In Which Sally Grasps Contraception

“Mommy, what’s this?”

In her hand Sally held a condom, still in its wrapper. Sean had cleaned out his desk earlier in the day, and it had somehow ended up on the floor, a leftover from last summer between when Bobby was born and when I had my IUD put in. I could have just brushed the question off with a non-answer—Sally’s only in preschool, by the way—but I decided against that. Instead, I pulled out my copy of Our Bodies Ourselves and showed Sally diagrams of the female reproductive system. Some of this was stuff I’d told her before, but some of it was new.

I told Sally that women’s ovaries release eggs, and men’s testicles make sperm. I showed her anatomy illustrations of both. I told her that when an egg and a sperm come together, they make a seed called a zygote. I showed her pictures, pulling them up on the internet. I told her that this seed then implants in a woman’s uterus and grows into a baby. I showed her pictures of fetal development, moving from one stage to the next.

I told Sally how the sperm gets to the egg. I told her that an egg is released each month from the ovaries and showed her the path it follows. I told her that when a man and a woman have sex—which is something grownups do—the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina, and that sperm come out through his penis and go into her vagina, and up into her uterus. I traced the sperm’s path, and showed her where the sperm and the egg find each other to become a zygote.

I told Sally that sometimes people want to have sex just because it feels good, and they don’t want to grow a baby. I told her that in this case, they have to find a way to keep the sperm and the egg from finding each other. I told her that condoms were one way to do that. I told her that the condom goes over a man’s penis, and that way when the sperm come out of the penis it blocks them so they can’t get inside the woman, and can’t find the egg. I told her that Sean and I didn’t need to use condoms anymore, because I had an IUD. I found a picture of an IUD, and a picture of an illustration of an IUD in a woman’s uterus.

I told Sally that sometimes attempts to keep the sperm from getting to an egg don’t work, and they get together anyway, and form a zygote, a seed that will implant in the uterus and start growing into a baby. I told her that if this happens but a woman doesn’t want a baby, she can have an abortion, and I found an illustration in Our Bodies, Ourselves to show her. I told her that an abortion is where a doctor removes the seed so it won’t keep growing into a baby.

And then finally, after all of this, I paused. Sally had listened raptly, searching the pages of Our Bodies, Ourselves for more pictures—but she had said little. And now, finally, she spoke.

“Mommy, there’s just one problem.” She looked concerned.

A problem? What was this problem that had her so worried? Was she going to tell me that this whole thing was disgusting? Was she going to ask why someone would ever not want a baby? Was she going to tell me that the entire concept of abortion was horrifying? (Someone once told me that every young child would be repulsed on learning what abortion was, since they would make the connections between themselves and aborted pregnancies.) Wondering what it was Sally found so concerning about this whole discussion, I turned to look right in her eyes and give her my full attention.

“The sperms could get over the top of your IUD!” she announced, her voice full of concern. “And they want to get to the egg, and they could do it!” 

And this is when I realized that while I’d explained barrier methods of contraception, I hadn’t explained hormonal methods. And so I did—I told Sally that my IUD has hormones that make it so that a woman’s body doesn’t release any eggs, so that when the sperm come in there are no eggs for them to find. I told her that other methods of contraception have hormones too, such as pills and shots and implants. And that seemed to satisfy her concern. And once we finished, her curiosity over the condom she’d found sated with honest answers, she brought me a storybook to read and we closed the door on the subject—at least for now.

Sally learned a lot that day, and so did I. I learned that even preschoolers aren’t too young to understand contraception. 

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Ismenia

    Blimey! I don’t think I learned that level of detail until we had sex education in the final year of primary school (ages 10-11). I learned how babies were made when my parents bought me a “How the body works” book when I was about 7. It was a while before I knew people did it for fun and not until we had sex education that I saw diagrams of the reproductive system.

    I didn’t know about IUDs until high school sex education.

    • Hat Stealer

      Sex education in primary school? I just learned that if you have sex, you’ll die.

      • Jayn

        I got my first sex-ed in school around the same age, maybe a year later. (My mother did try to ‘teach’ me before that, with a video–a lot of it flew over my head at the time and I didn’t really get the difference between menstruation and ejaculation) We didn’t touch on the reproductive system at all up to that point, but what we learned then was fairly comprehensive. And it’s probably a good thing too, I don’t think my parents were that comfortable with the subject–they didn’t try to shelter me or tell me contraception was evil or anything, but what I got at home was basically ‘Here, read this”.

