Thursday 30 May 2013

Discussing the Birds and the Bees - Part 1: Setting Limits

I have written before about broaching the subject of sex education with children (here).  It’s something I was not entirely comfortable with and as a Muslim mother struggled to find the right way to go about this with my children.

The subject raised its head again last week, when Little Lady’s Year Five class were sent home with letters advising parents that the children were going to be taught Sex and Relationships Education in the new term.  There were a number of reactions from parents that I spoke to.  Some parents were adamant that their children would not be allowed to sit through these lessons.  One Muslim mother thought it was important that her children did sit in lessons as she felt that it was just science and they needed to know about these things.  The majority of the parents did not seem particularly bothered or interested, I found this surprising considering that about 75-80% at least of the children in my daughters school are Muslim.

Parents were invited to a meeting to go through the materials that the lessons would be structured about and to ask questions.  I was one of about twenty parents who attended out of potentially 100-120.  We watched two videos which I found to be fairly child-friendly and not overly graphic for the most part.  One of the mothers felt that showing children these things before they were ready was just teaching them how to do them.

Another father raised the problem of boys teasing girls or harassing them and asked what policy was in place to deal with this.  We were told that it would be dealt with under the normal bullying policy, but the SRE teacher seemed to think this was something that wouldn’t happen in her school.  I thought the father asked a good question, I also thought with the encroaching sexualisation of children in the modern world, the SRE teacher was being a bit unrealistic if she thought such things didn’t happen.

I had noticed in the literature handed to us that the SRE session would be taught within a moral framework which included alternative families.  I asked what was meant by this (knowing full well) and the teacher told us that this meant sex within marriage, co-habiting couples and same-sex families.  Other parents hadn’t picked up on this and were taken aback.  The teacher insisted that this isn’t something that was being promoted but had to be part of the discussion as not all children in the school were from the same kinds of families.

I thanked the teacher and left with some clarity about what to do next.  I will be writing to the school and advising them that I want my child to opt out of the SRE lessons and that I will be providing an alternative myself.

There were a number of reasons for this.  At age ten I didn’t want my daughter to be discussing kissing, boyfriends or sex.  I am aware that children grown up much quicker these days, but I still believe that these things should be taught in an age-appropriate way.  I am happy for my daughter to ask questions and lead the way in her learning at her own pace and in a more natural way.

I also believe that sex education shouldn’t be taught in a moral and cultural vacuum where any alternative is okay (as long as you are not hurting anyone – at least without their consent it seems these days).  As a Muslim I believe that sex and relationships should be discussed within the context of marriage and that other alternatives are not appropriate for my children.  Of my three children, one of my sons has one child in his class whose parents are not married and he finds this strange rather than accept this as the norm.  Alhamdulillah I am happy with this.

Another significant reason I chose to opt my child out was because the videos had cartoons of male and female genitalia and also showed people swimming to indicate the changes in their bodies.  This may seem very prudish to people, but as Muslims we are instructed to be modest (have haya) and guard our gaze:

"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do" - The Holy Quran 24:30

Abu Huraira (may Allah be please with him) narrated: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Faith (Belief) consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And Haya is a part of faith." (Bukhari)

Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be please with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "Indeed haya (modesty) and Iman (belief) are companions. When one of them is lifted, the other leaves as well." (Baihaqi)

It feels as if our children are bombarded with sexualised images through the media and advertising, pretty much everywhere you go.  I have taught my children to look away and Little Lady in particular will object if something like this comes on TV if we are at someone’s house (this is one of many reasons we chose not to have TV in our house).  I would rather they did not sit through the videos that are part of the sex education lessons.

I am aware that the other children who watch this will be talking about it and Little Lady will be party to those discussions.  I intend to be honest with her as appropriate and as ever ask her to bring questions to me and to also be discreet (and not scandalise her grandparents with her new found knowledge!).

