The Birds and The Bees: Talking about Sex with Your Children
Talking to your kids about sex is an important part of parenting, and knowing the right time is vital. I'm not a doctor but I do have experience; I am a mother of three girls, have an undergrad degree in psychology, a teaching credential, and a Master's degree in education.
My mother-in-law once said that there are many ways to correctly raise a child. I thought this was very poignant. Loving, caring, independent, and strong children can be raised in a variety of different ways.
Talking to Young Children About Sex
Now back to the birds and the bees. The policy in our family has always been honesty but with some reservations with younger children. With young children you can tell the truth while holding a bit of the details back for a more appropriate age and time. For example, when I was pregnant our two year old was very interested in the baby in my "tummy." I had a c-section with her so I was able to show her the scar where the baby was going to come out. We looked at a lot of pictures of her when she was in my belly and after she was born. We talked about the impact the baby would have, although she really couldn't grasp this... adults barely can. When she was three, her sister was born. I was nursing and she found this very intriguing. She would often nurse her own babies, change their diapers, and take care of them as I did her sister. At three she wanted to know about how her sister was made. We told her that when two adults love one another very much they are very close and can make a baby. Now, this explanation would not be enough for a ten year old, but giving her an anatomical explanation at three would be too much. She is not emotionally ready for these details.
"Boys have a penis and girls have a bagina"
We all remember that "Kindergarten Cop" movie with Arnie when the little boy makes the above statement. Although the scene was shocking and hilarious, the little boy's parents had told him the right thing. I think you should tell your children, even young children, the correct words for their bodies. Boys and girls should not be ashamed of their bodies or feel like their sexual organs are a "dirty word". Teaching them the appropriate times to use these words is the key.
A Great Book on Talking About Sex
Talking to Older Kids About Sex
Talking to older kids about sex is very different than talking to younger kids. It's up to you if you want a mother-daughter talk and father-son talk or the other way around. Daughters may find it easier talking to their mothers but it is okay if dads have this conversation too. The point is that it MUST be done. Kids who aren't given these talks end up having a lot of questions that are answered by their peers or those that might not have the best advice/guidance.
Right before kids hit puberty is the best time to have this first talk. Up to this point you have probably had some talks with your kids about their bodies and basic ideas around sexuality. If your child has a lot of questions before this time then use your best judgement on what is appropriate. If you have a precocious 4th grader that is asking a lot of in-depth questions maybe you have this talk early. It really depends on the child and their emotional readiness.
Schedule a time that you can spend some one-on-one time with your child. A friend of mine had a weekend getaway with her mom, but if this isn't possible just have a day with just the two of you. Let the child choose to do whatever they want, eat whatever they want and have a great time. Let them know that this is your time together that you will have a bunch of fun and you will talk about them getting older and becoming a woman or man. Don't spring the subject up on them when their mouth is full of chocolate. This is a coming of age day and both of you should be prepared. Cultures around the world celebrate the time when a girl becomes a woman and a boy a man. Our culture seems to be afraid to talk about these things. Try not to be afraid, and if you are just make it up in your mind to do it anyway.
What should you talk about?
Preferably you are having this talk before your child has started menstruating or has had sexual contact, but if it is afterward that is okay; you're having the talk now and that is important. Tell them what they should expect in the next few years. Let your child know that you will answer any questions they many have for you. This may be embarrassing, but their questions will tell you a lot about where they are in their sexual development. Plus, they are going to find the answers out somewhere and it is best coming from you not their peers. Having an open dialogue about sex with your child is important to their sexual health and it keeps you in the loop.
Bring out the diagrams and books. (I have linked to a few books to consider.) This can also feel a bit awkward to some people, but knowing about the male and female sexual organs and how they mature is important. Kids are curious about their own bodies and those of the opposite sex, especially when things start to change. If they don't know about intercourse, this is the time to tell them about it; how babies are created; the birth process; the impact babies have on their parents; preventing pregnancy and sexual transmitted diseases; and anything else you find pertinent. During this time be sure to ask your kids if they have any questions and try to answer them as best as you can. If you don't know the answer then find out and get back to them.
