Talking to Children About Sex

“Where do babies come from?” It’s a question most adults fear hearing; a question that we envision will make us stop dead in our tracks, save for the rapid movement of our beating hearts. Children know sex and sexual feelings exists. They may not know the intricacies of it all, but they definitely know we aren’t telling them something. And it’s a very important “something” that they need to hear about.

I like to think of discussions about sex as being lifelong. I once shared with some peers that I plan to talk to my babies about sex and their reactions were a mix of confusion and shock. What I meant by this is that discussions about sex should be age appropriate and we can start when our children are infants and toddlers and are beginning to learn about their world. They come into this world engineered for sex; newborn boys can have erect penises and newborn girls’ vaginas can lubricate. So shouldn’t we teach our children how best to manouever their bodies in this world?

For instance, by discussing with our toddler how boys’ body parts are different from girls’, we can teach our little ones the basics of human biology. Following this up with a discussion about privacy and respect (e.g “Don’t show other people the body parts your swimsuit covers”) can structure the basis for their understanding.

I also like to think of discussions about sex as ongoing. We don’t need to mark a date on the calender as “D Day!” Everyday situations may present themself for what’s known as “teachable moments,” where anatomy, emotions and consequences of sexual behavior can be discussed. These moments can be anything from a scene on a television show to an incident of concern at your child’s school.

The importance of discussions about sex is severly understated. Teenage pregnancy and std transmission rates are high. The age of first sexual contact is also decreasing and is currently between 15 and 17 years. While talking alone won’t stop your child from having sex at an early age, it definitely can dissuade them. Also, our children will be more aware of the consequences of sex; pregnancy, infections and the effects on their emotions, helping them in their decision making process. This knowledge is really their best defence; for example, programs that promote abstinence-only pledges to teens have repeatedly been shown to fall short of their goal, with those teen members being more likely to engage in sex at a young age and less likely to use contraception. Providing the advantages of abstinence as well as the additional information regarding contraception can help thwart these repercussions.

There are a couple ground rules laid out by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:
In talking with your child or adolescent, it is helpful to:

  • Encourage your child to talk and ask questions.
  • Maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions.
  • Use words that are understandable and comfortable.
  • Try to determine your child’s level of knowledge and understanding.
  • Keep your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to talk about your own discomfort.
  • Relate sex to love, intimacy, caring, and respect for oneself and one’s partner.
  • Be open in sharing your values and concerns.
  • Discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.
  • Help your child to consider the pros and cons of choices.

    For parents who are having trouble getting over their own anxieties about sex, there’s a wealth of information to be found in Youtube videos, children’s books and the links provided when you Read More.

    Read More: Talking To Your Kids About Sex
    Questions and Answers About Sex
    Teens & Abstinence

    Image: Filomena Scalise /


  • About Traci S. Williams-Nurse

    Dr. Traci Williams-Nurse is a licensed psychologist who specialized in child, adolescent and family psychology. Her interests include child development, family functioning, video games and food. She was born and raised in Trinidad & Tobago and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
    This entry was posted in Parenting, Sex. Bookmark the permalink.

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