What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When)

A straight-talking guide for parents

What Fifth Graders Want to Know About Sex and Puberty

Out of the mouths of kids.

If you have read my previous blogs you know that I give many talks about sex and sexuality to young people at schools in and around New York City. I would guess that I have had the opportunity to speak about some aspect of sexuality to about 40,000 students from prekindergarten through twelfth grade during my career. While I enjoy speaking to any age group, I particularly like to work with pre-adolescents. They are a group that is becoming increasingly more aware of their sexuality. It is a perfect time to establish a solid foundation of sexual knowledge, information, and guidance for these children that will serve them well as they enter their teenage years. Not surprisingly, I will frequently be invited by principals and teachers to address kids that are in the fifth and sixth grades.

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Just recently I was asked to speak to a couple of fifth grade classes at two elementary schools in Manhattan and I thought it would be interesting to share with you the actual questions that the students asked me. These are schools that are located in the mid-Manhattan areas of New York City, the classes are very diverse ethnically, racially, and economically, and they comprise students that are 10 and 11 years of age. I spoke to each class on two separate occasions with each session lasting about an hour and a half. Before my arrival the students were told by their principal and teachers that I would be speaking about puberty and becoming a teenager, and that I would cover topics that include reproduction, the development of sexual feelings, and the importance of making healthy decisions about sex as they grow older. In addition, they were all given index cards that they could use to write down any questions that they wanted to ask me. They did so anonymously and each student handed in their card whether or not they had written down any questions.

The actual questions that the students asked are as follows (obviously a number of students asked the same or very similar questions so I didn't list all of them. And the questions are written just as the students wrote them; I did not edit any of them):

• Does it hurt to get a baby created?
• Why do you have sex?
• How do you have sex?
• When you are going through puberty would a person have mood swings?
• When do you start having your period?
• When do you start growing hair under your armpits?
• Does it feel good to have sex?
• What happens if puberty doesn't happen to you?
• Why does puberty happen?
• Why do people stop doing puberty?
• What is it called when you have a tingling in your private part? Is it called an orgasm?
• Can a man have a woman's part and a woman have a man's part?
• What is an orgasm?
• What are the side effects of sex?
• When a girl's cherry pops why does she bleed?
• What is that white stuff in your dick?
• Can you eat sperms?
• What makes semen?
• When a male and female have sexual contact to make a baby when do they know the female is pregnant and they can stop having sexual contact?
• What color is sperm?
• How does teenagers have sex even though they're young?
• Why does the period come out of the vaginas?
• If I had all the symptoms of a period would I get it soon even if I'm only 10?
• What do men and women have to have to make a child?
• Does the flow of the period last days?
• How many hormones are in the human body?
• What age do you start have and stop having baby?
• What should girls avoid during periods?
• Why do girls go through more things than boys do?
• What can you do to avoid having a period?
• Why do you have a half cup of blood when you have your period? Why not ¼ or 3/8?
• How does the HIV virus go into other person by having sex?
• Is there such thing as a sex pill were a female takes it for a while and when you have sex you don't need a condom?
• What are AIDS?
• What viruses are sexually transmitted?
• What happens when a man's penis becomes hard?
• Why do we have to wear tampon?
• Why is it wrong to have sex before you are married and who came up with the idea that it is?
• How do you know someone is in love with you?
• Why do people have sexual change of feelings about a man or woman?
• How do I know it's time to wear deodorant?
• Why can some women can't have baby?
• Is it normal for a 5th grader to have pubic hairs?
• Some say that gay people talk like girls.
• Why does my penis get big? I mean I know what's supposed to happen but why does it happen randomly?
• Do you have to have sex?
• Hi Fred, I just wanted to know if the sack behind penis ever runs out of sperm?
• Why are kids mental when there parents are related?
• Is having sex the only way to have a baby?
• Are there problems with masterbation?
• Are we going to talk about herpeys?
• Is oral sex still sex?
• When are you allowed to have an abortion (the youngest age)?
• What are the positions for having sex?
• What toys are used for sex?
• Where do you have sex?
• How does sex change your life?
• How large does your penis grow when you hit puberty?
• I found a condom in my dad's bathroom and I still don't know what it's for.
• How do condoms work?
• Can a man to man make babies?
• Will my personality change in puberty? Will I become unnaturally gloomy?
• Can puberty be disturbing sometimes?
• Where does the liquid from the boy's penis come from?
• How are ferternal twins born?
• My question is, what happens to your body after experiencing "it"!
• For breast feeding where does the milk come from?
• When is the right time to start wearing bras?
• Is surcumsition for boys involve a stage for puberty?
• What happens if one of your breasts is bigger than the other? Is that bad?
• Will it hurt when my body changes?
• Why are we even talking about these things?

I suppose if there was ever an argument to be made for school sex education in the elementary school grades these questions would surely support it! I will follow up with some commentary in my next blog about the importance of these questions and the challenge they pose for parents. In the meantime, I think it's most worthwhile to just ponder the scope and breath of them.

Fred Kaeser, Ed.D., is the former director of health for the NYC Department of Education. He is the author of What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When).

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