As a child I always assumed that boys and girls were the same. The only difference was that girls got dolls for toys and boys got cars. I, however, wasn’t interested in playing house and chose cars over dolls.

Then I started pre-school, and that’s where I came to understand that boys and girls were not the same at all. I had to wear a dress whereas boys wore pants and shirts to school. My mother never talked to me about the differences between boys and girls; I had to discover that on my own. This discovery made me ask questions. I wanted to know where babies came from, why my private parts were different from my cousin’s (who was a boy). I was only getting to know my own body by that time. Then one day, after I had asked one too many questions about gender and genitals, my mother sat me down. I saw that she was uncomfortable at the prospect of giving me answers to my questions although we had always had an open relationship ever since I could formulate full sentences.

Then she said, “Uhm… you see my girl… there is a reason why you have a vagina and your cousin a penis, that’s what the different genitals are called.” She then took a deep breath while I waited in anticipation for her to continue. “You are a girl, therefore you have a vagina and your cousin is a boy therefore he has a penis.” I giggled at the sound of the genital names because I had heard them on TV before. My mom laughed too, but I don’t believe it’s because she found it funny, more that she was trying to get comfortable with having the “talk” with me.

Talking to my mother, I started understanding the concept of different genders, the difference between a boy and a girl. And when I got my period I didn’t think that something was wrong with me, as my mom had told me what it was and that it would happen. She had told me what precautions to take and what to do. It’s something so simple to some people, but just imagine how many girls actually feel like there is something wrong with them when it happens. Today I’m happy that my mom had that talk with me, and believe me as uncomfortable as it was for her, she is too.

It is often expected that kids should be taught about sex and gender at school, which they do, but at school sex-education is academic, whereas talking about it at home is more personalised, and the child is not ashamed, scared or embarrassed to ask questions. I believe that parents should have “the talk” with their kids while they’re still young, so that they grow up knowing the differences of gender and what’s allowed and not allowed when it comes to their bodies and private parts. My mom having that talk with me when I was six-years-old made me feel confident to ask questions in the Life Orientation class at school. And when other learners laughed at me for asking the questions I did, I didn’t feel like a freak, because I understood the basics of sex and gender and only wanted to know more.

I know that it is shunned upon in different cultures and religions to talk to your children about sex, but just imagine how many unplanned teen pregnancies could have been avoided if parents had the sex talk with their children. I know many girls that I grew up with who didn’t even know about the various kinds of contraceptions that clinics offer women and girls. They were ashamed and embarrassed to visit a clinic, as older community members would think that they were sleeping around. So because adults in my community didn’t talk to their children about sex, it was difficult for children to question or talk about sex. Therefore trying to avoid embarrassment and ridicule, they fell pregnant.

Yes, some parents say that, “His/her friends at school are there if he/she wants to know more about sex,” but that’s the wrong perception because those friends are the same age as him/her and probably know next to nothing about the subject too. We live in the 21st century and even if some parents are not as liberal as others, I still believe that that talk should happen. Preferably before the children start school. It helps to develop children’s confidence and parents’ peace of mind.

Did your parents have the talk with you, if so how did it help?