I have not found it easy to deal with this topic.  My parents were too shy and embarrassed to discuss this with me properly and I learnt what I did from school and friends who were watching things they shouldn’t have been.  In turn I had to push myself to be honest with my daughter and answer some questions in an age appropriate way and for others tell her that we would discuss this when she was a little older.

I think this is something that my generation of parents has to deal with.  Considering how sex-obsessed the world is and how early our children are exposed to such things, we can no longer bury our heads ain the sand or get embarrassed and tell our children to stop talking about such things.  At the same time we have to help our children maintain their sense of haya and remain within the limits that Islam has set for us insh’Allah

In the second part to this post insh’Allah, I hope to go through some of the things that I have done with my daughter to tackle this subject.  I would love to hear from other parents about this subject and in particular any parents who have found good ways to tackle this.

Discussing the Birds and the Bees - Part 2: Honesty, Modesty and Humour


  1. Anonymous30 May, 2013

    Assalamu alaikum Sister. I'm so glad you've written about this topic as my child in yr6 is about to have these lessons after half term. We've already decided that he will not take part as I can't be sure that the teachers won't project their own beliefs and ideas on to the children. I'm so annoyed that they are forcing us to tackle this subject at this age. I think that its only appropriate to teach about basic puberty at this age as some children do mature physically at this age.
    I was thinking of going to the Islamic bookshop for a book which would be suitable as I remember seeing a book for girls and a separate book for boys a few years ago. I would love to hear what you are planning to do too for maybe other ideas InshaAllah.
    Also in yr7 they go through this subject as part of Science in quite a lot of detail.
    May Allah guide us to guide our children in the best way possible Ameen.

  2. Assalaamu alaikum,

    I'm not a parent myself but I have thought about how I would approach this when I do have children insha'Allah. Thinking back to when I was in school the lessons that were given surrounding this were very brief and weren't as "inclusive" as they seem to be these days. Times have certainly changed.

    I agree with your decision to exclude your daughter as I too would prefer to discuss these things with my children myself. Things can be discussed from an Islamic perspective and you have more control over the material and information given.

    In regards to how to approach maybe look for a book which would approach the subject aimed towards children. Also maybe include some information from a scientific perspective.


  3. This is a hard subject. I think I told you about my experience in Peru, where they were teaching birth control and abortion in 5th grade. Other parents didn't like it, but they thought there was nothing they could do. Now, living in Utah, it is much more "modest." They promote abstinence until marriage, though I think the regular sex ed starts out as just basic information. They do it in 5th grade, and they call it "maturation." My number 2 son missed it last year, as I was in the hospital, giving birth.

    My husband's family is pretty shy, as well, so when he took my oldest boy out to have "the talk," as we called it, they ended up talking about Transformers. So I ended up having to do it as we studied in Peru. I know it can be uncomfortable to talk to our children about their bodies and changes and and sex, but it is so important just do it. I felt myself blushing some as I talked to my boy, but if their daddy is not going to do it, somebody has to, and I think it is better they get the info from me instead of their friends. I also think there are teaching opportunities that present themselves at random times, and that can help ease the children into it.

    I will say that my boys are pretty modest. They don't walk around shirtless. My number 2 son had two pool parties this week, and he wore a t-shirt both times in the pool. If something shows up on TV that they shouldn't see, they automatically turn their heads. It helps that we have satellite with a DVR, so most of the shows we watch are recorded, and I can skip a lot of the bad parts.

    Good luck with this. I am sure you will find a way to explain things to her. And hopefully your husband will talk to your boys, so you won't have to! ;)

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  6. Anonymous31 May, 2013

    Asalaamu Alaikum,
    I'm a new mother (baby Sumayyah is 4 months) but it's never too soon to think about how to address these issues! I would love to hear what ideas and approaches you use, as mashaAllah I really appreciate your mothering style after reading your blog :)
    Your sister in New Mexico, US

  7. Yes please do write about this. I don't have kids yet, but I'm really really concerned about how to handle this stuff. I grew up not having a clue about anything till a pretty late stage and then got info from the internet, or friends. NOT a good idea.

