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What Age Do You Talk with Your Kids About Sex?

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Many parents want to know at what age it is appropriate to start teaching their children about sex. It's a good question, but there is a faulty premise worth exposing. The question presumes that there is an age at which sexuality becomes important or "an issue". That kids don't need to know anything until X time, when they need to know it all. This isn't the way sexuality works, and it's not the best way to talk to your kids about sex either.

Sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, from birth to death. And while our sexuality isn’t the same when we’re six as when we’re sixteen, or sixty, it is always there and always a part of us. So the question isn’t so much when to start talking with your children about sex, but how to do it at every age and stage of their lives.

Many, possibly most, parents are less than proactive in talking about sex with their children, and don’t deal with it until moments like these:

  • Your child starts touching themselves in public in ways that make you or others uncomfortable.
  • Your child asks you where they came from or where other babies come from.
  • Your child begins to ask questions about their body and why it looks different from yours, their siblings, or their friends.
  • You begin to feel like it might be a problem to allow nudity in the house.

Each of these are important teaching moments, and if you want to avoid dealing with situations and questions at awkward or inconvenient times (say, in the middle of a holiday service, at a family dinner, or just as your rushing off to work) your best protection is to be proactive, and make space for sex talks on an ongoing basis.

Teaching your children about sex should begin as soon as you’re communicating with them. If they have questions they’ll let you know. And even if they don’t, you can let them know that you’re open to the questions by including sex education in all the things you teach them.

A good example is body parts. A common early learning experience between parents and children is teaching the names of body parts. We all learn about our ears and eyes and nose and mouth. In fact we usually cover all the major parts of the body but many parents skip parts of the body they consider sexual (e.g. penis, vagina, nipples, etc...). They either ignore those parts or give them "cute" names that don't actually explain what they are. But we do this at a time when kids are usually beginning to explore their own bodies through touch. Make no mistake, children take note not only of what their parents tell them, but also of what they don't tell them.

Teaching your child the word for vulva, vagina, clitoris, nipple is a part of sex education, and it's something that should happen in the first few years of life. You don't need to go into a lot of detail. It isn't like you try and explain to your two year old how the eye works. You just sing songs with them about eyes.

Of course talking with your children about sex is extremely difficult when you have questions of your own, and no comfort level or practice. But waiting doesn’t make it easier, and the most important thing for you to do is be willing to listen to your child and help them find answers even when you don’t have them.

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