Talking to Kids About Sex
Talking to kids about sex. Does reading that phrase give you an immediate sick feeling in the pit of your stomach? You’re not alone. According to researchers
, parents are fearful of having the sex talk with their children because they are worried about messing it up, having their kids not listen to them or not seeming competent.
What generally happens then is that parents keep putting the conversation off until it’s too late. But according to doctors
, the sex talk isn’t one talk at all, but rather it’s a lifetime of small conversations starting from when your child first starts to speak. As they are learning the names of body parts, one of the first ways you can talk to your kids about sex is to teach them the anatomically correct names.
Choose Age-Appropriate Timing
At Preschool Age
As your children get a little older, they are going to start exploring their bodies, and they are going to have lots of questions.
- Your son may want to know why his baby sister’s body part looks different than his
- Your son may want to know why his penis gets hard sometimes
- Your daughter may ask why your vagina is hairy, and hers is not
- You may catch your son or daughter playing doctor with another child
- You may find your son or daughter with their hand down their pants
Your reaction to any of these scenarios is going to set the stage for how your child views sexuality. For example, if you catch your son or daughter with their hand down their pants and you snatch it away and then never discuss it, you’ve now given your child the impression that what he or she did is wrong. Instead, teach your child that masturbation is normal, but should be done in private.
If your son or daughter asks a question about differences in body parts and you try to change the subject or refuse to answer the question, you’ve given your child the impression that talking about body parts is a taboo subject.
If you get angry at two kids playing doctor, they will think sexuality is something to be ashamed of or to keep hidden. While you want to set limits and boundaries on what is appropriate and not appropriate for children regarding sex and physical contact for their protection, exploration at the age of 3 or 4 is most likely curiosity, not sexual in nature.
At School Age
As children enter grade school, their questions are going to get more specific and more challenging to tackle. The American Academy of Pediatrics
outlines several questions you might expect at this age and advice on how to answer them:
- How old do girls have to be before they can have a baby?
- Why do boys get erections?
- What is a period?
- How do people have sex?
- Why does my friend have two moms?
Between ages five and nine, there are a lot of changes taking place in your children and a lot for them to learn and process. They are trying to learn how their body works. Puberty is just around the corner and girls in particular need to be prepared for the arrival of their first period.
Children also are interested in how and why people get along. They may wonder how you and your spouse met. Children are developing a sense of right and wrong, and they will have questions about homosexuality. Children are starting to understand that choices have consequences. The consequences of sexual activity before a child is ready is an important topic to cover. You should also discuss how to respond to unwanted sexual advances from another person.
Pre-Teen and Teenage Years
If you’ve set the stage for healthy sexual discussions from the get-go, having open conversations whenever your child had questions or starting discussions naturally as opportunities presented themselves during television shows or movies, it will make the pre-teen and teenage years a bit easier. You already will have established yourself as a trusted and truthful resource on the topic of sex for your child.
The pre-teen and teenage years are full of some of the most challenging times when it comes to sex, dating, and love, and your empathy and support as a parent is crucial.
- When is the right time to start dating?
- Is your child feeling pressured to have sex?
- When is the right time to have sex?
- Does your child understand the consequences of having sex – pregnancy, health risks, emotional pain?
- If your child is having sex, should he or she use a condom or birth control?
- What if your child suspects he or she may be gay or lesbian?
- What are the signs of teen dating violence?
What Kids Want From “The Talk”
While talking to kids about sex is stressful for parents, parents should take heart that kids do appreciate their efforts.
Researchers found that what kids want from the sex talk
is for their parents to treat them with respect and to approach sexual conversations as conversations, not lectures or directives from on high. They want a chance to ask questions and arrive at their own decisions. They want to be listened to and taken seriously.
For more resources on how to talk to your kids about sex at different stages, talk to your pediatrician, other parents, clergy, school counselors, or social workers for recommendations on web sites, videos, and books that can help you get the sex talk started with your children. The most important part of the sex talk is to make sure you do it early and often.