How To: Talking To Your Kids About Sex

Talking to your kids about sex isn’t a one time deal. It’s a process that you’re going to have to go through from the time they first learn to talk until they’re eighteen, and maybe even beyond. The best way to do it is to remain open, realistic, and honest.

Honesty is most important

When discussing sex with your kids, honesty is the most important approach. This is especially true for kids. Not only because it’s important for them to know the truth about their bodies, but because this is how they know how to trust you. If you tell them one thing and they later find out the truth, you automatically become an unreliable source of information.

Keep the talk open. Let them know that you will answer any questions they have honestly and without repercussions. Children are naturally curious. Just because they have questions doesn’t mean they’re going to act on those questions.

But when’s the right time?

My parents gave me the talk when I was six. I’m not talking like they told me the proper name of my parts. I knew all that already. They gave me (and my brother) the entire talk. They didn’t want sex to come as a surprise to me when the other kids started to bring it up on the playground. Of course, at the time I was mortified. But now that I look back on it, I feel like there was never a time when I didn’t know what my body was capable of. It made me respect sex, not fear it, and it certainly didn’t make me promiscuous.

When you decide to talk to your kids is completely up to you. You know your kid best and you know how they’re going to deal with this information. Is it necessary to tell them everything when they hit the first grade? Probably not. But maybe they’ll ask questions and the rest will come out.

There’s no perfect time and no perfect age. It’s going to be something that develops as your child ages and it’s going to be a talk you have over and over again.

What do we talk about?

Again, this is going to depend on what you’re comfortable with. Chances are, you might not be comfortable sharing anything with your kid. They are always going to feel like they’re too young to know. So here are some tips we picked up from our pediatrician and child psychologist friends about the best ages to talk about certain topics:

Ages 2-5: Begin with body parts when your child is first learning their other body parts. Use proper terminology when referring to body parts.

No bajingos or peepers. That is a penis and this is a vulva (that’s right, we said vulva– here’s why).

This is also the stage where it’s important to talk to your child about people touching them in their private areas. Explain what private means and instruct them to tell you immediately if someone touches them inappropriately.

Now, they may also ask about where babies come from at this age, especially if they encounter pregnant women, breastfeeding or babies. You don’t need to break out the sexual organ diagrams just yet.

Ages 6-9: Many girls start their periods between the ages of 10-12. Some are sooner, some are later. But either way, it’s best to prepare your child if that is something their body is capable of. Don’t shy away from telling them the whole story. Bleeding out of an orifice can be a scary thing, so don’t be afraid to tell them: “Your uterus is cleaning itself out from it’s monthly cycle during which it prepares to conceive a child. It’s perfectly natural and healthy.”

Bringing this up may be a good way to give a more detailed explanation for how babies are conceived. Use words like, ‘sperm cell,’ and ‘egg cell,’ and even talk about the actual act of coitus. Diagrams may be helpful here.

This is also a good time to talk about masturbation— for all children. Discuss how masturbation is a healthy way to explore your body but that too much masturbation can be unhealthy.

If you’re looking for a good way to broad the topic with kids around this age, wait until there’s an issue in the news. Perhaps they’ve heard something about the contraceptive mandate and want to know more. Maybe there’s a news report about a drop in teen pregnancy or the HPV vaccine. No better time to make it educational.

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Ages 10-15: This is the age when the metaphorical poop begins to hit the fan. Puberty has begun and everything is going haywire.

At this age, they should have begun sex education in their schools. Check in on how that goes when it happens. Ask them what they learned. If there’s any discrepancy between what they were taught in school and what you taught them, that may be an important discussion for you to have.

Additionally, many kids get their first phones or exposure to parentless internet time around this age. It may be a good idea to discuss how pornography is not always an accurate depiction of sexuality.

This is also the ideal age to begin talking about sex in the context of a healthy relationship, contraception, same-sex relationships, and even gender identity. Even if your kids aren’t going through these things, their friends might be and they might not have access to the same resource (a helpful parent) as your kids do.

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Ages 15+: Keep checking in with your teen about sex. You don’t have to ask them if they’re having it, and you don’t have to invade their privacy if you don’t think anything is wrong. But keeping the discussion open will let them know that you’re there to help– if they need help getting birth control, if they’re questioning their sexuality or gender, if they contract an STD, etc.

Be prepared for questions that might make you uncomfortable, but also be prepared for your teen to shut you out, even if you have been open with them their entire lives. After all, this is a time when they’re going to be learning how to operate on their own terms. Just let them know that you’re always there if they need you.

Need a little extra help?

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We’ve talked a hundred times about how sex ed in schools can be less than satisfactory (read writer Kara‘s story about her own sex ed experience). Maybe you didn’t learn everything that you should have. Here are some links that will help you prepare for the big talk with your little one:

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