When is the right age to talk to your kids about sex?
I know what some of you are thinking: Talk about sex with my kid? Never! However, in today’s tech-driven society, we don’t have the luxury of putting off “the talk.” Still, there are suggested guidelines about how much information parents should give at each age.
I thought the ideal age to talk to my daughter about sex was between 13 and 15 years old. In hindsight, I needed to start talking about sex with her when she was 2! From a young age, children need to know about their bodies, boundaries and body image. Not only will this help them develop healthy sexual relationships, but it will also transition over to having healthy relationships in business and with family and friends.
Here are some guidelines on how to handle talking to children about sex. Be prepared; you never know when it will come up! You should have a game plan so you don’t miss a teachable moment. While there are many books and resources out there, be sure you have an actual conversation with your child rather than just handing them a book. Try to make the conversation as natural as possible. And remember, even when you don’t think they’re listening, they are.
Infancy: Up to 2 Years Old
Toddlers should know the proper scientific names of all the body parts. Vagina and penis are not dirty words! Use them often and without hesitation. A very natural time to talk about body parts is during bathing. Try taking turns with the washcloth. Say, “I’ll clean your feet and hands, and you wash your face and vagina.” There — you said “vagina.” See? It’s no big deal!
Early Childhood: 2 to 5 Years Old
Children should understand the basics of reproduction: a man and a woman make a baby together, and the baby grows in the woman’s uterus. Again, use correct scientific names.
This is a perfect time to teach children that their body is their own. Teach them the difference between a good touch and bad touch. Never force them to do something they are uncomfortable with, like hug Aunt Marie who smells like cigarettes. By teaching them that they have a voice about their bodies, they feel more comfortable to tell an adult if someone is doing something bad to them.
- Everyone Has a Bottom by Tess Rowley
- Let’s Talk About You and Me Series by Robie H. Harris
- The Feelings Book by Todd Parr
Middle Childhood: 5 to 8 Years Old
Children should be taught the basics about their body and all its parts. They will begin puberty toward the end of this age span. A number of children will experience some pubertal development before age 10. Their bodies will slowly begin to change, and they need to know how and why. This give kids the foundation of sex education that will naturally build into what their body parts are used for.
Children’s understanding of human reproduction should continue. This may include the role of sexual intercourse. It’s best to stick to the science of the matter at this age. They can start to connect the dots by learning why women and men have different body parts.
- What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg
- It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris
- What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex with Girls and Boys by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
Tween Years: 9 to 12 Years Old
This stage is a challenge because tweens’ maturity levels vary greatly. As their parent, you will need to decide the best age to teach your tween about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. Before your child finishes eighth grade, you can begin the conversation about the emotions involved in a sexual encounter. They should understand what makes a positive relationship and what makes a negative one, especially during the middle school years when many of them begin “dating.”
Parents should watch the documentary Miss Representation. This excellent documentary provides critical information about how sex and sexuality are portrayed the media. Use this information to teach your tweens about whether the images they see in the media are true/false, realistic/unrealistic, or positive/negative. Emphasize consent and boundaries, which are critical for safety.
- Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
- Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff: A Guide to Growing Up by Jacqui Bailey
- It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
It’s a lot to take in. The key is to remember that it’s best that children learn about sex from a parent. It’s even better if that parent has a healthy sexual relationship and body image themselves. If you don’t, you have your own work to do to be a good role model for your child. Take charge for a happier, healthier child today!