      • Little Magpie

        just out of curiosity, are you in your early 30′s? the reason I ask is that “if you have sex you could die” is pretty much what my 7 year old self conceptualized when AIDS hit the news circa 1986. (not from sex ed – just what I picked up from news and general culture) And I think that is a limited demographic; those who were already coming of age sexually when it hit didn’t necessarily change their behaviours, and then there is a later generation who, by the time they came of age sexually it was no longer a short-and-awful death sentence but something you could live with and manage as a chronic disease for years… and then there’s this demographic in the middle… I think a lot of my choices in sexuality go back to internalizing “if you have sex you could die” in grade school…

      • Mogg

        I’m late thirties, so was in the middle of the age where sex ed is usually done right at the peak of the AIDS scare. We had the most terrifying ads in Australia (the Grim Reaper knocking down people in a bowling alley, people having sex in beds made of syringes…) and yet I never developed that particular association. Somehow, for all the quirks of my family, instilling a fear or disgust of sex was not one of them. I remember my dad taking me to an optional sex-ed session at primary school when I was about 9, which did go into descriptive anatomy and described PIV sex as “the man likes to be inside the woman, and the woman likes the man to be inside her” before going on to explain fertilisation. I think the program used was “Where did I come from?”

        My mother did keep me out of the class at high school where the condom/banana lesson happened, though.

      • WordSpinner

        They couldn’t tell us what sex was in elementary school, but they had to talk about AIDS, so I got “If you touch blood, you might get AIDS and die”. Somehow I didn’t get the idea that I couldn’t get AIDS from myself, so I interpreted it as “If you touch your own blood, you might get AIDS and die.”

  • Sally

    My parents were honest with me and answered my questions pretty fully, too, at a young age. I did the same, too, with my kids. For us, it was when they’d find feminine products in the bathroom cupboard that triggered the conversation.
    The only thing I would add was I told them that the topic was private just to talk about in the family. It was the job of their friends’ parents to explain this to their friends. Otherwise, having talked about it so frankly, how would they know other parents might not appreciate another child explaining these things to their kids, iykwim. :)

    • victoria

      That’s a really good way of explaining to a kid that it’s a sensitive topic without causing shame. I’ll have to steal that one :).

      While I was in the middle of a genetics class, my then-seven-year-old would ask me to give her “genetics lectures” and we were talking about germline and somatic mutations. At one point I explained that if a woman is pregnant and doesn’t know it, and she has an X-ray, it could cause a genetic mutation.

      She got this terribly confused look on her face, and then said, “But how can someone not know they’re pregnant? Don’t they know if they’ve mated?” (I can neither confirm nor deny that the kiddo has watched LOTS of nature documentaries.) So that was our entree into the mechanics of contraception and the menstrual cycle.

    • smrnda

      I made the mistake of sharing accurate information on contraception at school. The teachers were kind of horrified, but even more so that I sounded so clinical. I’d learned most of it from a book left sitting around that I don’t think either of my parents even realized I’d read. All said, that was a pretty ugly situation.

      • Sylvia

        I nearly got myself suspended for sharing contraceptive information with my fellow students. Of course, this was in high school. My school board taught the good old abstinence-is-the-only-effective-method line. They did not appreciate my suggestion that same-sex relationships were equally effective.

      • tsara

        Suspended?! What!?

      • Feminerd

        My guess would for “being disrespectful” or “attitude”. Schools have a lot of arbitrary power.

      • Keane Sanders

        Yeah, in addition to vague rules of “attitude” or “disrespect”, quite a few schools’ codes of conduct have clauses stating that if the student commits an “offense” as deemed by the Principal, but there is no codified prohibition against it, the student maybe punished for the “offense” anyway.

        It’s for “flexibility” you see.

      • tsara

        I’m not sure whether or not my school had codes like that (we did have one about making the school look bad — something about ‘ambassadorship’), but the only suspensions we had were for drug use, setting school property on fire, being convicted of a felony (this person was expelled under the bit of the code about making the school look bad), academic dishonesty, and something that I won’t talk about in detail because it could identify my school. Several of those were followed by expulsion.

