Reporter Faces Up to Task as Son, 9, Asks Big Question

Tom Gorman is a Times staff writer

Ever so innocently--and without warning--The Question finally came from our 9-year-old son.

First, he asked if the people coming over to our house that night had any children. "No," I said. "They're not married."

"Do people have children before or after they're married?" he asked.

"Usually, after."

He was quiet, and I thought he dropped it. Then: "Dad, how exactly do you make a baby?"

Oh geez. I knew the question would come up sooner or later, and I always hoped it would be later. And to complicate it, my wife was out shopping. I always figured when the time came, she'd be around to help. Instead, I was on my own, and quickly I had to figure just how much of an explanation a 9-year-old boy needed of babymaking and the essence of lovemaking.

Everything I had read said that I shouldn't steer away from the issue, but rather give him everything he needed to know at that moment to satisfy his curiosity, without sounding embarrassed or hesitant.

Ironically, earlier that week I had written about how one of every five girls at San Marcos High School was pregnant last year. At the time I wrote it, I cynically wondered how forthrightly and honestly parents in San Marcos had addressed the question of sex and sexuality with their own children. And suddenly, the question surfaced in my home.

So I began.

"We've told you before, haven't we, about how a woman produces an egg?"


"Well, the egg has to be fertilized for it to come to life. With God's blessing, it becomes a baby. It's the man who fertilizes the egg. He produces something called sperm, and when the sperm reaches the egg, it's fertilized."

There was a long pause. I knew it was coming. This was going to be The Moment. And my wife--where was my wife when I needed her?

"Dad, how does the sperm get to the egg?"

All right, I thought, here we go.

"The man has a penis, right?"


"And the woman doesn't. Instead, she has what's called a vagina."

"Right." (Thank goodness, at least, that Paul has a younger sister.)

I explained to him in simple, anatomical terms how the man and woman join and become one. I may have drawn a mental picture that was too graphic for a 9-year-old (and, indeed, may not be comfortable reading material in a family newspaper), but I chose to err on the side of over-explanation than to leave anything to his imagination.

"Oh. Gee," Paul said, slowly, after I finished. I could see his mind at work; he sounded totally disgusted by the thought of it.

I continued.

"When a man and woman come together to do this, it is called making love. It is the most special, the most intimate, time that a man and woman have together."

(I realized later that I never used the word "intercourse" in this discussion, probably because it would have sounded as if I were describing a technical activity rather than a loving experience.)

"The Bible says that a man and woman are to do this, to 'become one.' And since it is so special, since there is no better or finer way for a man to show his love for a woman than to make love, usually it is something that only husbands and wives do. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yeah," he said. "Because it's so special," he said, parroting me.

I went on. "Sometimes, men and women who aren't married make love anyway, because they like being close to each other and it feels good to them. But then, there is not a more special way for them to express their love after they're married. That's why Mom and I and people who think like we do say that making love is something you save until after you're married."

"Yeah, because it's the most special thing you can do," he said, knowingly.

"Now, something you're going to find out is that kids in high school might talk about making love, but I don't really think it is love at all. Physically, you're able to do this--to make a baby--when you're as young as 14. You'll have that ability when you are 14 . . . ."

"But you should wait until you're married, huh?" he interjected.

"That's right. Mom and I can remember to this day when we made love and made you, and when we made Cassie. That's how special it is."

Nice place to stop, I thought.

"Did I answer everything? Do you have any more questions?"

He thought about it for a couple of seconds. "Nope."

"But if you do, you'll come to us and ask them, OK?"

"Yep," he said. "Can I watch TV now?"

"Please do," I said.

It seems that we both survived the experience. And just then, my wife walked in the house.

"Jeanne," I said, "I've got something to tell you . . . "

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