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HOW MUCH TO TELL

Next comes the dilemma of how much to tell or will she understand what you are trying to tell? The same thumb rule can be applied here too be guided by your child. Give her as much as she can handle at her age, with her level of maturity. If one is still not able to decide, then it will be safe to start with base level information about any topic.

Use her questions as your lead to the next level of information. If she does not ask any more questions, then let the topic be for now and revisit it some other time. It also depends on when one starts the dialogue. If your daughter is still very young, three or four years old, one can start with simple facts, which are easily communicated, and gradually build in more complex information as she grows older. For instance, at that age, maybe when you are teaching her about body parts, together with eyes, ears, nose and toes, it is important to use appropriate terms like 'vagina' and 'penis' in your talks. They can also be informed about how people grow and change over time, and how babies become children and then adults. This can be the basis on which they understand more detailed information about pubertal changes provided in the pre-teenage years. In this way, as your child grows, you can continue her education by adding to her knowledge gradually, with information relevant to that age, until she understands the subject well.

For instance, if your daughter is familiar with all the body parts, it may not be very difficult to explain to your daughter when she is four or five, that males and females are built differently. This can be further added to later on with facts like - a woman is capable of reproducing because she is made in a special way and that it is from her womb, inside her tummy, that babies come from.

Then, when your daughter is older, perhaps six or seven years you can explain how a sperm cell from a man meets with an egg cell made in a woman's body to form a baby. The baby then grows inside the mother for nine months, and when the time is right, the baby is born. You can also add, that like it happened with herself, this usually happens when two people (you, her parents, in this case) love and care for each other.

The next level of information, maybe when your daughter is nine or ten, will need to explain that when couples love each other, they express it in a special way, and that is what most people commonly refer to as sex, short for sexual intercourse. Having sex may make a baby, but not always. While nine or ten year olds may or may not require or demand more explanation about what exactly sexual intercourse is, your twelve or thirteen year old certainly needs to know and understand what is involved.

You could start by saying that sex or sexual intercourse is sometimes called making love, having sex, or some even say, 'doing it'. Sex is also called making love, because it is one of the ways in which adults can make someone they love, feel good and happy. During sexual intercourse, a man's penis becomes hard and goes inside a woman's vagina, which makes them feel good. It is in this way that a man's sperm enters a woman's body. Sometimes this can start a baby, but many people have sex simply because it feels nice and they love each other. So they use contraceptives which prevent a baby. Usually, people wait till they are adults before they begin having sex, and as adults, people have sex with someone they love and care for. Sex is not something you do with anybody at all, but with someone very special. However, no one should have sex if they feel they are not comfortable about it, or if they simply do not want to. No one can force, or should force another person to have sex. While there is nothing bad or dirty about sex, there are many slang words for it which are not polite to use.

No doubt, sharing this information is going to be one of the toughest experiences for any mother. But if done in a straightforward, direct manner, believe me, it is not impossible. However, one must make an effort not to be furtive or embarrassed while communicating these facts, because unwittingly you will be conveying that sex is something dirty or shameful, and children especially are very quick to pick these signals. Most essential is to emphasize on the pre-requisite of mutual trust, love and respect between two people in a sexual relationship.

In this manner one can pace out the information, share as much you think your daughter will be able to understand. What this is also doing is helping you gradually build a communication channel with your daughter and keeping it active and open always. The process described above is only one of the ways in which you as a mother can approach the topic. In fact, each one of us has individual styles we are comfortable with, and so will our daughters have varying levels of comprehension and maturity. Therefore, both quantum and quality of information provided will have to be customized to suit both mother and daughter.

Having talked about the how and when, it may be interesting to revisit the scope of sex education. Therefore, in today's context, what is sex education? Sometimes called sexuality education, it is the process of acquiring information and forming attitudes and beliefs about sex, sexual identity, relationships and intimacy. It is also about developing young people's skills so that they make informed choices about their behaviour, and feel confident and competent about acting upon these choices.
- (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child)