        (I guess private schools have to be careful about suspension because the kids’ parents want to get their money’s worth?)

      • Leigha7

        At my (public) school, there were a handful of things that would get you suspended outright, like fighting. But literally anything could get you a “write up,” and being written up 3 times meant you got detention. After that, so many (3 detentions, maybe?) got you a Saturday detention, and that was followed by a suspension.

        In short, if you got in trouble often enough, you could get suspended for anything they deemed “bad.” I got a Saturday detention once because I had a tendency to talk back (aka disagree with the teachers, speak at inappropriate times, and be very vocal about my opinion).

  • lana hobbs

    I am frequently surprised by children’s ability to understand complex topics. You’re a good mom, I’m glad Sally will grow up understanding her body.

  • Ahab

    You did an awesome job. I’m pleased that you discussed this with Sally in a mature and straightforward manner. I wish more parents did!

  • Elizabeth

    This is fantastic! I didn’t get that level of detail growing up, but I’m working to give it to my girls. My (then) 5 year old found out all about reproduction, birthing, pregnancy, etc last year when I had her sister. We watched birth videos and she actually got to be there for the birth. I think it’s made a fantastic bond between them. Plus I think kids deserve the truth and can handle way more than adults think they can :)

  • phantomreader42

    A preschool student has a better understanding of contraception than the entire forced-birth cult. Why am I not surprised?

  • kisekileia

    Sally was attentive to and understood all of that in one sitting? That’s remarkable. I’m not super experienced with kids, but my understanding is that it is unusual for a preschooler to have that long an attention span or that high a level of comprehension. I think it’s possible you have a gifted kid, especially given your obvious intelligence.

    • Nate Frein

      You would be surprised what children are capable of absorbing. I remember reading, fascinated, a woman’s post discussing the fact that while she didn’t really care for children, or interacting with them, they tended to be drawn to her because she treated their questions seriously and gave them honest answers.

  • JivinJ

    “Seed?” That’s a rather unscientific/inaccurate way describing a human embryo or fetus, isn’t it? I’m guessing you didn’t go online to the visual embryo project or WebMD to show Sally what that “seed” looks like at various stages of pregnancy. I wonder what Sally would think about abortion if she was shown images of what abortion removes?

    • Ibis3

      I showed her pictures, pulling them up on the internet. I told her that this seed then implants in a woman’s uterus and grows into a baby. I showed her pictures of fetal development, moving from one stage to the

      You guessed wrong.

      I wonder what Sally would think about abortion if she was shown images of what abortion removes?

      Probably, she thinks it’s no big deal.

      • JivinJ

        What a deceptive image. Let’s not actually show a picture of the embryo at 45 days. I wouldn’t expect anything less from the clowns at the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. I’d be interested in knowing how far into fetal development Libby Anne took Sally and if she explained what abortion does to those embryos and fetuses.

      • Nate Frein

        this sums up what the majority of abortions in the U.S. actually look like.

      • Anat

        You might be interested in The Elephant Fetus Project. A mammalian fetus is a mammalian fetus. People see what they expect to see. That it looks vaguely like a very small version of a newborn mammal (with different body proportions and great similarity to many other mammals) tells you very little. What can it feel? Nothing yet. What does it know of its existence? Nothing yet.

      • JivinJ

        Interesting that there is only the picture at 11 weeks. If all mammalian fetuses are alike then why only use a picture at 11 weeks and not 18 weeks or so? But I’m not too surprised a few prolifers weren’t able to recognize the differences. A lack of knowledge of fetal development is something that can escape individuals on both sides of the abortion debate.

      • Anat

        All mammalian fetuses are alike, they grow at different rates on different schedules. A mouse embryo looks very much like that at about 11-12 days. (A mouse pregnancy lasts about 18 days.)

      • J-Rex

        You completely missed the point.
        You said, “…what that “seed” looks like at various stages of pregnancy. I wonder what Sally would think about abortion if she was shown images of what abortion removes?” indicating that seeing how an embryo looks would persuade someone to see abortion as murder because the embryo is clearly a person. The Elephant Fetus Project shows that all mammals look pretty much the same at the embryonic stage. If a human fetus is clearly a person just because it looks that way, then so is an elephant fetus, pig fetus, monkey fetus, etc.

