Talking to Your Kids About Sex

Reviewed Dec 22, 2015

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Summary

  • Provide information little by little as your child matures.
  • Be approachable.


 

Like most parents, you probably are not overly eager to discuss “the birds and the bees” with your son or daughter. But also, you don’t want your child’s sex education to come from kids on the playground. Even more alarming, TV, movies, magazines, music and the Internet are huge sources of sexual misinformation. Talking to your kids about sex involves more than an overview of reproduction. It should be an ongoing discussion that imparts your family’s values, morals and beliefs. So, how do you approach this prickly topic and when?

Start early

Sex education involves talking about gender, the human body, puberty, reproduction, feelings, relationships, love and, of course, sex. Waiting to have “the talk” won’t do. Parents need to provide information little by little as their child’s level of curiosity and level of cognition changes with each developmental stage.

Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that parents should begin to introduce the topic early, when children are beginning to learn the names of the parts of the body. Using the correct names for sexual organs rather than cutesy names teaches children that all parts of the body are good.

Appropriate responses to children’s questions or curiosity will change as they mature. For example, a 4-year-old who questions, “Where do babies come from?” probably would be satisfied with the response, “From a special place inside Mommy called the uterus.” This same answer, however, probably won’t satisfy a 7-year-old, who is ready for the facts of reproduction. And adolescents are curious about the emotional aspects of sex.

Also, keep in mind that kids need to know what to expect before puberty begins. The average age for puberty—when human beings become capable of sexual reproduction—to begin in girls is between 10 and 11 and boys between 11 and 12.

The messages you send

Your willingness to talk about sex and sexuality sends 2 important messages to your child:

  1. that you are approachable—and hopefully, that fact will stick with her into the teen years, when sexual decision-making begins and consequences can be life-changing
  2. that sex is a healthy, normal part of life

Pointers

  • Talking about sex doesn’t always have to be serious—particularly if you take advantage of teachable moments. For example, you can “react” out loud to something you see on a TV show to see how your child responds. Or if you overhear an argument in the mall, say, “I don’t like the way that boy is talking to his girlfriend—what do you think?”
  • Not talking about sex can send the message that sex is bad, shameful or something to fear. Teaching kids to love and respect their bodies through open communication will build self-esteem and empower them to become responsible decision-makers as they mature.
  • Don’t focus only on your fears, like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unplanned pregnancy or exploitive relationships. Communicate how sexual intimacy can be a pleasurable way of expressing love for another, but only for adults/married couples (base your explanation on whatever fits with your values) who can be responsible and accountable.
  • If a certain subject is too uncomfortable for you to address or if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. But help your child find an appropriate place to get the answer.
  • It’s OK to share your values. If you don't want your teenager to have sex before marriage, say so. Incorporating your family values into sex discussions will help teens make decisions consistent with these values. 
  • Some kids simply don’t ask questions—they may be too embarrassed. Don’t assume they have the answers. Avoid big, heavy discussions. Instead impart values and your openness and willingness to talk through teachable moments.

If you don’t introduce the subject, someone else will

Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that parents should provide the bulk of their child’s sex education. Multiple studies have shown that adolescents who feel connected to their parents and family delay having sexual intercourse. Honest, ongoing conversations assure that the information your child is receiving is accurate and delivered in a way that reflects your family’s morals, values and beliefs.

Resources

SEICUS’s Families Are Talking program
www.familiesaretalking.org
 
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
www.plannedparenthood.org

Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD. Three Rivers Press, 2004.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS); Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.; Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD; All About Sex: A Family Resource on Sex and Sexuality. Planned Parenthood Federation of America; From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra W. Haffner, MPH

Summary

  • Provide information little by little as your child matures.
  • Be approachable.


 

Like most parents, you probably are not overly eager to discuss “the birds and the bees” with your son or daughter. But also, you don’t want your child’s sex education to come from kids on the playground. Even more alarming, TV, movies, magazines, music and the Internet are huge sources of sexual misinformation. Talking to your kids about sex involves more than an overview of reproduction. It should be an ongoing discussion that imparts your family’s values, morals and beliefs. So, how do you approach this prickly topic and when?

Start early

Sex education involves talking about gender, the human body, puberty, reproduction, feelings, relationships, love and, of course, sex. Waiting to have “the talk” won’t do. Parents need to provide information little by little as their child’s level of curiosity and level of cognition changes with each developmental stage.

Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that parents should begin to introduce the topic early, when children are beginning to learn the names of the parts of the body. Using the correct names for sexual organs rather than cutesy names teaches children that all parts of the body are good.

Appropriate responses to children’s questions or curiosity will change as they mature. For example, a 4-year-old who questions, “Where do babies come from?” probably would be satisfied with the response, “From a special place inside Mommy called the uterus.” This same answer, however, probably won’t satisfy a 7-year-old, who is ready for the facts of reproduction. And adolescents are curious about the emotional aspects of sex.

Also, keep in mind that kids need to know what to expect before puberty begins. The average age for puberty—when human beings become capable of sexual reproduction—to begin in girls is between 10 and 11 and boys between 11 and 12.

