are to be groomed by pedophiles. Apparently this was deduced from extensive interviews with imprisoned child sex offenders with the consistent message being that children who are well-educated about their bodies are believed to be more reliable witnesses in court and therefore not of interest to pedophiles. Interestingly, the friend with whom I attended the parenting evening was already aware of this fact – from a different source.

    I am not especially paranoid about pedophiles and I don’t for a second think they are lurking on every corner, but I do think this is information worth spreading and I will be having regular ‘body talks’ with my four year old daughter and seven year old son as a result of my new nugget of information.

  14. carolyncastiglia says:

    I agree – thanks for sharing, Voice of Reason!

  15. Sara says:

    Sorry, but that was a problem with discipline in your house not a school problem. Your five year old is old enough to understand that there are words that we don’t repeat in public. If you explained it to her logically instead of acting like a five year old yourself (and telling her that what she did was funny) then you wouldn’t have to deal with the situation again. Let her know if she does that again then she’s going to be disciplined (in whatever way you do in your family). and explain to her the right way to use that word.

    Kids need to know the right words for body parts. They also need to know the appropriate ways to use them. Even three or four year olds can understand that it’s not ok to shout penis penis penis.

  16. carolyncastiglia says:

    Hey Sara – can you teach me how to change a diaper and feed a baby, too? It was the first time she’d ever heard the word, I didn’t know she’d heard it and therefore didn’t know she’d say it. I did ask her to stop and she did. You could have gleaned all of that from the post. Oy.

  17. Another Sara says:

    When you mentioned that they were hatching chickens, my first thought was that they had talked about penises because the kids wondered if they hatched boy chickens or girl chickens. That sort of conversation seems totally believable and reasonable for kdg. Are you sure they were talking about chickens “doing it”? That would seem to deserve a parental heads up.

    1. carolyncastiglia says:

      I’m not sure – I don’t know exactly the context in which it was used. I’ll ask. I’m field tripping tomorrow. We’re going to the aquarium to see fish penises. ;)

  18. But, Sara, there’s nothing inappropriate about saying penis and vagina. They’re just words and body parts. Arm! Leg!

  19. jess says:

    My son will be 3 soon and certainly knows he has a penis. We’ve talked about “boys and men have penises, girls and women have vaginas.” And he just looooves talking about nipples, too. I’m all for young kids knowing names of body parts. Having taught 5 and 6 year olds, I know they just adore engaging in “potty talk” (perhaps boys more so than girls, but both seem to think it’s funny to say the names of scandalous body parts and their bathroom-related functions). I can say that by the time I was 4 yrs old I knew the whole penis/vagina thing and how they come together to make a baby. I learned this at home from my mom…maybe also that “Where Did I Come From?” book. I don’t recall what, if anything, I learned formally about sex ed in elementary school, but I can tell you that by the time I got to high school I noticed that those friends of mine who seemed less educated overall about sex, contraception, etc. were the ones engaging in sex earlier and dealing with the consequences.

  20. starrsitter says:

    Yeah…What Madeline said.

  21. lisa says:

    Big ditto for what Madeline said. I think what your child had was an anatomy lesson, not necessarily a full on sex ed lesson — animal husbandry at best. Should we leave reproduction to the magical elves? Or just leave it to the wee-wees and the hoo-hahs? I’ve noticed that what a family calls its “private parts” varies greatly and can be the subject of some debate. We go for the actual term. Personally, I think it’s really bothersome when parents have their boys refer to their penises as “wieners” and make them go “tee-tee.” Seriously??

    I had health class in highschool. Jr year. Coach Dujanovich. I swear, that class saved my life. Only about a month of the semester was dedicated to sex, but it was so much better than anything my parents could provide (here’s a pamphlet and don’t do until you get married and for the love of god don’t get pregnant). Our church, yes church, has an awesome awesome sex ed class. We’re starting with first grade and then older kiddos (and it’s not abstinence only either).

  22. Anonymous says:

    I go along with the anatomy part of the discussion for the younger set. But there’s no reason that a 5 year old needs to know that a penis goes into a vagina.

    I believe in being frank with my son, but I also go on a “needs to know” basis. I feel out each discussion. For example, when he was maybe 3, he still referred to “private parts” as a wee. Didn’t matter what the sex of the person was, it was a wee. Didn’t matter how many times we corrected him. So we let it go. Figured he’d get it eventually, and he did.