      • JivinJ

        Sure, they look similar at certain stages but at other stages the differences begin to become more apparent. For example, in the Elephant Fetus Project, you can see a tail at 11 weeks. A human fetus doesn’t have a tail at 11 weeks. I’m sure as the elephant fetus grows, it’s ears will also grow and it will look more like a newborn elephant. I never asserted that “a human fetus is clearly just because it looks that way.” I wondered how far into fetal development Libby Anne took Sally.

        What is interesting is how no one else seems to have a problem with the completely unscientific “seed” language Libby Anne uses. To me that’s a rather intentionally deceptive way of describing a human embryo or fetus.

      • tsara

        For someone who is <5y.o. (and maybe up until age ten), "seed" is perfectly appropriate. I was given a lecture on the differences between mitosis and meiosis, plus hormone thingies, and all kinds of biology things (also legal things, because I have a lawyer-parent), but not all of us have parents with degrees in human cell biology and human medicine.

      • Libby Anne

        I wondered how far into fetal development Libby Anne took Sally.

        Because you apparently won’t let it alone until I answer you, I’ll tell you: All the way, from zygote ready for birth.

        As for the seed language, we have a garden and she understands how seeds work — you plant them and they grow. Fetal development works the same way. There was nothing deceptive about it. I also used words like “zygote” and then “embryo” and then “fetus,” but she’d never heard those words before so they were just words. Seeds she understands.

      • JivinJ

        Aren’t seeds called seedlings, etc. when they start growing? I dislike the usage of seed to describe the embryo/fetus throughout the pregnancy because it seems to treat them as completely inert.

      • tsara

        I see the analogy as being quite apt, as a seedling is more analogous to a child than a fetus.
        You disliking the analogy != the analogy being deceptive or disingenuous.

      • Libby Anne

        Let’s look at my actual wording, shall we?

        I told her that an abortion is where a doctor removes the seed so it won’t keep growing into a baby.

        I’m really not seeing where I treat it as “completely inert.” Or does “so it won’t keep growing” mean something else in your circles?

      • Libby Anne

        Aren’t seeds called seedlings, etc. when they start growing?

        So I decided to look this up, and it turns out that the answer is actually NO.

        This from wikipedia (

        A seed is a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food. It is the product of the ripened ovule of gymnosperm and angiosperm plants which occurs after fertilization and some growth within the mother plant. The formation of the seed completes the process of reproduction in seed plants (started with the development of flowers and pollination), with the embryo developed from the zygote and the seed coat from the integuments of the ovule. All seeds are different size, shape and colour.

        It turns out that there is growth within the seed that occurs after fertilization but before the seed becomes a seedling. The word “embryo” is used, highlighting the aptness of using seeds as an analogy. Indeed, describing seeds themselves as “completely inert” is highly inaccurate and, if I were using your framing, also highly deceptive.

      • Libby Anne

        This is fascinating, for instance:

        Click the link. The words that go with the image are:

        Stages of seed development:
        Stage I – Zygote Stage
        Stage II – Proembryo Stage
        Stage III – Globular Stage
        Stage IV – Heart Stage
        Stage V – Torpedo Stage
        Stage VI – Mature Embryo Stage
        1) Endosperm; 2) Zygote; 3) Embryo; 4) Suspensor; 5) Cotyledons; 6) Shoot Apical Meristem; 7) Root Apical Meristem; 8) Radicle; 9) Hypocotyl; 10) Epicotyl; 11) Seed Coat

        Really, the growth of the zygote and embryo are analogous to what goes on within a seed, before a sprout even pushes it way out.

      • eamonknight

        Really? I think it’s a very natural terminology to use with a young child. That’s what we used to our kids, and abortion was not in any way on the radar in that conversation.

        To me, it’s rather intentionally axe-grinding to object to it.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        You do know that “sperm” actually means “seed,” right? And historically, agricultural metaphors to describe human reproduction abound, so it’s a connection that people have been making for a while. Mostly, it’s just a simple way to explain conception to a small child. My mom used the same language of “seeds” to explain things to me when I was the same age as Sally. Abortion as a topic did not come up until years later.