The messages you send

Your willingness to talk about sex and sexuality sends 2 important messages to your child:

  1. that you are approachable—and hopefully, that fact will stick with her into the teen years, when sexual decision-making begins and consequences can be life-changing
  2. that sex is a healthy, normal part of life

Pointers

  • Talking about sex doesn’t always have to be serious—particularly if you take advantage of teachable moments. For example, you can “react” out loud to something you see on a TV show to see how your child responds. Or if you overhear an argument in the mall, say, “I don’t like the way that boy is talking to his girlfriend—what do you think?”
  • Not talking about sex can send the message that sex is bad, shameful or something to fear. Teaching kids to love and respect their bodies through open communication will build self-esteem and empower them to become responsible decision-makers as they mature.
  • Don’t focus only on your fears, like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unplanned pregnancy or exploitive relationships. Communicate how sexual intimacy can be a pleasurable way of expressing love for another, but only for adults/married couples (base your explanation on whatever fits with your values) who can be responsible and accountable.
  • If a certain subject is too uncomfortable for you to address or if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. But help your child find an appropriate place to get the answer.
  • It’s OK to share your values. If you don't want your teenager to have sex before marriage, say so. Incorporating your family values into sex discussions will help teens make decisions consistent with these values. 
  • Some kids simply don’t ask questions—they may be too embarrassed. Don’t assume they have the answers. Avoid big, heavy discussions. Instead impart values and your openness and willingness to talk through teachable moments.

If you don’t introduce the subject, someone else will

Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that parents should provide the bulk of their child’s sex education. Multiple studies have shown that adolescents who feel connected to their parents and family delay having sexual intercourse. Honest, ongoing conversations assure that the information your child is receiving is accurate and delivered in a way that reflects your family’s morals, values and beliefs.

Resources

SEICUS’s Families Are Talking program
www.familiesaretalking.org
 
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
www.plannedparenthood.org

Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD. Three Rivers Press, 2004.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS); Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.; Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD; All About Sex: A Family Resource on Sex and Sexuality. Planned Parenthood Federation of America; From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra W. Haffner, MPH

Summary

  • Provide information little by little as your child matures.
  • Be approachable.


 

Like most parents, you probably are not overly eager to discuss “the birds and the bees” with your son or daughter. But also, you don’t want your child’s sex education to come from kids on the playground. Even more alarming, TV, movies, magazines, music and the Internet are huge sources of sexual misinformation. Talking to your kids about sex involves more than an overview of reproduction. It should be an ongoing discussion that imparts your family’s values, morals and beliefs. So, how do you approach this prickly topic and when?

Start early

Sex education involves talking about gender, the human body, puberty, reproduction, feelings, relationships, love and, of course, sex. Waiting to have “the talk” won’t do. Parents need to provide information little by little as their child’s level of curiosity and level of cognition changes with each developmental stage.

Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that parents should begin to introduce the topic early, when children are beginning to learn the names of the parts of the body. Using the correct names for sexual organs rather than cutesy names teaches children that all parts of the body are good.

Appropriate responses to children’s questions or curiosity will change as they mature. For example, a 4-year-old who questions, “Where do babies come from?” probably would be satisfied with the response, “From a special place inside Mommy called the uterus.” This same answer, however, probably won’t satisfy a 7-year-old, who is ready for the facts of reproduction. And adolescents are curious about the emotional aspects of sex.

Also, keep in mind that kids need to know what to expect before puberty begins. The average age for puberty—when human beings become capable of sexual reproduction—to begin in girls is between 10 and 11 and boys between 11 and 12.

The messages you send

Your willingness to talk about sex and sexuality sends 2 important messages to your child:

  1. that you are approachable—and hopefully, that fact will stick with her into the teen years, when sexual decision-making begins and consequences can be life-changing
  2. that sex is a healthy, normal part of life

Pointers

  • Talking about sex doesn’t always have to be serious—particularly if you take advantage of teachable moments. For example, you can “react” out loud to something you see on a TV show to see how your child responds. Or if you overhear an argument in the mall, say, “I don’t like the way that boy is talking to his girlfriend—what do you think?”
  • Not talking about sex can send the message that sex is bad, shameful or something to fear. Teaching kids to love and respect their bodies through open communication will build self-esteem and empower them to become responsible decision-makers as they mature.
  • Don’t focus only on your fears, like sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unplanned pregnancy or exploitive relationships. Communicate how sexual intimacy can be a pleasurable way of expressing love for another, but only for adults/married couples (base your explanation on whatever fits with your values) who can be responsible and accountable.
  • If a certain subject is too uncomfortable for you to address or if you don’t know the answer to a question, say so. But help your child find an appropriate place to get the answer.
  • It’s OK to share your values. If you don't want your teenager to have sex before marriage, say so. Incorporating your family values into sex discussions will help teens make decisions consistent with these values. 
  • Some kids simply don’t ask questions—they may be too embarrassed. Don’t assume they have the answers. Avoid big, heavy discussions. Instead impart values and your openness and willingness to talk through teachable moments.

If you don’t introduce the subject, someone else will

Pediatricians and child psychologists agree that parents should provide the bulk of their child’s sex education. Multiple studies have shown that adolescents who feel connected to their parents and family delay having sexual intercourse. Honest, ongoing conversations assure that the information your child is receiving is accurate and delivered in a way that reflects your family’s morals, values and beliefs.

Resources

SEICUS’s Families Are Talking program
www.familiesaretalking.org
 
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.
www.plannedparenthood.org

Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD. Three Rivers Press, 2004.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS); Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.; Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD; All About Sex: A Family Resource on Sex and Sexuality. Planned Parenthood Federation of America; From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children by Debra W. Haffner, MPH

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