9 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Sex
- Answering Sex Talk QuestionsTalking to kids about sex doesn’t have to be stressful or scary. In fact, you’ll all get more out of your talks if you are calm, direct and honest. It may seem as if your tweens and teens aren’t interested in a sex talk with the parents, but the truth is that they are hungry for information. Kids need adults to help them understand puberty stages, unprotected sex risks, pregnancy, and intimate relationships. Accurate information provided by a loving parent can help children become mature and responsible adults. Keep these 9 tips in mind when talking to your kids about sex.
- 1. Start early.It’s never too early to start teaching kids about their bodies. Teach little kids that some parts of their bodies are private; anything that is usually covered by a swimsuit shouldn’t be touched by others without permission.
Answer children’s questions using words they understand. So, if your 4-year-old asks where babies come from, you can say, “mommy’s tummy” and leave it at that, unless they ask for additional information. If you answer early questions simply and directly, your child will learn that you’re a trustworthy source of information.
- 2. Use proper terms.Teach children the proper terms for body parts: vulva, vagina, breasts, penis, scrotum, testicles. You call an arm an “arm,” so do the same for your child’s private parts. Using cutesy terms for the genitals signals to children that there is something different—and perhaps shameful—about those parts. Using matter-of-fact language lets your child know that it’s okay to discuss all parts of the body.
It’s all right to occasionally use slang terms; in fact, if you have little boys, you probably won’t be able to avoid the word “balls.”
- 3. Don’t dodge questions about sex.If you change the subject, or simply pretend you didn’t hear the question, children learn that sex is a taboo subject—at the very least, one that shouldn’t be discussed with the parents. That’s the exact opposite of what you want your child to learn. As uncomfortable as you feel, you are best positioned to address your child’s questions about sex and relationships.
If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it and offer to help your child find the answer.
- 4. Stay calm.Take a few deep breaths if you need to steady your mind. If you feel your embarrassment rising, you can admit your discomfort. (“Phew. This is kind of hard for me to talk about. I feel embarrassed but I’m going to do my best to answer your questions.”)
Listen and try not to react when your children ask questions or make statements. If your 6th grader comes home from school talking about blow jobs, fight the urge to say “What?!?” and try saying something like, “What have you heard about that?” instead.
- 5. Check your facts.Kids need accurate information about puberty, sex, pregnancy and birth control. Take some time to brush up on the facts. The basics of puberty today are the same as when you were a teen, but did you know that kids today typically start puberty earlier than previous generations? (Boys may be as young as 10 when they start puberty; girls, as young as 8.) Are you familiar with all available birth control options?
You can find reliable info online at health.gov and healthychildren.org.
- 6. Talk about what you see and hear.Sex is everywhere. TV shows, music, billboard ads and even news stories about sex scandals provide a great opportunity for conversations about sexuality, consent and relationships. Keep your conversation age-appropriate, but comment on what you see and ask your child what they think: Wow, I didn’t see him ask before he kissed her. Did you?
Seizing everyday opportunities allows you to share important information with your children in a casual, comfortable setting.
- 7. Discuss healthy relationships.Parents often get so focused on teaching their children about the mechanics of sex that they forget to talk about sex as part of a relationship. Yes, kids need to know how to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but they also need to know how to tell if a partner is okay with sexual touching. They need to learn about respect and boundaries, and they need to learn the characteristics of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, so they can make wise choices.
- 8. Use inclusive language.According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 8% of female teenagers and 3% of male teenagers identify as gay or bisexual. Unless you know your child’s preference, stick to terms like, “sweetheart,” “romantic interest” or “crush” instead “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
The words we use send signals to our children about our thoughts and beliefs, and consciously using inclusive language may help your child feel more comfortable asking the questions on their mind.
- 9. Talk about good reasons to have sex.We typically spend a lot of time telling our children what not to do: Don’t get pregnant. Don’t have sex. In the interest of protecting our children from harm, we often gloss over the fact that sex is enjoyable. We forget to tell them that sex creates powerful connections between human beings.
You may not want your children to have sex now (or anytime in the near future), but if you don’t talk to them about good reasons to have sex, who will? Now is a great time to share your values regarding sex and relationships.
Sex Talk With Parents | 9 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Sex