      • JivinJ

        Well, that would be all the more reason not to describe a human embryo and fetus as a seed (since they aren’t sperm), correct?

      • The_L1985

        My mom described a fetus to my pre-school self as a “baby seed that grew up into [your brother].” If mom had mentioned eggs and sperm, I would have just gotten confused. “But people don’t hatch from eggs!”

      • Saraquill

        The first image in the slide show you linked to looks like the chicken fetuses we saw in kindergarten.

      • Ibis3

        So you find a photo of the actual product of a medical abortion deceptive, but artists’ renderings of foetuses close up without any scale are more accurate depictions of “what the abortion removes”? Whatever.

      • JivinJ

        Artist’s renderings? Do you mean photos? Why is it problematic that the photos are up close? Is there something deceptive about being closer to something to provide more detail to what it looks like?

      • LizBert

        I bet this will bother you JivinJ, but I find this photo really quite comforting. As a woman who had an abortion at 6 weeks or about 45 days, I don’t feel any guilt about removing a lump of tissue like this from my body. Personally, because I can only speak for myself and my circumstances, I would have a hard time aborting a 5 or 6 month fetus that looks much more like a baby. But this photo and my experience are the norm, not the abortion at 6 months.

    • belgianchic

      she would probably not change her opinion, since a whole lot of educated people know what abortion does and have no problem with it, since there’s nothing problematic there. try again.

    • Nancy Shrew

      Look, we aren’t idiots. We know how fetal development works, so nobody needs your disingenuous crap. And frankly, even if the fetus resembled those ridiculous rubber babies anti-choicers hand out, I still wouldn’t give a damn because my desire to remain non-pregnant does not rest on how cute embryos and fetuses are.

      • JivinJ

        If you know how fetal development works then describe why you think the rubber babies anti-choicers hand out are ridiculous? For example, describe the fetal age the model are supposed to be and then show how those fetal models are different from an actual human fetus at that stage of development.

      • The_L1985

        They’re ridiculous because they imply that if women knew that fetuses are cute, somehow every single reason that actual women have given for having actual abortions would magically become pointless, and abortions would end forever.

      • Nancy Shrew

        Gee, you know, I would except I get this distinct feeling that even if I were to give you a Powerpoint presentation complete with accurate imagery and pie charts I would still have more success squeezing a lemon through a brick wall.

      • JivinJ

        So then you don’t know what stage of development the fetal models you referred to are supposed to represent and you can’t show how they’re inaccurate? I’m even less convinced regarding your knowledge of fetal development because of that obvious deflection.

      • Nancy Shrew

        I’m not so much deflecting as stating how I don’t give enough of a fuck to prove my knowledge to you.

    • tsara

      Do you support legally restricting someone’s ability to obtain an abortion? Because if you do, I have a question. (And I’m not asking to be an ass. I really want to know what people think.)
      If I became pregnant and I could not get an abortion, I would kill myself. What would you advise the law and the people around me to do in this case?

      • wmdkitty

        A pregnancy would be a disaster for me.

        I’m on interesting meds. Meds that… don’t make for a healthy environment for growing a cub. I’m not willing to take the risk of harming my little “seedling”.

        Going off the meds is NOT an option. I am not willing to put my mate or my family through the hell of dealing with me without my meds. On top of that, I get physically ill if I go more than two days without meds.

      • tsara

        Yeah, I have enough dysphoria just with the hips and the breasts, and I freak out enough when my body does things that I didn’t tell it to when those things are just average-for-people-with-XX-chromosomes, and I have enough suicidal ideation on a normal day. Pregnancy would be terrible for my mental health.

        As for the hypothetical fetus, well, I’m on medications and I’m very skinny. I don’t know how likely it is that those things would have a negative effect on the fetus, but I’m pretty sure it’s a nonzero probability.

        It’s extremely unlikely (for a bunch of reasons) that I will become pregnant, but that’s irrelevant; if pregnancy is so terrible for me, it’s probably that terrible for other people. Empathy!

      • JivinJ

        Yes, I do support legally restricting abortion. Most people support restricting abortion in one way or another (time limits, etc.) I don’t agree with keeping something legal because someone says they would commit suicide if they can’t get what would be made illegal.

