Close
Psychology

How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex: A Parent’s Guide

fb vk tw mobile

Today, sex education has become a crucial factor to ensuring the safety of our children. The world can be a dangerous place, and not everyone has the safety and best interest of your child in mind. By the time you’re finished reading this article, our hope is that you will be comfortable and confident enough to sit down with your child and start the educational process, so that the two of you can both be prepared for the future. With proper information and guidance, you can help protect your children by equipping them with the necessary knowledge. Talking to your children about sex should be simple and informative, regardless of their age or gender.

psychologist-betty-kiiru

 

 

— Betty Kiiru,
Counseling psychologist

Contents

Why is it important for you to talk to your children about sex?

Parenting involves taking your child’s hand and guiding them through life to the best of your ability. Teaching them the do’s and don’ts, especially in regards to sex and relationships, is a gift you can’t afford to deny them. Children begin learning from their parents right from birth. Girls often learn the intricacies of womanhood from their mothers, and boys often learn about manhood from their fathers. When it comes to sex education, you want to ensure that they are properly informed, before their friends, social media, the internet, or any other source instill incorrect information in them.

  1. Teaching your child about sex is the best way to equip and protect them against potential sexual abuse.
  2. According to studies and research, children whose parents teach them about sex regularly are more likely to practice safe sexual behavior. They’re also more likely to delay having sex until they’re of an appropriate age. The psychology behind this is that desire heightens significantly when a person is forbidden from having something. If you treat sex as a bad or taboo thing, your child may want it more. But if you’re open and honest about it, you may diminish their curiosity, reducing their desire to experiment with it.
  3. Talking about sex regularly helps you impart the right values in your children, and can help shape their opinions around the topic. This also serves to strengthen your bond as a family and deepen the trust amongst you.

So how should you introduce the topic of sex to your children?

sex ed for kidsHonesty is the best policy. Be open about the topic of sex. Let them know that sex, when indulged at an appropriate age and with the right person, is a special thing. Once you establish that it’s neither bad nor taboo, you can begin to offer age-appropriate information and illustrations to drive your message home.

Children are naturally inclined towards curiosity – it’s how they find information. Therefore, be ready for a lot of questions. In fact, you should look forward to the questions, because you can use them as a guide for what to tell them.

You can simply choose to tell them just what they want to know, especially if they’re very young. Of course, you’ll want to volunteer any crucial, must-know information, even if they don’t ask. As they grow older, you’ll want to get more vivid and bold with the discussions. The more you demystify the topic, the less curious they’ll be about it.

Make it a friendly conversation, so that they feel at ease to open up to you about any worries or incidents regarding sex or relationships in their own lives.

When should you start talking to your child about sex and relationships?

Psychologically speaking, children have the ability to process information while still inside the womb. This is why an unborn child can recognize and respond to their mother’s voice. Therefore, it’s important to start educating your child about sex while they are young. The most important thing to remember is to keep the information age-appropriate at each developmental stage your child is in. If you have more than one child, this may mean having separate discussions with each of them. You should tailor the discussion to fit each child’s age and personality.

For example, if you have a naturally inquisitive, extroverted five-year-old, you can let them guide the conversation with their questions. You can even include some activities, and maybe even involve their friends, with their parent’s consent, of course.

On the other hand, if your five-year-old is more introverted, they may not be willing to participate in a group learning session. They might not even ask many questions. In this case, you’d want to consider a one-on-one discussion with just the two of you, and involve some relaxed activities the child might enjoy, such as painting.

Age-by-age tips on how to talk to your child about sex at each developmental stage

By now, we’ve established it’s paramount for every parent to start your child off on the necessary sex education soon after birth. Now, let’s look at some age appropriate strategies for tackling this as your children go through each child developmental stage of their lives.

Birth to two years

talk to kids about sexuality

For most parents, the first gesture of love you give your child when they’re born is a kiss.

While kissing your baby isn’t a sexual gesture in that context, in almost any other context involving different people, kissing is in fact a sexual gesture. Suffice to say, we involuntarily and subconsciously introduce our children to sexual behavior from birth.

A few years later, as your child gets older, you’ll start to notice them giggle and maybe close their eyes whenever they witness two people kissing, maybe on TV or even in real life. Why? Because they’ll have started to gain awareness about a kiss as a sexual gesture, as opposed to the harmless, show of affection they’ve known it to be before.

