How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex
Talking to kids about sex, sexuality and their bodies from an early age can help them normalise these things and teach them to have respect for theirs, and others’, bodies
7 min read
How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex
There might be some stages in your little one’s life you’re already dreading. Maybe it’s the transition to daycare or school, when they discover blank walls make excellent artist canvases or the day they leave home. For some of us, it may be when they pipe up with “Mum, where do babies come from?”.
We’ve got you covered with our helpful tips about how to talk to your kids about sex, whatever age they’re at.
Why should I talk to my kids about sex?
You might remember having ‘the birds and the bees’ chat with your parents or whānau when you were younger. Maybe it was incredibly embarrassing for all of you. Maybe you felt more confused than ever. Or maybe it armed you with the right stuff to help you understand and make your own decisions.
Whatever your experience, open and honest conversations with your kids now can help make later conversations easier. Arming your child with knowledge can also help them make healthier choices when they’re older.
By talking to your child from a young age about sex, they’ll understand that they can come to you for honest and reliable information, without feeling scared or embarrassed. Plus, it shouldn’t be a one-off discussion that leaves everyone feeling awkward – having these discussions should take years because they’ll evolve as your child grows up.
Talking about sexuality isn’t just talking about sex. Sexuality covers a wide range of things, like their developing and changing body, respectful relationships and healthy expressions of intimacy and attraction.
When should I talk to my kids about sex?
Talking about sex, sexuality and bodies from an early age can help normalise these things. Your kids are likely to grow up understanding that they’re a healthy part of life and to have respect for their, and others’, bodies.
Which means it’s never too early to start talking to your kids about it! When you start talking to them could also depend on how mature your child is and other things, like what they might be hearing in the playground that’s less than true, whether an older sibling is learning about sex ed at school or something they’ve stumbled across online.
How do I talk about sex?
Here are three steps to help you talk to your kids about sex:
- What do they already know? Ask them where they think babies come from or what they’ve heard about it.
- Give them the facts and gently correct anything they don’t have quite right. Like, “you didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in a special place inside me, called the uterus”.
- Talk about your own thoughts or feelings too, so it feels more like a conversation than a lecture. Think, “some people want to have a baby when they’re ready. Other people don’t know if they want a baby.”
Tips for talking about sex
To help your chats go smoothly, try to:
- Explain things at their level. Keep information brief, factual and positive. They probably don’t need a detailed and dry explanation of ovulation. But they might enjoy learning that women have very small eggs inside them that help to make babies. Your child can always ask questions if they want more information.
- Use the correct names for body parts. Using the right names lets your child know that talking about these parts is healthy, normal and ok. Try to use words like penis, testicles and vagina.
- Say ‘I don’t know’. You don’t need to have all the answers and your child will appreciate your honesty. If they ask you something you don’t know the answer to, tell them it was a great question. You can then either research it together or get back to them at a later point with the answer.
- Get all parents involved. If there are two or more parents, it’s great for all parents to be involved in sex discussions. This helps your child to learn it’s ok to talk about sex and that all their parents can provide helpful information.
- Pick the right time. If your child isn’t keen on eye contact, have a chat while you’re travelling in the car. Try to avoid making the conversations feel like a big deal – sitting them down in a quiet room can feel intimidating. A casual chat over the breakfast table might work better.
Talking about sex at different ages
Whatever age your little one is, here’s how to talk to them about sex.
Now’s a great time to help your child learn about their body. Having a bath or getting dressed can be a good opportunity to introduce them to different body parts.
Your little one is probably curious about their own and other children’s bodies. They might have noticed that boys’ and girls’ bodies are different. Name the different body parts (i.e. boys have a penis and girls have a vulva) and explain (briefly and simply!) that they do different things.
Looking at a book together that shows the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies can be helpful too.
At this age, your little one might start asking about where babies come from. They’ll be able to understand a brief and simple explanation: a baby grows in a mum’s uterus. To make a baby, you need sperm (like a tiny seed) from a man and an ovum (like a tiny egg) from a woman.
But before you get into that discussion, when they ask, “Where do I come from?”, ask them what they think. By doing this, you’ll understand what your child understands and what they’re really asking. It could be that they’re asking where in your body they came from, rather than how they got in there. In which case you can say “you grew in my uterus”.
If you’re pregnant, your child might want to know where the baby comes out. Aim for simple and accurate: they’re growing in my uterus. When they’re finished growing, they’ll squeeze out through the birth canal, which is called the vagina.
Your child might have the lingo down pat by now. In which case, their questions might evolve. Sure, they know a baby grows in your uterus, but how did they get there?
Again, start by asking what your child thinks so you can understand what they already know. Then give as much information as you’re comfortable with. It might be as simple as: to make a baby, a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman join.
Or you could go further and explain this happens when a man and woman have sex (or sexual intercourse) which is when a man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina.
You could also mention the different ways that babies enter families, like IVF, adoption or foster care.
A book can be helpful to read together too.