      • tsara

        Okay. So should I kill myself (which would kill the fetus — and this is half of the meat of the issue: is it better for myself and the fetus to be dead, or just one), or should I be locked up on suicide watch until the fetus is born?

      • JivinJ

        I wouldn’t be in favor of you killing yourself. I’m not sure of what it would take for someone to be locked up on suicide watch. I’m guessing it would require a medical professional to assert that you were a danger to yourself or others.

        Do you see how this argument could be used to justify almost anything? For example, I could say (and maybe get a bunch of other people as well) I will commit suicide if abortion isn’t made illegal. Does that mean abortion should be made illegal based on my threat to commit suicide?

      • tsara

        Unless I am locked up on suicide watch, you cannot save the fetus. In this situation, I will kill myself, and that will kill the fetus. *TW* I would try to claw it out with my fingernails or starve myself to death if those were my only options. I would need to be restrained without medication (because most of them would harm the baby ) and intubated against my will for at least six months while my body does horrifying things. I want to throw up just from thinking about it. Do you see a problem with this?

        I am the fetus’s life support.

        Given that my committing suicide would have the exact same effect on the fetus as an abortion, this is germane to the discussion. A person who wants to be allowed to kill a person who is not physically dependent on their body can threaten to kill themselves, and that would have no effect whatsoever on the person they want to kill.

        Do you understand how violating a pregnancy you don’t want could be?

      • JivinJ

        Yes, I understand that some women don’t want to be pregnant and would see being pregnant as a violation. Again, using the “I would commit suicide if this isn’t legal” is a really, really bad argument for whether something should be legal or not. It could be used to argue for the legality of almost anything. Do you understand that?

      • tsara

        It can’t be used (with reason) as to argue for the legality of almost anything. Pregnant!anybody killing hirself has the exact same effect on the fetus as an abortion. This is not the case in any other situation I can think of.
        And in this case, the invasion and violation of my body and the changes that would be happening to my body would be the driving force behind the suicidal ideation.

        And, at any rate, I am not intending to argue for any particular point right now. I am asking for information on how such situations should be dealt with in your view.

      • Hina

        It’s not a bad argument at all really. If you’re so pro life and oppose abortion because you care so much for human life then a woman losing her life should be your greatest concern. A woman and the fetus inside her could both die but you could save one if you allow for the woman to have an abortion, why wouldn’t you see this as a great opportunity to save a human life? The fetus is going to die either way but if you would rather not save the woman’s life either to at least give her a chance to fully live her life then you obviously only care about controlling women and punishing women for having sex

      • tsara

        Do you stand by this comment?

      • Anat

        BTW Canada manages without legal restrictions on abortion. They handle it as a matter of medical ethics and leave it to the doctors and patients, with the state having the same role as for any other medical procedure. The sky hasn’t fallen yet.

    • ArachneS

      A plant seed is a very apt comparison to an embryo. It has already been fertilized aka pollinated with the female and male sex organs of a plant and needs an environment from which to draw nutrients and germinate.

      You putting “seed” in quotations implies that you think it is a bad analogy, and I’m curious as to why?

      • JivinJ

        Once seeds start growing, they are typically called seedlings. To me, using the term seed to describe an embryo/fetus throughout pregnancy makes it sound like they are inert (like the inert seeds you’d buy at a store for example). It also makes it sound like asexual reproduction.

      • tsara

        …not all plants reproduce asexually.

      • Libby Anne

        Read my other replies. What you say here is incorrect. Also, how did it sound like asexual reproduction when I told Sally that the egg and the sperm come together to make a seed? What?

      • JivinJ

        I didn’t say it sounded like asexual reproduction when you described it to Sally regarding sperm and egg – I noted that using seed could make it sound asexual. Regarding your other replies, I would argue that most people don’t think of seeds that way (certainly not children). Most people probably think of seeds as inert and non-growing.

      • Libby Anne

        Most people probably think of seeds as inert and non-growing.

        Really? This is your response? Look, from your comments here it appears that you didn’t know much about seeds or about how they begin to grow. You claimed that the termination “seed” was wrong because seeds are “inert.” So I linked you to some basic info on wikipedia to introduce you to some additional information about seeds, showing that your understanding of seeds was a bit limited (no blame, people can’t be expected to know everything and I’m sure it’s been a while since you got a basic introduction to botany in your high school biology class), and you respond by changing your response to say that you don’t care if how I was describing it to Sally was accurate? How about this: How about instead of teaching misinformation, we give children accurate information about both the human reproductive process and how plants and other animals reproduce? Because it just so happens that that’s what we’re trying to do with Sally, and that includes accurate information about things like seeds, seedlings, and plants. This really isn’t that complicated.