    But at that same age, he and I were sitting together reading a book, and out of the blue, he asks me, “did I grow in your tummy?” Why, yes you did. And he looked at my tummy for a bit, rubbed his little hand on it. I could see the little gears clicking in his head. And then he asked, “and did I come out your wee?” And that prompted a very simplified discussion about C-sections, because that’s how he was born. It was rather handy that his dad had just had an appendectomy, so he knew all about doctors cutting you open and sewing you back up.

    I think that, to a point, sex ed belongs in the home. I get that somewhere around grade 5,6, they’re going to get “the talk” at school. But until then, let’s leave the really meaty stuff to the parents. I’m ok with teachers of any grade using clinical terms when referring to anatomy – no sense in mystifying it, or sugar coating it, or continuing with the “wee wee” talk. But leave the Birds and the Bees to me, thank you.

  23. Sara says:

    Well if your child is five and has never heard the word penis then you didn’t do your job as a parent. It should have been taught to her by you a couple years ago. Kids need to know the proper names for sexual organs as another commenter said it’s part of protecting them from sexual abusers. It’s also about teaching your kid to be an adult that isn’t ashamed of their body. The word penis or vagina should not make a grown woman giggle or be embarrassed. By putting off a talk until after most their age have had it you’re teaching your kids that sex and their bodies is something to be ashamed of and not something to be comfortable talking about. If you want your teenager to come to you if they have questions about sex that they want honest answers to then you need to start the conversation when they’re little and every couple months you bring it up again (answering questions as needed) until your kid leaves the house. The sex talk isn’t a talk, it’s an ongoing conversation that needs to start when kids are toddlers.

    And if you fixed the discipline issue then I don’t see what the problem is except your embarrassment and inability to handle a talk that your child should of had already and was obviously developmentally able to comprehend.

  24. Leanne says:

    I agree, it would seem a little out of place for an animal husbandry lesson to happen in kindergarten. More likely kids wanted to know who were girls and who were boys and a teacher had to explain how to tell the difference. I bet hearing that chicks have penises in their butts made everyone laugh and laugh. It sure made my son, now 8, when he found it out a few years ago from a friend who works for a chicken farm.

    Of course, this is the 8 year old who watched his brother being born 4 years ago, who knows how women’s reproductive cycles work, how breastfeeding works, etc, etc – the kids of doulas and childbirth educators tend to know all about the biology of birth at a very young age.

  25. Rosana says:

    I think that 5 year old is a little too soon for me to start talking to my daughter about menstruation, etc. Not because I think is taboo but because I don’t think she will really understand the point of the conversation since puberty will not happen until a few more years ahead. Maybe 8 years old is more like it for me. Second, maybe the rooster penis talked came up in the classroom after another kid asked about it and I think the teacher did what she had to do, explain it honestly.
    Maybe acting like it is a big deal (when our kids talk about penises and vulvas) and giggling about it too, is what makes it comical to them and they want to share the joke with the world :)

  26. Sara says:

    Some girls start menstruating at 8, so if you have one of the younger ones (or if their best friend is one of the younger ones) you’ve waited too long.

    The problem is that so many woman see anything related to development or sex as a huge taboo that’s horrific and embarrassing. My child knows what menstruation is because she saw my tampons and asked what they were. I explained it to her and now she knows. I don’t understand hiding things from them and I’d certainly rather she got the information from me than from someone elses kid who perhaps learned it wrong. This doesn’t mean you need to go into a huge science lesson or over explain it but these things should come.

  27. Gretchen says:

    While I don’t really agree with you, I happen to fall into the information regarding reproduction (human or animal) early camp, but I really appreciate you sharing your story. It is a different view point from mine, and it helped me gain some insight into why some parents may feel as you do. My opinions are only right for my kids, so I do try to be sensitive about that especially if I think that information might be gleefully passed along to another child who’s parents may not agree with me.

  28. Lola says:

    Well this will really blow your mind Carolyn: my 5 and 6 year old boys not only know that they have penises, they also know girls have vaginas! They also know what periods are, what sex is and that sex can not only be for making babies but also that people do it because it feels good. MOST people do it because it feels good! Why is that so terrible to impart on kids?

    We’re trying to raise informed, feminist/equalist children and we’re giving them all the information we feel they can handle at times when we feel they’re ready. Knowledge is power!