You want to have given your child a solid foundation on sex and sexual gestures before this awareness sets in, which happens around 4-6 years. So how do you do that? Well, because a child begins to process and consume information before they’re even born, you can start as early as infancy to begin teaching them.

You can make up sweet little songs about human body parts and start singing them to your children when you bathe them. If you make this your fun little ritual, maybe touching certain parts as you sing, the words will start to register in their minds. Soon enough, they’ll start being able to relate the words with the touch, so that if you say lip and touch their mouth, they’ll know that’s what lips are. By the time they begin to walk, they can dance along to the song.

When your child begins talking, teach them to sing the songs and begin to sing along with them. With time, teach them to touch each body part as they mention it in the song. After a while, they’ll have mastered each body part and its name. You can include fun little lyrics about who should or shouldn’t do what to them. For example, only mommy and daddy can kiss my lips. Use easy words they can remember.

smiling child

At this age, you also want to allow your child to learn and explore their body.

Babies love to touch their private parts during diaper change sessions. This is because they’re in the anal stage of development.  Touching themselves at this stage is quite normal; it helps them get comfortable with their bodies.

You may also use this age group to teach the child the functionality of their bodies, for example, the fact that the penis/vagina is for peeing and the rectum is for pooping.  For easy understanding on their part, you may want to use fun little nicknames for their privates. At this age, you may also want to teach them gender differences by pointing out that boys have penises and girls have vaginas.

Tell them what their gender is, and that of each member of your household. At this age, it is also common for boys to get erections, and you should respond positively and appropriately if it occurs.

If your child was born intersex, you should still tell them what the function of each sexual organ is. However, wait until they’re older for their personality and character to develop. Wait to see what gender they lean more towards and let them decide whether they want to identify as male, female, or transgender.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Touching private parts during diaper change.
  • Touching mother’s breasts for comfort.
  • Reflex erections in boys and vaginal lubrication in girls.
  •  Continuing to touch their privates too much and too often, not just during diaper change but also during sleep, when anxious or afraid, etc.
  • Erections which are too frequent.
  •  Touching or rubbing their private parts to the extent of hurting themselves.
  • Biting and pulling on mother’s breasts with teeth, even after being told no.
Advice Advice Advice
  • Affirm and encourage your child by reacting positively towards their sexual behavior.
  • Gently but firmly discourage them from touching their genitals too much, by diverting their attention through play.
  • Seek medical advice for abnormal erections.
  • Make it hard for them to access their genitals by keeping them in diapers.
  • Firmly and repetitively discourage them from touching their genitals and keep them busy with lots of play.
  • Firmly say “No.” every time they bite your breasts.

Three years

talking to kdis about sexuality

Around this age, children begin to develop gender awareness and internalize their gender identity. They now start to realize they’re either male or female. They also begin to assign the people around them specific genders, and often vocalize it. Owing to this, a child will often start to associate certain gender roles or behaviors with being either female or male.

Because gender roles are usually cultivated through cultural norms and socialization, you as a parent are in control of what you want to teach your child in this regard. Be sure that you instill in them lessons and values that will empower them to survive and navigate their current and later life with as much ease as possible.

At three-years-old, you also want to introduce and emphasize the issue of privacy. For example, begin to ask them to lock the door either partially or completely when they use the bathroom. Also, gently discourage them from exposing their bodies to others. You can suggest only dressing and undressing in the privacy of their bedrooms.

At this age, you also want to teach them how people should interact with other people’s bodies. You want to instill in them a sense of ownership for their body, kind of like that favorite toy they’re especially protective of.

Teach them that they own their body and have full rights to decide what happens to it.

Teach them that people shouldn’t touch their private parts. Enlighten them about what is or isn’t appropriate where bodily contact is concerned. Teach intersex children that their bodies are unique, beautiful, and accepted. Instill in them self confidence and teach them to love themselves. It shouldn’t be one-sided either; you should also teach children how to interact respectfully with other people’s bodies.

It’s important to note that children in this age group are in the phallic stage where they may begin to develop incestuous feelings for the parent of the opposite gender. It is, therefore, appropriate to use yourself as the sacrificial lamb here, and instill boundaries for how they interact with your body.

For example, a mom can ask her children ids not to touch her breasts anymore, and instruct them to not climb all over her. However, don’t forget to still shower them with affection through hugs and kisses.

It’s also important at this stage to give them clear guidelines for what to do or say if someone touches them inappropriately.

