How My 5-Year-Old Explained Sex to My Firstborn (And Why I Let Him)

by Amy B. Chesler
Originally Published: 
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It all started benignly enough.

The three of us were sitting at our relatively cluttered dinner table, working on an arts and crafts project. Pom-poms and paint lay strewn about, and very little chatter filled the air. The kids were intent on their work, and I was focused on Pat Benatar’s warnings of heartache wafting from my kitchen speaker.

“Um, Mommy?” my 8-year-old daughter began.

I leaned over the counter as I replied, reaching to plug in the hot glue gun. “Yeah, baby?” I asked casually.

I had no way of anticipating the internal emotional rollercoaster I was about to ride. What her sweet voice said next took me a moment or two to register.

“So, where do babies really come from?”

My heart plummeted into my stomach as Pat loudly proclaimed that love is a battlefield.

Lord, how was I going to answer this?

By the way, I should take a moment to explain I am absolutely not a prude. That is to say, I do not normally shy away from the Big Conversations with my kiddos; on the contrary, I love to be present for the moments in which they stretch their hearts and grow their minds. It’s truly what I live for.

However, exactly describing the mechanics of sexual intercourse with my 5- and 8-year-olds sounds absolutely mortifying. The semantics are ones I’ve done my best to avoid in general. Until now, a very scientific, pregnancy-based explanation has worked to assuage the baby-making “milestone chat.”

“Well, when someone wants a baby badly enough there are a few ways they can have one. One way is growing them inside of their own bodies; that happens inside a womb. You watched me grow Adam,” I had explained to my eldest a few months before. Thankfully, she hadn’t followed up with, “But how’d he get in there?”

Now, though … now the pressure was on. I was done plugging in the hot glue gun, but was still poised over the counter. I found myself frozen for what felt like forever.

But before I could even squeeze out a measly “Um…” of hesitation, my 5-year-old son chimed in.

“Don’t worry, Mommy,” he said, looking me straight in the eye. His brown orbs twinkled as he went on: “I got this.”

At this point I was DYING inside (almost literally).

My Little Man often does just that: acts like a little man. I think some of his desire to act bigger than his britches is because of my recent divorce; as the only male in the house, he already sometimes steps up to help me when other children would balk at the idea (ahem, like my 8-year-old). But it’s also just who he is. He came out wanting to do things his way, on his own time, even as an infant. He loves to fix things and solve things and make things work, so although it takes me aback that he thinks he can handle this “sex talk,” it also doesn’t. It’s a totally classic Little Man move.

Parenting him has been one of my life’s greatest joys and biggest challenges all at the same time. His independent spirit and “I got this” attitude is hard for someone like me who controls some of my anxiety by controlling my environment. But that’s one of the first things I learned about being his mom: if he isn’t gonna hurt himself or someone else, his growth is helping me grow, too.

So I said, “Okay, go for it.”

I mean, how much could he know, anyway? And I trusted that no matter if he totally flubbed the situation or nailed it, it would be a learning experience for all of us.

“Okay, so, Sissy,” he began.

His tiny hands met each other at the center of his chest as he laced his fingers together like an old man. I kid you not. My heart swelled. Then it pitter-pattered because, really, what was he about to say?

“Babies are made when two people connect their bodies and share genes…” although if he knew how to spell, I’m sure he’d think he was saying ‘jeans.’

I couldn’t entirely contain my shock. My eyebrows definitely fluttered a few times. It was uncontrollable.

I mean, for all intents and purposes, he was right.

“… Then a baby is made!”

His hands leapt from his chest, opened wide as if he was going to hug his sister, but instead he clapped once loudly for his job well done.

I felt so proud. What a genius explanation. And probably infinitely more age-appropriate than anything I had conjured up on a panic over the kitchen counter. Man, this kid amazes me, and is constantly teaching me how to be a better parent.

But in another tick, I was skeptical. I mean, was that going to be enough for Big Sis? Surely she’d have more questions. She always has questions.

But instead of needing more she simply said, “Okay. So, Mommy… What’s for dinner?”

So, instead of explaining sex to elementary schoolers, I explained how to make a meatloaf. I’m sure you can imagine my relief (and the lesson I learned about biting my tongue, at least for now).

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