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Question to the Sexpert:
“I think I already know how you’ll answer this, but I’m going to ask anyway. My next door neighbors and I have been friends for awhile and sometimes I watch their seven year old for them. One afternoon while they were out I was hanging out with her and she randomly said something about babies and how she wanted to have fifty of them. I thought this was hilarious and asked her to say more about that. She chatters for a while and I soon realize she has no idea where babies come from in terms of it having to do with sex or even that birth involves vaginas. I didn’t know how to react. Is it my place to tell other people’s kids about this stuff? Seven seems a little old to not know anything about reproduction.”
Coincidentally enough, I think I had similar aspirations as a very small child. I recall announcing to everyone on the bus to daycare that my intentions were to have one hundred children: fifty at a time. It seems now in my memory that someone on that bus explained to me that was not likely to be either probable or an outcome I’d really enjoy but I didn’t for the life of me understand what they meant.
Then, one fateful afternoon as a six year old, an older cousin filled me in the scoop. Here I’d been assuming it was some sort of magic trick, I guess. Perhaps the ‘how’ of the equation never even entered my consciousness, perhaps I’d had some wonderous notion that mommies and daddies just loved each other so much that a baby materialized from nowhere… or another dimension.
But boy did I get set straight. And the process by which babies were manufactured has possessed my intellectual curiosity since….bringing us to today where I get to tell you as an expert that there’s absolutely no right answer for your query.
According to experts on child development, by the age of seven, your neighbor girl should probably be well aware of the basic components of sexuality: rudimentary understandings of anatomy and pregnancy, although the gory details of unprotected intercourse and orgasm might be a bit much.
This is, of course, what empirical data shows us about how kids learn and what is important for them to grasp at what stages. That doesn’t mean that your neighbors give two shiny squirts about what social science has to say about rearing their little ankle-biting rugrat.
Developmentally appropriate sexuality education is a tricky area because as vital as it is for humans to be aware of their own biology and to interact with the world fully informed, some people appear to prefer having their offspring go about ignorantly making mistakes rather than have an awkward conversation about s-e-x. Exhibit 1: Palin, Sarah.
On one hand I want to argue that you have a responsibility as a fellow human to let your neighbor girl in on the big secret, since many of us acquire faulty sex ed from unreliable sources because reliable sources stand by thinking, “what if her parents get pissed off?”
On the other hand I have to respect the autonomy of parents…for some reason. Sometimes children’s sexual ignorance is due to parents not having the right information themselves. Obviously they do the best they can, but it’s not necessarily something they spend copious amounts of time researching. But sometimes children are just plain left in the dark by guardians who think they’re making some moral choice to keep their kids innocent.
Never mind that the notion of “childhood innocence” is a relatively recent social invention or the fact that ignorance of sex very rarely ends up meaning sexual abstinence or the fact that comprehensive sexuality education is correlated with kids making safer decisions like deciding to put off sex until later and using protection when they do.
In your particular instance, I’d say the best bet is to talk to the parents directly. They’re your friends and you can ask them what they’d prefer you say to their little booger eater about these matters. If the daughter asks you a question, I advocate answering honestly and briefly but don’t just sit her down with a PowerPoint Presentation on Doin’ It 101.
For more information on sexuality education for young people, check out either of these great sites: