At what age should you explain the facts of life to your children? And will they turn to the internet for the answers you cannot provide?

Ellen's children

Ellen's children - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s 2.4 Children

I am proud of my inquisitive children. Every single day they present me with questions I struggle to answer.

“How much water is in the sea?”

“What was the first word ever spoken?”

“What makes a volcano explode?”


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More recently they have been pondering the mystery of where babies come from.

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Up until now I have answered these questions in a very matter-of-fact way.

“Babies grow inside a woman’s tummy,” I said.

“But how do they get there?” they pressed.

“Would anyone like some cake?” I responded.

Satiated on slabs of Battenberg, the musing began again.

“I think Father Christmas must magic the baby in there,” said my four-year-old son.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” replied my seven year old daughter. “It’s the stork. Everybody knows that.”

Clearly the time had come for the birds and the bees. The mechanics of reproduction. So I gave them a very scientific explanation in an age-appropriate way.

“That is revolting,” was my daughter’s response.

“She’s joking,” my son said. “Nobody would want to do that.”

I laughed and then, with curiosity temporarily satisfied, we started a new conversation about why farts smell.

But much later on, when my husband returned from work, my daughter – who is desperate for another sibling – gave him a biology lesson on how to help me conceive.

“You didn’t need to be quite so graphic,” he exploded once the kids were in bed. “Urgh. That made me so uncomfortable.”

But I was unrepentant.

What was he so worried about?

Probably the same thing that caused thousands of Swedish parents to complain last week about a cartoon that was broadcast on television telling children about Twinkle and Willie.

Intended to teach three to six year olds more about their bodies, the show featured dancing genitalia and a jaunty song.

But the storm of controversy that followed saw YouTube labelling it as “adult” content and parents calling it “inappropriate” and “disgusting”.

How very old-fashioned. But it seems there is ongoing embarrassment between the generations when it comes to talking about sex. What are we all so ashamed about? And why do we feel that to burden children with it is tantamount to destroying their innocence?

Children don’t lose their purity because they learn facts. What they do is accept this information at face-value without all the connotations we, as adults, might apply to it.

To argue that there is an acceptable age when “the conversation” should take place is nonsense.

If the conversations are normal, not charged with emotion, and not avoided, I think even the youngest of children can be given the basic facts of life.

Besides which, by taking this attitude, I think we have more chance of passing down healthy and responsible behaviours to our kids than perhaps were passed down to us.

I know many adults whose sex education was nonexistent.

I even remember girls at my school looking up “rude” words in the library dictionary and sniggering in confusion.

“An adult male chicken?” one baffled teenager asked.

And today you can forget dusty books for expanding horizons.

If we parents don’t provide a context for our children to work out sexuality and emotional issues, there are hundreds of internet sources just gagging to do it for us.

Who really wants to abdicate responsibility for their child’s sex education to Google?

If you can get over your embarrassment for a moment, stick “sex” into the search engine and your education really will be taken on a roller coaster ride.

In recent years there’s been a lot of debate in the UK about sex education in schools, and the rights of parents to pull their children out of classes.

But if you ask me this is a necessary safety net for children who aren’t getting it in the best possible place, which is at home.

In Holland parents are encouraged to talk to their kids about sex at three. Then when they start school they have Lentekriebels week – the Dutch word for “spring itching” or “spring butterflies”. This is a government-subsidised project for children aged four to 12 and examines all areas of sex education. They are spared nothing.

Now I know the Netherlands has a lurid reputation abroad when it comes to sex.

Everyone knows about the red light district in Amsterdam and legalised prostitution.

But official figures show that the pregnancy rate there among teenage girls is one of the lowest in Europe. There are similarly low numbers when it comes to abortions and STDs. The UK, by comparison, has a teen pregnancy rate nearly 400% higher and a much higher abortion rate.

Now I’m not saying “the talk” is easy.

But in a recent study, researchers found that more than 40% of adolescents had had intercourse before talking to their parents about safe sex, birth control or STDs.

And I for one am not going to be a parent who shies away from talking about something which could have devastating consequences for my kids in later life.

However I am aware that I have only crossed the first hurdle and, knowing my children, I am likely to be bombarded with more questions as they digest the information they have already received.

Indeed this morning, my son sauntered into the kitchen, his hands in his pockets.

“You know the lady down the road…” he began. “The fat one.”

“She’s not fat, she’s pregnant,” I replied.

“Yep,” he said. “I know.”

“What about her?” I asked.

“You said women sometimes get sick when they have a baby,” he said.

“Yes. It’s called morning sickness.”

“So when you gave birth to me did you puke me up all over the floor?”

Hmmm. It seems my sex education lessons have already reached the next chapter.

• Find me on Twitter @EllenWiddupSee more from Ellen here

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