Talking with Your Kids about Sex

We asked some boys and girls . . . where they thought they had come from: “I was brought special delivery by the stork.” “Dad got me from the saloon.” “Mom found me at the hospital.”
—author Peter Mayle, Where Did I Come From?

Kids’ ideas about sex can be quite humorous, especially when they’re young. Where Did I Come From? reminds us that, while making healthy choices that show respect for ourselves and others is serious business, instilling these values in our children doesn’t have to be tense or uncomfortable. It will be easier to talk to your own kids about sex as they grow older if you make conversations about healthy sexuality a regular, normal part of your relationship with them now. And instead of giving them lots of information all at once, answer specific questions as they arise and offer age-appropriate insights as needed. Here are ideas that can help:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Use simple, accurate words to describe all body parts and body functions.
    • Help young children become comfortable with their bodies by letting them be naked at appropriate times (such as in your home with just your immediate family) and without making disparaging remarks or worrying excessively about modesty.
    • Some kids will explore their bodies, including their genitals, through touch. This is healthy and normal.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Spend time in a library or bookstore reviewing children’s books on puberty, conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Choose one or two that you like, and show them to your kids. Offer to read the books aloud. Leave books in an accessible location (their bedroom, a bathroom, or in the family room) if your children aren’t interested at first.
    • When your children ask where babies come from, offer honest, simple answers. Emphasize that parents trust each another and love their babies. If children think the idea of sexual intercourse sounds icky or weird, explain that for grownups who love each other, it’s actually normal and nice, and that as our bodies change and develop, our ideas and feelings about our bodies change, too.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Kids this age continue to have questions about sex and romantic relationships, but are also becoming less likely to ask you those questions. You’ll need to take the initiative. Car rides can be the perfect venue for one-on-one conversations because you have each other’s undivided attention.
    • Seize opportune moments to talk, such as after watching a movie or show together that contains content about sexual relationships (even those considered “family“ shows often do).
    • Emphasize that your children, like all human beings, are unique. Everyone’s experiences of sexual development will be somewhat different. This includes menstruation for girls and women, physical maturation for boys and men, feelings of arousal and attraction, masturbation, and the potential physical and emotional consequences of sexual activity. Be intentional about helping your kids make decisions that are right for them and their future partners.
    • Communicate your values clearly regarding sexual activity. Regardless of your moral beliefs, let kids know that abstinence is the only 100% percent effective way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS, herpes, chlamydia, and human papilloma virus (HPV). Research STDs if you’re unfamiliar with them, and ask your family physician to talk to your kids during their regular well-child exams.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Remind teens that romantic and sexual behaviors fall along a continuum from safe to emotionally and physically vulnerable. Encourage your teens to explore their sexual and romantic feelings toward others in ways that protect their own and their partners’ emotional and physical health.
    • If you haven’t done so already, teach your kids right away about the nature and consequences of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including the fact that transmission is not limited to sexual intercourse.
  • Ask your teenagers whether their peers are sexually active. Explain that research studies have shown many teens think more of their peers are sexually active than actually are. And be aware that the most common form of sexual activity among young people these days is oral sex (sometimes between people who consider themselves “just friends”). Young people often think of this as “safer” sex because pregnancy isn’t one of its risks. They need to know that all their actions have potential physical and emotional consequences.

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