How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Lynn Schreiber

According to Planned Parenthood, teens who had good, honest conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners and use condoms or other contraceptives when they do have sex.

So how do you talk to your kids about sex and puberty, so that they are informed of the changes ahead, know how they can protect themselves, and how to react to the pressures from others? Without euphemisms or embarrassment.

“Mum, is it rude to call someone a ‘pussy’?” Kids often seem to find the best time to ask questions like this, don’t they? When you are standing in the queue at the supermarket, or in that moment of silence that falls in a cafe. How do you reply to this question? I will admit that I’ve never felt comfortable talking to the kids about sex and bodily functions, particularly with my son, who asked this when he was about 10 years old.

I inwardly told myself to get a grip and answered, ‘Well, it is a slang word for vagina. You know, boys have a penis and girls have a vagina? People use it in a nasty way, it’s like calling someone a girl, or a wimp’. (Yes, yes, I know it should be ‘vulva’, but it was the word that occurred to me at the time!)

The conversation moved on to discussing why using ‘you throw like a girl’ is wrong, and I started to think about how I’ve become more comfortable with uncomfortable topics. These are my tips for anyone who is still putting off ‘having The Talk’ with their kids.


Follow the Lead of Your Children

Many children start asking where babies come from when they are toddlers, often when a baby sibling comes along, or a family friend has a baby. You don’t have to go into great detail, but answer questions honestly and in age appropriate language.

As they get older, you can add more information when they ask. Answering questions as they come up helps avoid building up the angst of waiting for the perfect time to have The Talk.


Books and Websites

Some people feel more comfortable giving their child a book to read first, and then answering questions that they have. If you go down this route, read the book first to ensure that you are happy with the advice and message given. And don’t cop out by not mentioning again afterwards!


Keep it Simple but Factual

When they are younger, you don’t need to go into a lot of detail, but resist the temptation to give body parts weird names, that might confuse them later. Particularly when talking about vaginas and vulvas, there is a reluctance to use the correct terminology. Even doctors have been known to use the euphemistic ‘down there’ rather than say ‘vulva’.

Teaching kids the proper words promotes positive body image, self-confidence and parent-child communication, and is recommended by those who work in sexual abuse prevention. Children need to be able to talk honestly and openly to parents and teachers about their body, without fear of being scolded for using the ‘adult’ words.


 Be Confident

This is a time to grit your teeth and be breezily confident. Kids pick up on parental hesitation or embarrassment really fast, and you don’t want to give the impression that sexuality is something to be ashamed of.


Teach Consent from an Early Age

This is one of the most important lessons you can teach your kids. Don’t wait until they are in their teens to talk about consent, and boundaries. Children need to know that their wishes will be respected, and that they have the right to say no – not just in a sexual relationship.

Kids start learning about interpersonal relationships when they are very young. The child who is taught that he doesn’t have to accept a kiss goodbye from Granny, is learning that he has control over his own body. The girl who  learns that she can refuse to hug the uncle who makes her feel a bit squirmy inside, is learning to trust her instincts, and that she can set her own boundaries. Some people find it rude, when children refuse to hug family members, but thats something for the adults to discuss and come to terms with. It is confusing for kids to be told that their body belongs to them, but only when an aunt or uncle isn’t demanding a hug!


While most schools teach the basics biology of sexual intercourse, many don’t include relationship and consent education. I’ve written about the importance of teaching about controlling behaviour, and recognising the Red Flags of Controlling Behaviour here for adults and for children on Jump! Mag – Controlling Friendships, and on the importance of teaching kids about consent.


Sex and Love

Children are often told that ‘when you love someone, and the time is right, then it is ok to have sex’. I find this message troubling, as we all know that sometimes adults have sex for fun, not for love. It also puts young people at a higher risk of falling into a controlling relationship and the typical blackmail of ‘I love you, and if you loved me, then you’d sleep with me’.

The hormonal ups and downs of puberty may lead a teen to think that they are madly in love, and that this is The One, who they will live happily ever after with. And who knows – they may be right. I met my husband when I was just 19 years old and we are still happily married [mumble] years later.

A much more honest message would be, ‘Sometimes we have sex because we are in love with the person, sometimes it is just for fun. As long as you protect yourself from pregnancy and STDs, you can decide yourself when you want to have sex. Often people find sex better when they have strong feelings for their partner, and that physical intimacy deepens the emotional closeness.’


Be Discreet

Choose a time when you aren’t in a rush, and you have time to answer questions. Some people suggested that a casual discussion in the car is a good idea – it resolves the question of where to look. It goes without saying, that you shouldn’t do this when your child has a friend with them in the car!

Don’t discuss details of your own sex life – if there is any way to send them running for the hills, then the thought of their parents having sex is bound to do it.


The main thing to keep in mind is that, while you may find it embarrassing at first, it does get easier. The more open and confident you are when speaking to your child, the more likely it is that they will come back and ask any questions that they have.


Further Reading

Teaching Kids about Consent

Whenever there is a news report about teaching kids about consent, we hear the same responses. The Daily Mail shouts about primary school kids being taught about rape and abuse. Someone will complain that #notallmen are rapists, and how dare we suggest otherwise. A male student will object to being invited to a consent workshop. The weird thing is, that teaching kids about consent isn’t actually about sex, and it isn’t at all radical. It isn’t even part of an anti-man conspiracy… read more

Sex Education Forum

Incredibly helpful website, for information on UK curriculum, and how to find out what your child’s school is teaching, plus news on current campaigns.


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