  29. mama b says:

    While pregnant with our son I told my then 2.5 year old that mommy and daddy made the baby, that mommies have eggs, and daddies have special cells to help grow a baby. By the time he was born when she was 3 she knew that daddy has a penis, mommy has a vagina, baby’s are supposed to come out of there, but sometimes they can’t(in my case), so they make a special cut for the baby to come out. Knowledge is power, my daughter needed to know these things-WHY?… because she asked. I also had to tell her that I would be sore because having a baby can hurt, and in my case I would be healing from where the baby had to be taken out. There is NOTHING wrong with a child knowing the parts of their bodies, it’s good for them. Now I was a bit embarrassed when my 3 year old was so happy to announce that the baby was a boy and that he had a penis to my in-laws, but you know it’s the truth. I feel better that she knows the difference.

  30. MJ Fonseca says:

    I am alarmed that an embarrassing moment would put you off the notion of education. Kids provide SO many. I think the lesson that could accompany this is the one about discretion – like when we see someone who appears strange to us, or when we talk about private moments and parts, or when they receive a gift they don’t like or already have – that it is not appropriate in our society to shout these things out loud. That’s all – and then hope for the best. There are many times I have to tell my daughter to lower her voice or to consider that the present moment is not the appropriate time to discuss one thing or another. That doesn’t mean I would avoid the lesson.

    I am also shocked at parents who try to protect their children in particular from anything vaguely sexual to the point that the lesson never actually takes place – and the unspoken lesson is that sex and one’s body is bad or naughty instead of appropriate to discuss at certain times and places.

    1. carolyncastiglia says:

      I’ve talked to my daughter about her body parts, that they’re for her only and that no one should touch them unless she needs medical help. Once we discussed the whole “if you need to touch yourself do it in private” thing. We’ve had the penis talk now. We haven’t talked about sex. I’m not opposed to sex ed, I just don’t know if kindergarteners need to know how babies are made. Maybe they should? I’m open to the possibility. I certainly think this conversation has proven that in general, there isn’t a lot of information out there from experts about what to tell your kids when. I certainly want my daughter to feel empowered, but I think we’re all worried about over sexualizing our children. Some are suggesting a lack of sex talk from an early age may contribute to that phenomenon. I think that’s an interesting idea. I’d like to research more about that.

  31. Carolyn says:

    I am a high school biology teacher, with a 4 year old daughter and a 1 year old son. My children know their anatomy better than the 9th graders in my class (BEFORE I teach them!). When I announced to my class that I was pregnant at the beginning of last year, they had so many questions about ovulation, conception, and anatomy that I had to stop the planned lesson and have basic sex ed. It was downright flabbergasting what they DIDN’T know. We wonder why so many teenagers are getting pregnant? I know why. Their parents aren’t talking to them and many teachers and schools are walking on eggshells over the topic. The number one way to prevent teenage pregnancies and STDs is abstinence, and after that, it’s KNOWLEDGE.
    If you don’t want your kids learning about sex in school, teach them at home before they get there!

  32. Catherine says:

    my three year old son knows his penis is called a penis. I try to make all that pretty much as boring as possible, here are your teeth, here’s your penis, here’s your knee. My daughter is almost two, and she tries to nurse her baby dolls. I’m not worried. If you arm your kids with the facts early on, they’re going to be more responsible for themselves, at least I believe so. I think Carolyn is right. Teach your kids yourself!

  33. beckster says:

    I hear the word penis over and over and over and over because I have little boys. They have a little sister too. We will see how soon she screams the word.

  34. Korinthia Klein says:

    I would hope by kindergarten most kids would know the names for basic anatomy, and penis is not a dirty word. We’ve talked about why grown up bodies look different from kid bodies, and because I can’t seem to keep anyone from barging in on me in the bathroom both my daughters and my son know all about my period, etc. I think this incident just took you by surprise, but I don’t think there is anything to be alarmed about. Personally, I would be more upset with a teacher who skirts the issue or makes up cutesy explanations rather than dealing honestly and age appropriately with questions from kids about reproduction (among chickens or otherwise).

