Talking to your kid about sex can be daunting. While pop culture tends to portray teaching kids about sex as just one big “talk,” experts agree that sex is something kids should always be learning about.
They recommend weaving sex into everyday, age-appropriate discussions by adding in more information over time and introducing certain concepts at specific ages.
Talking About Sex
Talking to children early about sex will help them build knowledge and healthy confidence concerning their bodies, intimacy and feelings as they enter puberty. As a parent or educator, it’s your job to translate, explain, debunk, and convey these messages.
For many of us, that means rewriting what we learned growing up and learning as we go.
Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Use correct terms.
Try to stay away from phrases like “private parts” and “down there,” as they can add to shame, embarrassment and sexualization of children’s perceptions of bodies. Check out our page on Consent and Body Autonomy for more information on how to do this. Lean into scientifically accurate, anatomically correct vocabulary for body parts.
2. Be mindful of assumptions.
When interacting with other youth, don’t assume anyone’s primary sex characteristics based upon their gender expression, appearance and dress.
3. Check in with your children.
Ask them what they are wondering about with regard to their bodies and sex. As kids age and their bodies change, questions will come up. Opening the door for open communication and letting them guide what they need can help eliminate the stress of having to figure out what to say, as an adult.
4. Avoid shame.
Sometimes the biggest barrier between children talking to adults in their lives about sex is a fear that they will be judged. Showing your child that you are there to support and love them will create a safe space for them to ask and share as they get older.
5. Normalize safe sex.
By 11, you want to start having conversations about sexual choices and safe sex. Remember, talking about sex doesn’t mean your child will start having it. Research shows that 11 the age children start hearing about sex from their peers. Talking to them early will help them identify false information when they hear it and make healthy choices as they age.
6. Explain birth control.
Highlight different types of birth control and explain the basics of how they all work. If you don’t know what to say, learn together by searching Planned Parenthood or reading the Contraception Guide at the bottom of this page.
7. Chat about internet safety.
This can be done by building on your already established digital rules and values. For example, talk frankly about how sharing nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves or their peers is illegal, but common. Let them know they have a right to privacy and that if someone violates that privacy, you are there to support them.
8. Explore respect online.
Ask: “What do you think it means to be respectful on social media?” When high-profile stories on sexting or online bullying are in the news, use them as opportunities to ask your child how they would handle similar situations.
9. Talk early and often.
Remember, you can’t control what your child hears or sees when they leave your home or go online. The best way to protect them is to give them the tools to feel confidence in themselves and not be swayed by others.