      • JivinJ

        You’re right. I didn’t know a ton about how seeds grow. Just like you didn’t until you looked it up. I think most people who aren’t biologists (maybe I’m totally wrong) including children see seeds as rather inert things since they don’t see the growth until the plant is above ground. I never said I didn’t care if what you were teaching Sally was accurate or not. Of course, it should be accurate. Maybe Sally understands that seeds grow/mature before she sees sprouts and then maybe the comparison works for her.

      • Rosa

        In the exact same way that people don’t think of seeds as really alive until they pop up out of the ground, people don’t see a pregnancy as “a baby” until very very late in the process, unless they’ve been exposed to anti-abortion propaganda over and over. It’s a big shock when all the sudden in late pregnancy there are discernible body parts poking out against your skin, late in a first pregnancy.

        You’re objecting to what’s actually a very, very good analogy, because you don’t like how good it is.

      • Feminerd

        What tsara said. In fact, many plants reproduce sexually- why do you think they need bees? They move pollen (tree sperm) from “male” flowers to “female” flowers, which then sprout seeds. In fact, most fruits are tree embryos and they are, in fact, commonly eaten as delicious.

      • ArachneS

        So you have a problem with the word seedlings, and implying that the embryo is inert, which it is, in as much as a seed could be inert… it doesn’ t do much other than grow.

        Interestingly enough, seedlings have to have sprouted above the ground… and this is more analogous to birth than what you want to compare it to.

        And it looks like all these points have been brought up already above my comment.

        Would you have been happy if she said seedling? Because I’m suspecting that what you really care about, is that she could explain what contraception and abortion are to her child easily.

      • The_L1985

        Seeds, as a general rule, are the result of sexual reproduction. Flowers are a kind of plant sex organ. Plants that reproduce asexually generally produce spores instead.

      • Alix

        …I’m getting the distinct impression you don’t actually understand how plants reproduce.

      • Nancy Shrew

        I’m not sure he understands how mammals reproduce.

      • Alix

        True! But for someone complaining about an analogy apparently not being technical enough, he might want to make sure he actually understands those technical details himself.

        …Honestly, the plant part caught my eye because I sort of expect anti-choicers to not get human reproduction. That this extends to all reproduction shouldn’t have surprised me, yet somehow it did. XD

  • AnotherOne

    We had similar conversations with our kids around that age. For my older child, it was the pregnancy with the second child that prompted a lot of the questions.
    I will note, however, that I’ve had to have these conversations multiple times. In my experience, they would more or less get it at the time, but 3, 4, and 5 year olds just don’t remember the details of the conversation a year or even six months later. In our case, we’re still having some of the same conversations that we were having five years ago.
    So yes, I don’t think preschoolers are too young to understand. But they often space out in the middle of these conversations if they get too long and detailed (or at least mine did; I’m sure the mileage varies with different kids), and they forget the names of various things, and even the processes.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    I hope to emulate you when I have my own children. It’s very important to explain properly long before the time this is done in school if the kid shows an interest. It’s certainly better thna leaving the kid confused and without answers.

    Btw, Belated Happy 2nd Blog-Anniversary Libby Anne!! You and your blog rock and even if I don’t usually comment, I always read all your posts.

  • smrnda

    What a great job, and proof that this stuff isn’t impossible for young kids to understand. It’s also great that you got to Sally first, before she got all kinds of misinformation from adults who don’t want to tell kids the truth.

  • Fina

    I really don’t get how a child could make a negative connection between itself and abortion.
    After all, you only do abortion when you don’t want a baby right now – so that means that the child was wanted, right?

    • The_L1985

      Shh–don’t tell the makers of pro-life bumper stickers!

  • Regina Carol Moore

    What a fantastic mother!

