Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sex, babies and books

Too graphic: Khairun believes there is a distinction between children’s sex educational books and pornography and he believes the book Where Did I Come From? is of the latter category. — Bernama

Many parents dread it when their young ones ask them where they came from. Some parents relied on a children's sex education book aptly titled Where Did I Come From? but the book has since been banned for its graphic content.

MUMMY, where did I come from?” When her daughter asks this question, says a freelance copywriter who wishes to be known only as Suet, she will be prepared with the right answer.

“I will talk about sex with my daughter as soon as she starts asking questions,” says Suet, 29.

“I would rather my child learned about sex from me than from other sources such as the media.”


But there is one source that she would not mind learning from, and it is a book that has been recently banned in Malaysia.

Suet says she only heard of the book titled Where Did I Come From? when the controversy surrounding it first emerged.

This naturally piqued her interest and she has managed to get a PDF version of the book from the Internet.

“I can't speak for all parents but I think it has been tastefully done in an educational way,” she says.

She also admits to having ordered the book online and is keeping her fingers crossed that it would arrive soon.

It is a fact that many parents still dread hearing these questions from their young ones, and many would probably fob off the question by saying a baby was a special delivery by a stork or that they were found in the hospital.

It was to help parents explain such things that inspired British writer Peter Mayle to write the book, which is described on its cover as the facts of life without any nonsense and with illustrations.

The book which Mayle dedicated to parents everywhere has been sold in Malaysia for quite a while, and many have used it to educate their children about the “birds and the bees”.

Education or pornography?

But when Umno Youth Community Complaints Bureau chief Datuk Muhd Khairun Aseh received complaints about the book, he felt duty-bound to investigate.

Upon going through it, Khairun says he was shocked that such a book could be available freely in major bookstores in Malaysia.

What was more shocking was that it was placed in the children's section, he adds.

The book, which was first published in 1973, describes the reproductive process in simple and humorous language accompanied with cartoon illustrations and drawings of naked male and female bodies complete with genitalia.

Khairun believes there is a distinction between children's sex educational books and pornography and he believes the book is of the latter category.

“The book might fit the values of where the author comes from, but not Malaysian values,” says Khairun, who submitted a copy of the bureau's complaints to the Home Ministry's Al-Quran Text and Publishing Control section.

After the contents were scrutinised, it was banned on grounds that it contained elements that could be detrimental to society's morals and public interest.

The ban was in accordance with the Printing Presses and Publications Act, which, among others, states that anyone convicted of circulating and distributing the book could be fined no more than RM20,000, or jailed three years or less, or both.

Many have criticised the ban, which they say has made Malaysia a laughing stock on the international stage.

News of the ban was also reported all over the world.

Mother-of-three Daphne Lee feels the ban is unnecessary, saying that the book is written for children and it explains how babies are conceived in a straightforward and gentle way between two people in a loving relationship.

“It's presented as two people in love and happy together having a child,” she says.

She believes that those who oppose the sale of the book might attach a sexual significance to everything they see.

“They might not view breastfeeding as a nourishment to the child but as something sexual. It reflects what's going through their minds,” she says, adding that the book can't be said to be pornographic as it does not stimulate sexual desire.

She believes that many look at the fundamental human activity of sex in a very prurient way.

“But there is nothing dirty about it. We wouldn't be here if our parents didn't have sex. It's a normal and healthy activity,” she says.

Lee says she has read the book to her eldest child and found that it was a good introduction to the subject.

She would rather expose the facts of life to her kids than have them find out from another source such as their friends.

“As a parent, I owe it to them to give them the facts,” she says.

She also believes that as a result of their exposure to sex education, her sons don't have a weird fascination with nudity.

Seeing a girl in a bikini, for instance, they would not connect it with sex, she explains.

Part-time lecturer and mother-of-three Yew Su Fong, 40, recalls her mum giving her the book when she was in primary school.

“I thought it was a useful and educational book. I'm glad that I had it at that age because one would want to know where one came from,” she says, adding that the content was presented very well.

She has passed the book on to her two eldest children, both girls, aged seven and 10.

“I'm surprised it's still around in the first place. I would be very sad if it was banned because many parents find it useful in educating kids about the facts of life,” she says, but adds that she would understand if anyone views it as offensive.

Initiating a talk about sex is difficult and the book might be useful in overcoming this first stage, Yew says.

“Children at a young age will want to know these sort of things. The book might be graphic but in no way is it pornographic.”

Among other things, the book which has been described as a first-aid for parents explains the physical differences between a male and a female, the process of making love, and pregnancy. The characters are slightly elderly and overweight.

The book has an average rating of four stars from 157 reviews on

Most reviewers found the book, intended for children between four and eight, useful and tasteful although there was a minority who said it was not appropriate and was too graphic.

Khairun points out that in one of the pages, the author wrote that the process of making love involved the man pushing his penis up and down inside the woman's vagina.

He says he was shocked by sentences like this, and the graphic level of nudity.

“It's never too late to rectify things. How it reached the shelf is another question and I urge the authorities to look into it,” he adds.

He accepts that children have to be exposed to sex education but argues that the degree and level have to be done in tandem with Malaysian values and culture.

“I'm not against sex education but it's too adult in this case.”

Too much for kids

Faiz Al-Shabab, a consultant with digital portal E-Sentral, agrees with Khairun, saying that while the book is presumably not offensive in liberal countries such as Norway or Sweden, it might not be suitable for children here.

“It is a subjective thing but I would not show my child the book,” he says. “There are more Asian or subtle ways of describing things like this.”

Faiz, who says he would probably talk about the facts of life with his son when he hits puberty, at about 12 or 13, feels a big deal shouldn't have been made about the book as it would attract more attention.

“They should have just banned the book and moved on. All this uproar is an advertisement for the book,” he says, pointing out that many of his colleagues have tried to look for it.

Faiz believes many would attempt to download the e-book version, and that the PDF version could probably be found on file-sharing websites.

The point he wants to make, and most Malaysian agree, is that if you really want it, you can get it.

When it comes to talking about sex with our young children, we can't maintain a third world mentality and say the stork brought the baby down, Suet stresses.

“If you want to explain what sex is all about, then you will have to know about conception, pregnancy and all the body parts.

“(In the book) it is not drawn in such a way that is obscene. You might giggle but that's all,” she says, pointing out that many unwanted pregnancies were probably caused by lack of sex education.

Engineer Kumar, 27, however, finds the images of naked people even in illustrations disturbing for children.

“I'm not sure how kids would react to it but I figure there are other ways to teach sex education,” he says.

Kumar, who is single, says children would eventually learn about sex. “You grow older and it comes naturally. I'm quite sure I figured it out without having people to tell me,” he says.

But while Kumar feels it is not appropriate, he doesn't support the ban.

“If anybody wants to use the book to teach their children about sex and how babies are made, it should be up to them. People should have a choice,” he says.

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