Sex ed for kids

Talking to Your Kids About Sex: How to Get Started

Published: DECEMBER 5, 2012 | Updated: DECEMBER 5, 2012
Many teens say their parents are their biggest influence when it comes to talking about sex. Here's how to get the conversation started.
We love dishing the dirt on our sex lives with our gal pals over cocktails. And no detail is ever spared in the men’s locker room. Yet many of us clam up about the topic when it’s broached over the kitchen table. Talking to children about sex is rarely easy, but don't be in denial: Seven out of 10 adolescents lose their virginity before the end of their teen years. What that means for parents is that educating kids about sex is essential, both for the health of their bodies, and their sexual relationships. So how can you navigate the topic without a red face or stories about storks? Here are some basic guidelines from experts in the field.

Clearing the Air

First, let’s clear up some misconceptions. Talking about sex with children won’t psychologically scar them, or make them promiscuous. As the "Why We Need Sex Ed" infographic we posted shows, American states with comprehensive sex education programs actually have the lowest rates of teen pregnancy. In addition, the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy claims that children who learn about sex are more likely to lose their virginity later, have fewer sexual partners, and use condoms and other forms of contraception than their less savvy peers.

Think your kids don't want to talk to you about it? Think again. According to a 2012 telephone survey of teens conducted by Social Science Research Solutions, many teens cite their parents as their greatest influence when it comes to making decisions about sex.

So how should parents talk to their children about sex?

When comes to getting down to the down and dirty, an age-appropriate approach is important. Discussions about sexuality should touch on more than just sex. The body, puberty, different types of relationships, sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptives are all important topics to cover as your children age. Just remember that you have time, so don’t try to address too many topics at once or give too many details in the first chat.

Discussions about sex should be factual and should reflect your own beliefs and values. That said, it’s important to note that your children may not share your opinions. Listen to your children and learn about their thoughts, even if you don’t agree with them. Respecting their differences will ensure the dialog stays open, despite any conflicting views.

Those early conversations may well be awkward (younger children in particular are expert at finding the questions you are most uncomfortable about answering). It'll teach you a lot about what makes you uncomfortable about the topic of sex - which means it isn't just your kids who stand to learn a thing or two!

If you find it difficult to initiate a talk about sex, look for teachable moments in everyday life, and always be open to answering questions when they arise. Being honest about any feelings of embarrassment can also help relieve the tension, especially when it comes to teenagers.

Finally, if you're embarrassed about talking to your kids, ask yourself why that is - and why you feel that way. The more comfortable you become, the more comfortable your child will be. This is important, as they should know they can ask anything without embarrassment or, most importantly, judgment.

Sex Talk by the Numbers

2-6 years: In these early years, children are discovering their own bodies and the differences between them. Resist the temptation to use pet names; using the correct terms will help children feel comfortable with them early. Note the differences between the bodies of boys and girls. As children age, you should also introduce the idea of public and private body parts.

Young children also often ask how babies are made, particularly if there is a pregnancy in your family. A simple explanation about a daddy’s sperm or seed watering the egg in a mommy’s tummy is generally sufficient at this age.

7-12 years: As children approach puberty, it’s important for parents to prepare them for the road ahead. It’s appropriate to talk to children of any gender about changes from pubic hair to periods. A discussion about masturbation is also important as children begin to explore their own bodies.

Children will want to learn more about sex at this age, as well as other topical issues such as the AIDS virus and sexuality. They are also likely to be interested in dating and how people fall in love. This is a great time to share some of your own stories. They will go a lot further toward making your kids think than speaking in general, hypothetical terms.

13-18 years: As hormones race, discussions about sex should shift from mere mechanics to the moral and emotional components of sexuality. Your children should learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships, sexual and otherwise. You should also try to make an impression on children about how they should treat their partners, and how they should expect to be treated in return.

It’s also a time for reinforcing messages about contraception and busting sexual myths. Teens tend not to want to talk about sex with their parents, but squeeze in what you can. You don’t want your kid thinking girls can’t get pregnant when they lose their virginity, or if they have sex standing up! Of course pregnancies and STDs aren’t the only consequences of sex. Discussing the feelings surrounding sexual intercourse and the right and wrong reasons to become sexually active is also important.

Did I Tell You the Story About the Birds and the Bees ...

When it comes to talking to children about sex, let your own children’s maturity levels and the questions they ask steer your conversations. Talking about sex with kids can be hard, so work on creating an open dialog about sex in the home. While it’s best to start this conversation early, it’s never too late to start talking.
Lauren Katulka

Lauren Katulka is a happily married freelance writer living on Australia's Central Coast. When she's not playing around with words she loves roller skating, spending time in the kitchen, watching indie films and cuddling her Devon Rex cat, Gizmo.

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