Catholic Activity: How to Answer Your Child's Questions About Sex
Parents with the good sense to avoid making their child unduly conscious of his genitals sometimes do not know how to begin instructing him about the facts of life. Here are ways to instill an adequate understanding of this beautiful yet mysterious gift.
The advice upon which most experts now agree is that you should not initiate the discussion. Instead, you should wait for him to ask the questions, and then answer them truthfully and within the limits of his understanding. Almost all children ask similar questions at similar stages of their development. Therefore, you can anticipate what questions must next be expected and learn the proper answers.
A basic principle to remember, however, is that inculcation of proper attitudes is more important to your child's proper understanding than is the mere recitation of facts. You want him to feel that sex is a beautiful means conceived by God to propagate the human race and to enable husbands and wives to express their love for each other. If you yourself stand in awe before the beauty of the marital act and the reproductive process, you will be able to give the same reverence and wonderment to your child. When you hold such an attitude, instructing him becomes an opportunity to impart a sense of the love and wisdom of God.
The practical value of stressing the fact that God is the author of the sexual union will become apparent during his adolescence and for the rest of his life. When he firmly understands that God made the act for use only within marriage, he will have the moral support he will need to resist the inevitable temptations he must face. The child who learns about sex without the necessary religious education to accompany it may reach adolescence merely believing that use of the sexual function before marriage is not customary or "nice." Such a naturalistic belief often falls before the first surge of passion.
At about the age of three or four, most children ask their mothers where they came from. They ask with the same innocent curiosity they might use in asking where the picture in the television set comes from. You would not reply to that question with an elaborate explanation of the marvels of the electronic age. Rather, you might say that it is sent through the air by a broadcasting station and received by the set. Similarly, the answer, "from the mother's body," satisfies the normal small child when he inquires about his birth.
If you answer your child's question calmly and confidently, he may be satisfied temporarily. Before long, however, he may ask how the baby grows in the mother's body and how it emerges. In order to develop an understanding of the proper relationship between God and the act of procreation, it is wise at this and succeeding stages to include references to the Divine plan in your answers.
You might explain to him that God devised a way to insure that babies would be safe and warm, protected by their mother's body, until they were strong enough to live outside. You might call his attention to the way mothers carry newborn babies — close to their hearts, protecting them with both hands and arms. You might explain that God devised a protective means like this to make sure that the baby received warmth and shelter within the mother's body.
Your child may not raise the subject again for months or years. At about five or six years, however, he may become more interested in pregnancy and birth, and may wish to know how long the baby remains inside the mother's body. Like the questions that usually precede it, this one is not directly related to the sexual act but to a biological fact. It is as harmless as his question as to why he has teeth or what happens to his food after he eats it.
At about the age of six or seven, he may wonder how the baby was placed in his mother. You might answer that God gives fathers a way by which they deposit seeds in the mother's body. You should not go beyond this. Sometimes precocious children sense that a mother is embarrassed over this question and ask others to upset her rather than to elicit information. At this age — or any other in which your child asks for information he should not have — you might quietly state that it is not proper for him to know the answer now and that he will receive it later. This is the natural response you would give to other improper questions — to his inquiries about how much money the father earns each week, for example, and similar queries of a personal nature.
At any age you may be called upon to restate simple truths that you thought the child already knew. Children forget, or at least seek new insight into old words. The child who is most glib in his use of terminology may be most innocent about the meaning of those terms.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959