For example, you can tell them to say, “These are my private parts, don’t touch me there or I’ll tell (insert authority figure, you being the first one).”

Another important point is to clarify that absolutely nobody, not even you, can touch them inappropriately. This will come in handy in situations where trusted individuals sexually abuse children. Identify yourself as their safety point, so they can always report any inappropriateness to you, first and foremost. Make it clear that you will always listen to them.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Noticing the difference in the body parts of different genders.
  • Enjoying nudity.
  • Being extremely inquisitive about gender differences even after being answered.
  • Exposing their nudity to others, even after being warned against it.
  • Playing gender roles with negative emotions such as sadness, anger or aggression.
  • Refusing to dress up and rebelliously exposing themselves in public, after repeated warnings.
Advice Advice Advice
  • Educate them about the functions of different body parts.
  • Teach them the importance of privacy.
  • Answer the questions and assure them that you’ve told them everything there is to know about the issue.
  • Firmly advice them against public nudity and offer incentives for compliance.
  • Encourage positive gender-role play with positive emotions such as love, joy, kindness, etc. Consider child therapy as a form of intervention.
  • Introduce consequences for public nudity to encourage them to embrace privacy.

Four to six years

At this age, a child is much older and able to process more complex information. It is safe to discuss topics like pregnancy, where you can tell them that a baby stays in their mommy’s belly for nine months before they’re born. Use soft terms for easy understanding. It’s also okay to tell them how babies are made at this point. You can use their birth story to elaborate more on this. Allow them to contribute through asking questions, and measure their understanding by asking them questions. Clarify everything until they understand.

This is an age bracket where children also get quite curious about each other’s bodies. They might indulge in inappropriate games in an attempt to discover more.

At this age, teaching them in groups with mixed genders is ideal. You can use activities such as songs, play, painting, drawing, coloring, reading, etc. Use fun material with which they can learn and understand, such as picture books.

This is also an ideal age to discuss complex bodily issues such as intersex or hermaphrodite bodies. Help your child understand the biology behind it, and the fact that such individuals are nice, normal people just like everyone else. This way, you teach them to become accepting of people who’re different from them.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Curiosity about breasts, pregnancy & reproduction and genitals.
  • Gender awareness: differentiating between genders, issuing gender identities to themselves and others, and assigning gender roles to tasks.
  • Sneaks peaks at nude people out of curiosity.
  • Repeatedly asking questions about genitals and reproduction even after being answered.
  • Continually asks familiar people questions which the parents have already answered about gender.
  • Stares at nude people even after having witnessed nudity before.
  • Advanced sexual knowledge for their age. Also, excessive inquisitiveness.
  • Elaborately asks strangers questions which parents have previously answered about gender.
  • Asks or forcibly tries to undress people.
 Advice  Advice  Advice
  • Allow exploration within healthy boundaries, but discourage the child from exploring with other people.
  • Firmly correct and discourage this behavior, explaining why it’s wrong and its possible outcomes. Suggest alternatives.
  • Enroll the child in therapy and also use consequences for excessive behavior at home, to encourage change.

Seven to nine years

talk to daughter about sexBy now, you’ve pretty much laid the foundation for your child’s sex education. They’re now settled into the latent stage where things cool off a little. They lose interest in the opposite gender and focus their energies into developing same gender friendships and recreational activities, such as sports. This stage is, therefore, the safest for addressing external influences such as the media, internet, friends, etc.

You need to establish rules, boundaries and limits for your child.

The best way to do this is to involve them in discussions and arrive at mutual agreements. For example, you could steer a conversation towards what kind of content they should consume on TV and the internet. Agree on time limits and passwords.

Children appreciate it when grownups listen to them and value their opinion. In short, they love it when you treat them like grownups. Therefore, respect their boundaries and show them that you trust them.

