Eva Gichuki first realised that her daughter was becoming sexually aware from the way she watched love scenes in TV movies and soap operas.
“Whenever a couple began kissing or appeared to get intimate, she would steal curious glances at me as though she wanted to ask about it,” explains the 31-year-old mother of two.
Eventually, Pauline, her daughter, asked the big question: “Mummy, where do babies come from?”
Eva admits that although she was anticipating questions on sex from her daughter, she was not fully ready to answer them.
“I was startled at first and pretended that I’d not heard the question correctly,” she shares. “But then she repeated it.”
Like many other parents, Eva settled for the legendary fib: “Babies come in aeroplanes and mummies go to get them at the hospital.”
Little Pauline’ question was one of the many ‘embarrassing’ ones that curious children ask their unprepared parents. And as Catherine Wambui attests, children may ask such questions much earlier than one would expect.
She was caught unawares when her four-year-old daughter, straight out of the blue, asked her why she didn’t have a ‘tail’ between her legs like their neighbour’s son.
“It was not a question that I’d expect to hear from her,” she says. “I explained to her that it is because I’m a girl and girls don’t have ‘tails’ like boys.”
Often, children’s sex-related questions go unanswered as parents wonder how and when to talk to their children about this topic considered taboo in many communities.
However, this need not be the case. As Zipporah Nderitu, a child psychologist based in Nairobi advises, it is essential that you discuss these matters with your child as soon as she or he begins to ask about them.
“Children will often be aware of and able to comprehend issues relating to their bodies and human sexuality in general from around the age of four.”
This was the knowledge that prompted Priscilla Ndaba to discuss sex and sexuality with her 10-year-old daughter:
“I knew that if I refused to discuss it with her, she would soon know about it, worryingly, from her friends or some rogue media channel. I did not want her to get the wrong information or perception,” says the 30-year-old public relations officer.
Zipporah agrees: “By avoiding the discussion, you may be silently communicating to your child that you are unavailable. Consequently, she may hesitate to share with you any issues that may be puzzling her, or worse, cases of sexual abuse.”
For most parents, the most difficult part is how to go about holding the discussion.
“It’s not that I don’t want to talk to my children about sex; I don’t want to divulge too much or be too vague,” Eva admits.
To begin with, it is important that you find the right time or moment. As Priscilla shares, allow the discussion to arise naturally.
“I began by observing her reactions during the evening soap operas. I noticed that she followed keenly, and smiled a lot during the mushy moments. During one kissing scene, I initiated the discussion by asking her why the groom had kissed the bride.”
By determining how much her daughter knew about sex and sexuality, she could tell her level of understanding on the subject.
“I was alarmed when she quipped that a certain couple were going to have sex. I prodded her for more and she replied that it was because they loved each other.”
Alarmingly, the 10-year-old daughter could not fully see the connection between sex and pregnancy, or the disconnection between sex and love. Her mother had to explain these matters.
According to Zipporah, your discussion should be open-ended: “Do not lecture your child or stop him or her from opening up. That way, you will not only listen to the child, but also give answers correctly and openly.
“When you find that you are not prepared to answer or discuss something, it is prudent that you let your child know that you need time to think it through.
This way, he or she will know that their question has weight and has been taken seriously. For instance, Eva should have done well to let her daughter know that she needed time to answer rather than offering the wrong answer.”