  35. Gemma says:

    I have a 3 1/2 yr old son, who knows the basic anatomical names– penis, vagina, etc.. I never got the birds and bees talk from my own parents, and no sex ed at my school…I learned about sex from other girls at age 11 or 12, and most of the information that I received was wrong (ie guys have a butthole as well as a vagina equivalent) I used to ask my mom questions and she would change the subject. So, all I can say from personal experience, having had a parent who just assumed I would know what was going on and was too ashamed to talk about it… Is that I’ve chosen to do things very differently. If I’m not too ashamed to have sex, I’m not too ashamed to talk about it with my son. When he’s an older boy, I don’t want him to rely on locker room misinformation.

  36. CK says:

    I think it’s natural and healthy for boys and girls to know the correct names for body parts and to feel comfortable using them. Simply from the perspective of safety, I think it’s important to instil a child with language to describe their own bodies as well as to create a safe space to use that language should it be necessary to do so. I only have girls, but they know that boys have penises, they call them by it’s appropriate name, and, quite frankly, they’ve seen a gazillion little boy penises in the locker rooms at swim class so they’re quite aware how different they look, all of which I don’t think is weird or unhealthy. It’s just what it is. Daddies have beards and mommies don’t. Mommies have breasts and daddies don’t. Mommies keep tampax in the glove compartment of her car and daddy wants nothing to do with that because Mommy gets her period and Daddy doesn’t. There are differences betwen sexes evident everywhere, so it should be very normal and natural for a five year old to know that roosters and hens, just like boys and girls, have different parts and that the hens make eggs that hatch into babies and roosters don’t. Observing the process of chicks hatching strikes me as a lovely, age appropriate project. It is, however, still a far cry from learning the actual mechanics of sex and translating that into what’s going on in mommy and daddy’s bedroom. However, having the foundation of chicks and bunnies and birds and bees and whatever other cutesie little animals are out there, lays the groundwork for an age when a frank discussion of human procreation is not so shocking. Yep, we do it just like every other creature out there. In an ideal world, I think, they know it before they know it, you know? Then when actual sex ed (or “the conversation”) rolls around, hopefully the concept is not a jarring, frightening one, just a natural next step in the process of understanding the world around them.

  37. anarchist mama says:

    The author takes great pains to let us know that she’s oh-so enlightened and liberal, but of course, she draws the line at letting her child know that sex and pleasure have any connection. Notice a problem here?

    You either think sex should be portrayed as primarily healthy and enjoyable or you don’t.

    Think about food: should we teach kids that food can be a pleasure, or do we first only ensure that they know about the dangers of obesity or food poisoning well beforehand?

    Think about driving: I don’t keep the fact that I drive a car a secret from my kids. But I make it clear to them that driving is appropriate for adults, and not appropriate for children.

    You say you’re an enlightened liberal, but you can’t bear the fact that you have to explain to your child that private things aren’t appropriate to be loudly yelled about? Lady, you’re a hang-up factory.

    1. carolyncastiglia says:

      I think I make my hangups about this pretty obvious, so you’re not pointing out anything I don’t already know. (On a side note, imagine someone who is complex enough not to exist as a totally liberal or totally conservative archetype! Not possible! You either love Jesus and hate abortion or you’re a fag and you kill babies, right? Oy.) Look, I am uncomfortable with my daughter knowing the gory details about sex for pleasure at age 5. That’s just how I feel. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to get her to call her pu55y a hoo-ha and that I don’t want her to learn about biology. The penis-in-school thing came as a surprise, that’s the ultimate moral of this story. It’s meant to be a humorous anecdote for you to enjoy without worrying that I’m going to lock my daughter away until she gets her period and then send her to off into the world unprepared so that she’s giving BJs in the bathroom in 8th grade. Quite the contrary. I’ve had many frank, open discussions with my 13-year-old niece and am fully prepared to do so with my daughter as well. I just didn’t – and don’t – think the sex talk has to happen at age 5. Now if she asks me a question about her body or anyone else’s, of course I’ll answer her truthfully. I don’t think I’m alone in at least grappling with this stuff. It’s just that the other women who feel similarly are probably on BabyCenter.

  38. K. C. says:

    I read thIs as a more tongue-in-cheek “Gee, I’m not ready for the sex talk” sort of piece. Maybe I misread, but I’m surprised by some of the hateful comments. Then again, this is Babble, so maybe I shouldn’t be. :)

  39. carolyncastiglia says:

    Haha – KC, exactly! Thanks for getting it!

