Suzanne believes in not telling children more than they ask when it comes to sex. “Don’t overload them,” says the mother of Cape Town teenager Catherine (14).
Suzanne started telling Catherine about sex when she was four years old and ten years later they are still talking.
“One is always telling children about sex, directly or indirectly, but my concern is that children will no more be able to enjoy sex.
“They need to be able to relate in a caring and gentle way, but it is a fallacy that one cannot disclose things about sex, when people are doing it every day.”
Suzanne remembers giving Catherine a book, “Where did I come from?” when she was four years old.
“Catherine says it was her favourite book. She remembers the pictures of the sperm and one who made it to the egg first was quite debonair with a top hat. But she realised sex was a different topic when she asked me to read her the book while the domestic worker’s children were visiting. I said we needed to consult with their mother first and Catherine then realised that there may be differences between what she understood it to be and the reality,” says Suzanne, who describes herself as “very comfortable with bodies”, mainly due to her medical background.
But the family often discusses topics that directly or indirectly relate to sex.
“We often talk about HIV/AIDS in the house or about why people don’t wear- condoms and Catherine would partake in the discussions. Whether she’s actually seen a condom, I would imagine she has by now,” she says.
“But in terms of HIV/AIDS it is sad that sex is introduced in such an alarming manner. HIV/AIDS is probably the ‘realest’ thing and it is such an important peg in the whole discussion. But it could become a useful peg when it comes to discussing the reasons why women have been exploited for such a long time.
“I guess we have to make every effort to mediate between the horror of sex and the intimacy.”
Suzanne also finds nature to be a useful ally when broaching the subject. “Animals are always mating and children obviously ask questions, which creates many opportunities to talk about sex. For their father, this is also an opportunity to participate as they will often ask him questions when watching wildlife documentaries,” says Suzanne, who believes that the topic of sex becomes uncomfortable when the parents are uncomfortable.
How did Suzanne’s mother approach the subject when she was a teenager?
“I remember my sister coming down the stairs, her eyes as big as saucers. She told me everything my mother had just told her. I just couldn’t believe it. I think the part I really couldn’t believe was the part around erections. I marched straight to my mom and demanded that she tell me everything she had told my sister, which she did. I found it all astonishing!”
Suzanne is adamant that her daughter will be able to experience the “mystery” of love as well.
“It takes years for people to realise that sex is greater than just a physical act, it is the inter-penetration on every part of you. But there is only so much I can tell her, the hormones will have to do the rest.”
Suzanne also feels that she exposes herself when faced with more “tricky” questions about sex.
“The less clinical and less like mating it is, the more you expose yourself. You laugh a lot, but it is difficult.”
One of the more “tricky” situations Suzanne describes is when Catherine was reading a book while they were driving along. “She asked me what masturbation was. It was quite difficult for me as I felt I was getting in deeper water than what I wanted to be in. I realised she was curious, but I also know she found my explanation quite alarming.”