For example, when your son brings a female classmate over to do their homework, have them obey the ‘keeping the door open’ rule, but don’t pop in to check on them every five minutes.  This will communicate to him that you trust him, and he’ll want to act right so you don’t change your opinion of him. Bring to their attention the issue of pornography without necessarily going into detail. Mention that it does exist but that it involves grownups doing things which only they should indulge in. Discuss the pros and cons of consuming such content and what they should do when they come across it. Try not to demonize it though, so you don’t arouse their curiosity. From this age onwards, asking your children questions is ideal, to help you get a feel of exactly how much they know about specific issues. This is also a good way to show them you value their opinion. At this age, you also want to start preparing them for puberty, which they’re about to enter.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Wants privacy when in the bathroom or changing clothes.
  • Pretends to be of the opposite gender.
  • Gets upset if someone sees them nude when bathing, changing clothes or using the bathroom.
  • Becomes very negative about their own gender.
  • Becomes aggressive when demanding their privacy.
  • Hates their privates and gender.
Advice Advice Advice
  • Validate their feelings.
  • Set house rules about people respecting each other’s privacy.
  • Positively affirm their looks and praise them for operating within their gender roles.
  • Encourage them to deal with or express their feelings healthily.
  • Encourage body positivity.

10 to 12 years

talking to son about sexThe children are still in the latent stage, but they’re growing up fast. At this point in their lives, they might be exploring their bodies already, and trying their hand at masturbation. It’s a good time to talk about this, addressing issues such as hygiene and privacy. Ensure they know it’s normal and it’s okay to explore and understand their bodies better.

If your intersex child is having difficulty accepting their body, or maybe just struggling with identity crisis, consider working with a professional therapist to help them. They need a lot of support for this.

You might also want to introduce the issue of sexual abuse, if you haven’t already. Together, explore the various forms of abuse and possible perpetrators of abuse. Be very bold about this and really go deep. Watch videos and documentaries and maybe even visit institutions which rehabilitate victims of abuse. On the other hand, discuss consequences for abusers. You want to give them as much information as possible, for both extremes.

Parents don’t like to hear this, but as much as you’re trying to protect your child from any sexual harm possible, you must also ensure your child won’t be the one that harms others.

Therefore, make every effort to really know them and instill good values. Be keen and observant towards them. It’s also ideal to discuss bullying at this point.

Children at this age experience a lot of physical changes in their bodies, owing to puberty. Girls get their first period, while boys’ voices break and they begin to experience wet dreams. These changes can cause them emotional turmoil, especially if they’re not prepared well in advance to anticipate them and equipped to manage them.

It’s important to educate them about the changes they’re about to start experiencing and offer suggestions on how to best manage them. Teach girls period hygiene. Empower the kids with tools for coping with the changes.

sex-education-for-boys

Journaling is one of the amazing tools they can use to keep their emotional health stable. Encourage them to track and document these changes by journaling about them, and their feelings regarding them. Are they happy, self-conscious, embarrassed? Request to review the journals with them so you can offer your support where it’s needed. Alternatively, you can ask them to talk to you about it, in case they prefer to keep their journals private.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Self-consciousness in regards to their body.
  • Explores their body through masturbation or by inserting items in their own genitals or rectum.
  • Developing heightened self-consciousness and shyness about their body.
  • Talks about their exploration to their friends and tries to recruit them to join in.
  • Developing a poor body image or low self-esteem because of their body.
  • Forcefully coercing peers into their sexual exploration activities.
Advice Advice Advice
  • Affirm their looks with compliments.
  • Encourage healthy exploration within reason.
  • Consistently point out positive aspects of their body and encourage them to see themselves positively.
  • Discourage them from talking about their escapades with others or trying to recruit.
  • Recruit a therapist to help them work through their body issues.
  • Issue warnings and consequences for forceful or aggressive sexual behavior.

13 to 17 years

teaching your teen about sex

Your child is officially a teenager. You might need a strong support system and several thousand hugs for this one. They have also settled into the genital stage, where their opposite-gender attractions are fully awakened, activated and heightened. No, I’m not exaggerating. The first issue you want to address — or rather revisit — at this stage, is sexual experimentation. Discuss safe sex, pregnancy and birth control. I’d ask a lot of questions here, to pick their minds on these issues. For example, I’d want to hear what my son would do if he got a girl pregnant, or whether my daughter would consider abortion or adoption. I’d be curious to know how my intersex child identifies, where sexuality is concerned.

During their teens, your child might also decide they’re either gay, lesbian or transgender. Teach them that their sexuality is their business and they shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed about it. They also shouldn’t feel the need to identify as a single-sex individual. Thankfully, the world today is quite accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Accepting and giving them lots of emotional support is crucial.


As protective measures, getting them condoms and booking your daughters in to hormonal birth control sessions with their gynecologists is ideal. In the spirit of peace and low-key detective-mode, you should ask to meet their romantic interests. Give constructive feedback without sounding critical or disapproving. Another crucial thing to emphasize to your teen is healthy body image and self esteem. Get them into therapy for this, if they need it. It’s a worthwhile investment.