  40. CK says:

    Back to say that with little kids (say, first grade and younger) I think it is fairly straightforward. Be frank and honest about (everyone’s) anatomy, puberty (as in the why do you have hair there? When do I get boobs?), relationship differences. Daddy and I hug and kiss and it’s okay if daddy is in the room when I’m getting dressed because we’re married and we have a different kind of relationship. It’s not okay for other people (except them, of course, because we’re family) to see me in my underwear. And you know, I think a lot of the groundwork is laid thorough frank explanations of why we are the way we are and what our boundaries are and why. However, I have a nine year old and one of her best friend’s moms told me her daughter had asked how mommy and daddy make a baby and she said, “I always said when she was old enough to ask I’d tell her. I don’t want to hide anything.” And let me tell you, I begged. “Please, please, don’t. Not yet. They’re not old enough yet. And if you tell your daughter, mine will hear about it in about eight seconds. Please. Don’t.” (As far as I know she hasn’t yet.) Next year my nine year old will be in fourth grade. Health classes will be split into boys and girls. I don’t know that they tackle sex yet… I don’t think so. I have a breakdown of how the years go and the topics they cover somewhere and I suspect they don’t do sex yet, just puberty, periods, and anatomy in greater detail, which is all good stuff and should be nothing new to her. But it’s coming. It’s coming so soon. And it’s so hard to know when is the right time to step across what I hope will be a very narrow gap to actually knowing the full mechanics of sex. And you know, maybe she knows already. So yeah, I think five is young to worry about the sex talk, but it is not too young to start thinking about the groundwork for it and being aware that it’s coming. They stop believing in Santa and BAM! You’ve arrived at the sex talk. How does that even happen? It’s so unfair.

  41. carolyncastiglia says:

    “They stop believing in Santa and BAM! You’ve arrived at the sex talk. How does that even happen?” Ha. I don’t know, but I think you just described raising a child in a nutshell. Thank God I didn’t cave and tell my daughter Santa wasn’t real this year! I almost did. Next thing you know, I’d be giving her nipple clamps in her stocking.

  42. Cara says:

    I agree with MJ Fonseca. It’s not the word that is the problem.

    And I think you really started this yourself when you giggled at your daughter using the word “penis”. My girls both know anatomy, both their own and boy anatomy, and we’ve never had the giggly obnoxiously loud public recitations. I neither shush them nor encourage it, just agree with them the same way I would if they said someone had brown hair or gray hair. If other adults don’t understand that kids sometimes say embarrassing things in public then they’re the ones needing a reality check.

    The only embarrassment I’ve had was when my older daughter loudly asked about a man in a fancy cowboy hat: “why is that man wearing a lady’s hat?”

  43. chelle says:

    Holy smokes! I really enjoyed reading this! my son is only one so I have yet to explain all of this. I feel some of the comments are kind of rude. Just saying.
    I would have probably giggled too.. followed by a phone call to the school to see what context my child had learned the word. These are the highlites of parenting. I’m looking forward to the challenge lol

  44. carolyncastiglia says:

    “I think you really started this yourself when you giggled at your daughter using the word ‘penis.’” Yeah, I do, too. That’s sorta the whole point.

  45. Roxy says:

    My initial thought after reading this post was why would you teach your daughter the word vagina and not the word penis?

    You did the right thing by being open with her from the start, so what happened?

    As far as I can tell, this post has nothing to do with schools teaching sex ed. It has to do with your insecurity hearing the word penis.

  46. CKz says:

    I agree with most of the posters here. If you had a son, that conversation would have been over a long time ago. Kids run around naked, then they ask why their brother looks different. You either make up silly names for penis, which they will make fun of when they are older and say what a prude you were because you couldn’t say penis, or you tell them that it’s a penis and move on. You make a big deal out of it, and they will torment you for it.

  47. curiona says:

    This made me laugh. Appreciate the humor but nonetheless, seriously? Penis? Out loud? Who cares. Americans are too uptight about this sort of thing. We’ve spent a lot of time in Europe where it is common for women to go topless and I’ve yet to see young boys gawking the way they would here in the States. As an immigrant, I have to say, Americans are too prudish and this spills over to unhealthy perspectives on sex and weight. My son is two, and we use “pee pee” and “penis” interchangeably. And “vagina” and “bum” and “butt” and “bottom” and “boobies” and “breasts.” What we do make a big deal about is respect and personal and physical space. Because we don’t make a big deal about any of these words, I’m hopeful that, even in this country, he’ll grow up normal.