    I hope to be a different parent to my kids someday and hope and pray they come to me for knowledge, rather than turn to friends or the internet. Jazakillah khair :)

  8. You've made some important points here. I think it was good on the school's part to first show the parents the videos and other material, so that you were able to make an informed decision. My son's just 4, but I'd like to know if there are any Islamic books out there about this topic, so that I can use them when the time comes. Please post any helpful links or book resources as you find them - I'm sure a lot of parents will find them very helpful.

  9. Anonymous05 June, 2013

    Assalamu alaikum!

    I'm a teenage Muslimah, and I'd like to give you my two cents on this topic.

    Firstly, if the school education is discussing 'alternative families' then it's definitely best to not place your children in that particular course - it's too early to be thinking about issues such as these.

    I was taught about the biology side of sex when I was in seventh grade. The rest I learnt on my own, through articles or the internet (mostly in articles about Muslim marriage). My mother at some point vaguely told me "You can always ask me questions" but the truth is I never did! When it came round to learning in school I hid it from my parents.

    But I think that providing clear facts about sex, and its context within marriage, and about just what on earth is exactly going on, is ESSENTIAL. Don't just wait for your daughter to ask questions - she may not! (and this won't be because she doesn't trust you - it's simply due to embarrassment that she may turn to other sources) Instead, clearly talk with your children when you see that the time is right. I remember Muslimmatters saying that you shouldn't just have one "Talk" either, but continuously speak and make a safe space for asking questions.

    Here's a WONDERFUL article that I wish someone had told me at age 10-12!

  10. Assalamu aleykum sister,

    The whole subject of teaching our kids about the birds and the bees can be a dangerous area, but it is definitely not something I would leave to a disbelieving teacher, so I think that you did the right thing in withdrawing Little Lady from the class.

    It really amazes me that they can expose such young and impressionable minds to things like 'alternative families'. JazakAllah Khayr for bringing this to the attention of the other parents there. Astaghfirullah I remember making the mistake of not withdrawing our eldest son from such a class and was horrified when he came home with the idea that the vile habit of istimna was 'normal and healthy for teenagers'. It has taken a lot of effort so far to try to re-educate him but if we can teach our kids that under the shariah the ONLY acceptable form of sexual activity is within marriage, then we will have taught them a very valuable lesson.

  11. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh sis

    Yes, we need to be very careful how we introduce our kids to such sensitive and important matters and must make sure that we do it in accordance with the Shariah and not some trendy western view of child raising. I have been very strict with my kids from an early age about free mixing and have made it clear that having boy/girl friendships is not on. It is simply not worth the risk. They know that if I catch them chit-chatting then I will take them over my knee. One of our greatest responsibilities is to protect them until they are ready for marriage.

    1. Anonymous15 July, 2015

      Boy/Girl friendships are not on? Sister, when we live in a modern world, we must adjust a bit. The Prophet said to act modestly. Not to disallow children from interacting with others.

  12. Assalamu alaikum.good article sister. Please visit my blog at

  13. My child is 7. Since 4 she has been asking about periods and where babies have come from. I have 3 kids the middle is nearly 5 and has not asked once about it the other 18mths and well cant ask. I have been honest and have done age appropriatly. I have mentioned about menstruation and why girls have them and how are body changes. And that when we marry Allah blesses some of us with and egg that grows into a baby and how it comes out and about csections as she has been aware that a family had csection. She know why on period we dont pray and when we give birth up to 40 days we bleed and cant pray. She knows when we get older girls and boys get interested in opposite sex and that we need to choose good moral friends to keep us on the straight path. Dressing modestly and acting modestly around boys. Also about wudu and prayer. Next i will go into how we wash after period to pray. And then to how boys and girls change differently and they the part i am dreading the part about sex and push the importance of marriage first and waiting till we are older and how to protect ourselves from unwanted attraction. She already knows about other people and how they are againsts Allahs way by choosing same sex and that they have listened to shaitan and have not now society especially in london have treated as the norm but we mustremember our goals to get to jannah