  • Sophie

    That is very similar to how I learned about contraception, except I asked my dad how he and his girlfriend didn’t have any babies and he showed me a condom. I do remember being really confused about how the condom stayed on because I didn’t know that the penis got erect, the idea of sex got a lot less confusing once I understood about erections! I was two and a half when I first asked how babies were made, in fact I asked for a book about for Christmas. I think I was 7 when I had the contraception talk.

  • Truthspew

    I think it’s awesome that you’re teaching your preschooler this. Yeah, kids can handle a lot more than people give them credit for, as was evidenced by the 9 year old in Chicago who gave a hell of a rousing speech about school closings.

    Me – I think sex ed should start at 6 years, be refreshed ever couple of years and at each increasing level a better explanation is proffered culminating in the full blown genetic banana at the mid point of the high school years.

  • wmdkitty


  • ILoveJellybeans

    Wow. When I have kids, I plan on parenting them just like you do.
    Its awesome how you talk to Sally and explain things to her, and she seems to have grown up into such an intelligent little girl.

  • Saraquill

    I’m impressed. Was your lesson spontaneous, or did you prepare in advance for a similar question? Either way, I commend you.

  • Joykins

    You need to tell us for what you have planned when Bobby finds your vibrator when he is 10. I probably just would have told my kid that it was something Daddy and I could use to prevent having another little brother and sister until we were ready for a new baby. Although I probably should have told them more when they were littler because after about age 7 they don’t want to hear about sex from me, apparently, if the screaming and running in the other direction is any indicator. I have managed to talk a little with them captive in the car. I might put something like The Joy Of Sex on the low shelf and forbid them to read it, that might work.

    • Petra Lorre

      The Joy of Sex – that brings back memories. The parents of a friend of mine had a copy that they had injudiciously placed on the top shelf (of their floor-to-ceiling bookshelves). We spent most of one summer staring up at it and trying to plot ways to get it down. Finally, with the help of a number of the neighborhood kids, we built a rickety tower from chairs and boxes and had my very nimble friend climb it while the rest of us tried to hold it steady for her. She grabbed it, tossed it to the ground, and executed a rather acrobatic jump just as the tower crumbled under her. We were enormously pleased with ourselves till we realized there was no way we would ever be able to replace it on the shelf. Still, that book explained a lot of things that had confused us.

      • Anat

        We have Jared Diamond’s ‘Why is Sex Fun?’ (about the evolution of human sexuality) on a rather low shelf. TMK the daughter has yet to notice.

  • K

    Not all preschoolers are ready to understand contraception. I am a mother of a three year old who doesn’t understand that people can’t see him when he’s talking on the phone. Such an in-depth explanation would fly over his head. However, when my eldest asked what a condom was when she was four, we opted for something in-between a non-answer and a long, detailed one. Since for us, the most important function of condoms is safer-sex, and we really try to avoid hetero-centric explanations, we told her that it was something that adults use to stay healthy. She didn’t ask any other questions, so that’s all the information I gave her.

    • Nate Frein

      How is condom talk “hetero-centric”?

      • K

        I don’t think condom talk is hetero-centric. I think talking about condoms exclusively in terms of contraception is.

      • Nate Frein

        Fair enough.

      • Fina

        Explaining condom-use to a child that is familiar with disease-transmission (don’t sneeze at people, wash your hands, don’t share a drink with someone who has the flu etc.) should be simple – its yet another one of those things:
        “Some people have diseases that others can catch if they have sex with each other, just like you can get the flu if you share a drink with someone who has it. So you use a condom to prevent that.”

  • A Reader

    That is a seriously awesome response to her questions. Most people I know would brush it off. I’d be tempted to, too–it’s an intimidating subject to try to explain to young kids. But I wanted to…I guess congratulate? Thank? you for being open and honest with her. It’ll save her from years of confusion.

  • Ann Parker Crawford

    When my son was 4 (he is now 24), one day he just popped out with, “Mommy, how did they make me?” I said, “How did who make you?” He said, “Those guys that made me.” I said, “Your daddy and I made you.” And he was satisfied for about 6 – 8 months until one day he popped up with “Hey! How did you and daddy make me?”
    I am not being critical, so please don’t think that I am. I am just not certain that a more simple answer would have been better. “That is a condom. It helps mommy and daddy not make a baby until we are ready for another one.” And then let her ask questions?
    Just my 2 cents! I love your ‘blog!