The Anatomy Lesson

Last week, Nate the Great of did a guest post ( on these pages. She blogged about a conversation she had with her teenage boys about sex education.

While my children are younger than Nate’s, there have already been inquiries down that road. I like to say I handled it smoothly, but I’ll let you be the judge. The article below appeared in 201 Family – a local magazine.


My first grade son asked me the name of a female body part. He was in the bath and doing his usual playing thing – putting water in his mouth and then spitting it out as if he were a refined decorative fish at an upscale establishment. While I find it silly and annoying, he does it quite well and smiles and giggles each time he does it. So, as long as he keeps the water in the bathtub, I grin and bear it and let him have his good time.

I popped my head up from the Wall Street Journal. Egypt could wait. This was important. “What? What did you say?”

He repeated with all seriousness, “What is the female body part called again?  They don’t have a penis – right?

This is the same boy who just that day freaked out because he could not find his SpongeBob video and who the day before screamed as if the house was on fire wanting to know how much four plus six equaled. Striving not to let my face reveal the shock I felt, I replied, “That’s right, girls’ don’t have a penis. Only boys do.”

“All girls have the same thing?”

“Yes,” I answered him,” I paused, not quite knowing how to go on with the conversation. How much did I need to say?  Surely, he was not ready for a detailed anatomy lesson. Was he going to ask me where do babies come from next? Had he heard the word sex? I was definitely not ready. I glanced at my watch – when would my wife be home?  “Why are you asking me this? Where did you ever hear this?” I grew up the youngest of four boys, and at his age, I told people I hated girls.  My grandfather used to tease me and make me repeat “I hate girls.”  It made me feel like I shouldn’t say it, and he seemed to find it amusing.

“I just want to know.”

“Do kids in your class talk about this? The school bus, kids are talking about this on the school bus – right? It’s okay, just tell me.”  I could almost swear this was not on my mind in first grade.  One of my most vivid memories of first grade is my best friend and neighbor, Marc, and I walking around the school yard playing follow the leader with our eyes closed. We would take turns: one day he would lead and I would put my hands on his shoulders and the next day I would lead and his hands would be on my back.

No water spitting now. He was saying some word to himself quietly trying to get it right. “I just want to know.”

I tried to press him again about where he first heard the word but was getting nowhere.  He barely tells me anything. We laugh and play together but rarely does he reveal the bigger stuff to me.  He saves that for his mom. She’s a better interrogator than me. I don’t have the stomach for it. She’s fierce and gets him to talk. It’s a good thing.

I was stuck. Do I tell him? Does this ruin his innocence?  Does it start him down a path that could end in sexual depravity?  Or is it an innocent question?  Is he discovering himself and curious? It could be an intellectual inquiry.  I took a deep breath and quietly answered him, “It’s called a vagina.”

“What,” he said in that abrupt nearly harsh manner he often says the word.

Now, it was my turn to repeat myself though this time I said it in a more regular tone of voice. I said, “It’s called a vagina.”

He looked up at me curious as ever and said, “Every girl has one?”

“Yes, every girl has one.”

He seemed content with this answer. He started repeating the word over again though it did not sound like I had said it. I didn’t bother trying to correct his pronunciation. I was relieved to have the conversation ended. I know he is growing up, is curious, and is exposed to certain things that I might not want him to be. However, I am much more at ease with this being one of those conversations that belongs in the category of we’ll deal with it then sort of thing. Does 21 sound reasonable?


31 thoughts on “The Anatomy Lesson

  1. Our kids do keep us hopping. It’s my understanding that young children are content with simple and brief answers as you demonstrated here with your answers. If they want more information, they will ask. Good job, dad. Now, if you want to be the one to talk to them in detail, rather than them learning from, say, friends, it is recommended that it be done before the hormones start going crazy. 🙂 There are some good resources available to help when the time comes.

  2. Ha, Ha! Well, you handled that perfectly. I am sure you needed to wipe sweat off brow though. Yup, all us females have a vagina and we are proud of it. By the way, the worst question I ever was asked by the boys during a sex talk was, “How does the sperm get into the vagina?” 😉

  3. Why is the Mom gets all those sort of questions? Dads always get all hinky and stressed about it. Too funny. My advice is to answer simply and honestly. Never pass up a teaching or learning moment.

  4. I always think of that line from Kindergarten Cop, the one delivered by the very darling little dark-haired boy. “My dad’s a gynecologist and he looks at vaginas all day.” Kids will say the darnedest things. On the upside, he was at home, in the tub and not in the express checkout at the local grocery store. 😉

  5. I could imagine 21 might eventually be a little too old… – but I personally think you did quite well! *grin* When I asked my first “important question” – my Dad literally escaped… LOL

  6. You mean your child hasn’t horrified you by saying something embarrassing in the check out line yet? I promise when it happens, you will survive.

  7. That was a big discussion between my mom and I. I insisted on the correct name for body parts (Say it like you’re proud). She used a lot of cute names like dinkle and wanger. I guess exposing a child to both worlds gives balance. It certainly lead to a lot of laughs.

    • Definitely leads to laughs. I wanted to answer him with the correct answer. If not, he would ultimately realize this and then maybe feel he could not come to me for the truth.
      Thanks for commenting.

  8. I think you handled that conversation pretty well. It’s a tough one. At least it didn’t lead to more questions. Because I have a boy and a girl, that conversation happened in my house about six months ago when my son discovered the word “penis”. Fun times. 😉

  9. Hi,
    This is absolutely great! I can see you squirming, hoping and praying that your wife gets home early. It is humorous in that your son caught you totally off guard. The newspaper and what was happening around the world was no longer important. I enjoyed it, but seriously, I can understand the shock. Kids are so intelligent.
    It will be interesting to see how this develops. Kids play with other kids and they hear and may see some things that their own parents do not allow.
    I believe 21 will be a little too late, 🙂 but I am sure you will have everything under control by the time you need to have a heart to heart chat over the facts of life.
    Good luck, you will do a great job when the time comes.

  10. Pingback: Confirming the sex « Life Takes Over

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