  48. Aegina says:

    Love your post, Curiona, and found the original post funny. I, too, had been doling out information when asked, being as simple and honest as possible — covering the basics of anatomy and answering what my six-year-old asked without trying to overwhelm her. Recently, she asked about how exactly you make a baby, and I explained, “You know how Mommy has eggs? Well, when an egg and a sperm come together, that’s when you get a baby.” She said, “Oh! I thought it was when the penis and the vagina come together and THAT’s when you get a baby!”

  49. Jojo says:

    Your kid was five the first time she ever heard the word “penis”? What did you call it before she came home from school? Did you think you would just not tell her about penises until she was ten?

    I don’t understand this post. I have a three-year-old girl. What planet do you live on?

    1. carolyncastiglia says:

      Earth. You?

  50. Kelsey says:

    Sorry… I know this is besides the point, and you meant to be witty, but you lost me at the gay couple wanting to “take care” of all those penises your daughter was yelling about. Really?

  51. Kelsey says:

    not, did it really happen, but did you really write that?

  52. Brendan says:

    “I was sure they’d either call child protective services or ask my daughter precisely where all that penis was, so they could take care of it.”

    Ironically, that joke is what makes me want to call child protective services.

  53. LinleyB says:

    I don’t understand the problem at all. However, I do completely and thoroughly understand how the idea of our young children knowing what these body parts are called can make us a little nervous. Kids are going to be kids. When they’re in front of us, they probably act differently than when they’re around their peers at school. As parents, we will never really know what they’re saying and doing, or feeling for that matter about our biology as humans and what kind of reproductive organs we have. All you can really do as a parent is teach our young what to call things and to use them appropriately. It really shouldn’t be a huge deal to lose sleep over. We are all made the same way. We all have the same structure. Women and men. They just look different. From a child’s point of view, it is something brand new so they want to explore it. That is only natural. In my opinion, all of this sex stuff should start in your home. Teach the children. They deserve to be taught by people they trust, being you, the parent! Then, when they are old enough to benefit from the sex ed classes offered, sit in with your child if your uncomfortable. That is NOT against school policy at all. That way, you can be confident that your child is learning, not laughing. It’s all about education. Our young generation NEEDS to learn this stuff so they don’t have children from purely innocent experimentations conducted in your bathroom while your chatting on the phone! It starts with the parents. I can’t stress that enough. Carolyn, you did everything right. Your child will be fine. She isn’t doing anything wrong but testing her boundaries. She wants to see your reaction. Your reaction is CRUCIAL. I understand the surprise made you giggle, it’s only natural to be caught off guard when the word penis and a small child are involved in the same instance. Just be sure to drill it in to her head that yes, boys and men have penises, but these are private parts. I’m sure you know this already! I’m not trying to school you at all. I know how you feel. My 8 yo daughter is very sexual and very curious. This worries me if I let it. I just take a deep breath and tell myself to channel what she already knows down a structured and educated path. I have no say when or where or at what age she will have her first experience with sex and penises, or a vagina for that matter, but I do know that if I guide her down the correct path, she will benefit greatly from the facts she knows already about sex. You have to have faith you are doing the right thing. YOU are her mother, nobody else is, and the choices you make for her, while you still can, will be what you think is right for her and that’s all that matters. Good luck!!

  54. Dani says:

    My boys 4&6 know what a penis is, a vagina, and where babies come from. From talks that we have had together, not necessarily sitting them down and giving them all the information at once because i feel that doing so makes much to big of a deal it. However they know that until they are older they are wee wee’s and hoo ha’s. For the simple fact that I believe that penis and vagina are words that they should reach a certain maturity level before they are just used in everyday speech. They know that those word are used for discussions about reproduction not for yelling down the sidewalk. Ask one what his penis is and he says “thats my wee wee”. Its not that penis is a bad word its just a more mature word than I want my 6 year old throwing out there.

  55. Anoosh says:

    My daughter at age 2 1/2 or 3 ran around the house during a playdate chanting “Mama has a clit! I have a clit!” She asked, I wanted her to know the name for that part of her body, so I told her. Yes, it was embarrassing later, but I figure it’s all part of parenting and makes a great story to embarrass her with when she’s a teen. I’m very much in favor of comprehensive sex ed in schools starting at a young age.

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