Children receive the most important aspects of their sex education not so much from the facts that parents give them – these they learn anyway, one way or another – but in the attitudes about sex that their parents instil in them. Family atmosphere is important: if physical affection is shown and feelings are discussed, and if parents are always willing to answer their children’s questions about sex freely and without embarrassment, this gives children a positive attitude towards sex and a strong foundation on which later to build a happy sex life.
There is no ‘right’ age at which sex education should begin. Ideally, it should be a continuous process like other spheres of knowledge, in which questions naturally arise and are answered. If a child is old enough to ask a particular question, then he or she is probably old enough to be given a truthful answer. In this stage a simple, straightforward answer will often suffice. A comprehensive story concerning sexual intercourse is completely unnecessary. For the time being, a small child will be satisfied knowing that children grow in their mother’s tummy. It should not happen that a question remains unanswered because it is supposed that the child is too young to understand. A common mistake is for the child to receive much more information to a question than it wants to know at the moment or is able to comprehend. This is easily explained, because the problem is more often that of the parent than the child, perhaps because the adult is embarrassed by the question. Perhaps he or she prefers to deal with the subject immediately. When a digression or compromise is not made, however, the children are able to discover at their own pace whatever they want to know or explore. As her puberty approaches, a daughter needs to understand what will happen when her periods start. She should have a packet of sanitary towels or tampons in her room (there is no reason why she should not wear tampons right from the start if she would like to). Parents can explain that her periods will not begin until relatively late in puberty: probably 18 months to two years after her breasts have started to develop and her pubic hair has begun to grow.