With teenagers, you want to empower them to know and understand their worth as well as trust their intuition where relationships are concerned. Sensitize them on toxic and abusive relationship and encourage them to make good decisions. Advice them to walk out when they notice any red flags.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Attraction to the opposite sex and wanting to have a girl/boyfriend.
  • Curiosity about sex and desire to engage in it.
  • Curiosity about pornography.
  • Obsessing over a specific love interest even after being turned down.
  • Intensified desire to have sex and obsessing over it.
  • Watching pornographic material.
  • Harassing a love interest who’s turned them down, with their desire to date them.
  • Forcefully attempting to have sex with someone.
  • Addiction to pornography.
Advice Advice Advice
  • Ask to meet their romantic interests.
  • Remind them that sex is for mutually consenting adults above 18years.
  • Encourage them to watch age-appropriate movies.
  • Teach them how to deal with rejection in a healthy manner.
  • Encourage them to redirect their sexual energy into other activities such as sports.
  • Discourage their indulgence in adult material and activate passwords to your Wi-Fi and TV subscriptions.
  • Issue strict warnings against aggressive advances or sexual behavior, with dire consequences if no change is observed.
  • Find them rehabilitative help for their addiction.

18 years

parents teach sex

Your child is a legal adult. Your work here is done. At this age, your child is all grown up and is legitimately capable of making their own decisions. They’re probably running off to college and you couldn’t make their decisions for them if you wanted to anyway. So now, it’s time to trust in all the good work you’ve done so far and all the effort you’ve made to educate them about sex over the years. It’s time to sit back and see how well you did as a teacher. At this age, the best you can do is gently remind them what you’ve taught them over the years. Help them whenever they need it.

Offer your friendship and support and occupy your place as their confidant. You can also start having adult conversations now, about marriage, for example.

From here onwards, handle any romantic partner they introduce you to with a fair share of seriousness, because they’re ripe for marriage and their dates are now legitimately your potential in-laws.

See the standards of behavior at this age
Normal behavior Boundary behavior Deviant behavior
  • Engages in sexual behavior.
  • Dates different people.
  • Becomes curious about marriage.
  • Engages in unprotected sex or dangerous sexual experimentation.
  • Makes poor relationship decisions.
  • Develops doubts and hesitations towards marriage.
  • Becomes a sex addict.
  • Stays in toxic or abusive relationships.
  • Refuses to consider marriage.
Advice Advice Advice
  • Encourage safe sex and the use of protection.
  • Rehash about healthy relationships.
  • Encourage them to consider marriage in future.
  • Encourage visiting the VCT with sexual partners prior to having sex.
  • Encourage better relationship decisions and inspire them to know their worth and value.
  • Speak positively about marriage, its benefits and the joys of companionship.
  • Find them rehabilitative help for their sex addiction.
  • Help them get out of toxic relationship and facilitate therapy.
  • Give them room to make their own decisions and accept them.

How can you help your child stay safe and healthy?

Besides incorporating every safety measure we’ve mentioned for every developmental stage your child is in, it’s also important to take extra measures to protect them further. For example, for 6-13 years old children’s safety we advise the Find My Kids app to set up on your mobile phone.

With this service you will always be aware of the latest movements of your child and be able to protect them from danger.

The service allows you staying updated on your child’s whereabouts at all times. You can track your child’s movements throughout, including their phone battery balance:

  • Creates a history of the child’s location
  • Sends notifications to a parent’s phone if the child leaves a designated area
  • If necessary, records sound around a child’s phone (for Android devices)
  • Defines the settings of a device which prevent normal functioning of the app and helps to fix them
  • Monitors the child’s phone battery and the usage of apps on child’s phone.

The app allows you to add an unlimited number of devices, so you can keep track of multiple loved ones all at once.

With the Find My Kids app, you can provide constant comfort and assurance for your child that no matter what, you’ll always be there for them and protect from danger.

dont-worry-about-children-banner

email

Not subscribed yet?

We send articles that help parents. Nothing but benefit!
Read more

Mobile application «Find My Kids»
See your child's movements on the map, listen to what is happening around the phone when you are not near. Send a loud signal if the child doesn't hear a call from you
Download for free on iOS or Android
iphone-X
Subscribe to blog subscription