Talk about the emotional aspect of relationships and sexuality. What makes a good relationship: love, tenderness, honesty, friendship, respect, responsibility, etc. Talk about dating and what is appropriate and inappropriate for children of your child's age. Talk about being able to say "no" if they are uncomfortable. Talk about peer pressure and how it may affect them and how to overcome it.
Have the morality talk. This is your moral view about sex and when it should occur. I have my views, but it is not my place or anyone else's to tell you what to believe in regards to sex. This discussion should happen between you and your child. It is ideal if you and your significant other have the same moral views about sex/relationships and that these principles are seen by your children on a consistent basis. How a relationship is expressed in a child's home is an indicator of how your child will treat/be treated by their significant other later in life.
Remember: This is a dialogue not a one-way, one-time conversation. Keep the conversation open and check-in with your child from time to time.
A few resources from talkingwithkids.org
- When Benjamin Wants To Know: Family Conversations about the "Facts of Life."
- How to Talk to Your Child About Sex.
Eyre, Linda and Richard.
New York: GoldenBooks, 1998.
- It's So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.
Harris, Robie H. Illustrated by Michael Emberley.
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1999. (All ages)
- It's Perfectly Normal: Growing Up, Changing Bodies, Sex and Sexual Health.
Harris, Robie H.
Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 1994. (Ages 10 and up)
- Sex Is More Than a Plumbing Lesson: A Parent's Guide to Sexuality Education for Infants Through the Teen Years.
Dallas, TX: Preston Hollow Enterprises, 1990.
A few helpful links...
A great site about talking to your kids about sex, drugs, violence, alcohol, and STDs.
A site with different expert advice and parent forums.
A bit more advice
Care to share? How did your parents talk to you about sex?
Ramit Mehta from Mumbai, Maharashtra on June 22, 2013:
I'm a 20 year old and about less than a decade back I went through this phase. I was in an all boys school called St. Mary's in Mumbai and kids tend to learn things earlier here. My parents were visibly surprised when I would come and crack jokes that had some sexual pun connected to them. However, to be honest, we never has THE TALK and I really never felt the need to ask them as I had picked up most of the stuff from the internet or my friends. I did, however, have friends who didn't know these things and then once they did, they'd inappropriately use it, in speech and action. I think in that case, the parent/parents need to begin cultivating a sense of trust in the child, where if he or she feels curious about something they would consider too controversial to talk about, they trust their parents enough to tell them the right thing and so the first thing they do is approach their parents. Sex in India is still taboo, bar the few metropolitan cities, and kids often find it hard to even approach their parents, knowing that their queries will be ignored.
Gregorious on April 12, 2012:
Wonderful hub and I definitely agree with you about honesty and telling your children the correct words for their bodies. Sometimes it's crazy to what length will people go to "protect" their children from anything related to sex.
Kahler on January 27, 2012:
Thanks for this! I'm a Health and Family Life Education teacher and both my husband and I are terrified of the talk with our 12 year old son... This certainly helps... I can teach others but with mine it is so different...
jade on September 18, 2011:
Even I am a kid. But I am 12 I am ready to be taked to but my mum hasn't bothered to ask. I have recently gone through some changes im unawere of but i think i got the meaning of.I a thinking of writing my mum a letter explaining the way i feel. The other children in my class went to a Mother Daughter talk session but i never told my mum. When my friends said it was serious and if i didn't tell her she would i menchened it and she said she would talk to me when im ready. I think im ready but I`m not sure..... Should i be worried because normally when my friends talk about there funny naked encounters we laugh but when i go to ask i nearly feel like crying? Is this normal?
on January 28, 2011:
i have two children a 6yr old boy and a 5yr old daughter.. my son had a encounter with another child of the same age where they were caught naked together. After they got caught me and the other mother had a discussion about what they were doing. They both told us they wanted to know what SEX was. For them being so young we weren't quite ready for this kind of conversation but we had to have "the talk" (We did not have the whole talk in detail) unfortunately it happened again. However this time it was with my son and daughter. They weren't naked but they were playing mom and dad. Nothing happened but i wasn't to sure what to say now. Does anyone have any ideas that may help me talk about it with both of them this time???
Dawn Michael from THOUSAND OAKS on November 04, 2010:
I must say that I really enjoyed this hub! I always hold my breath when I begin to read any articles on parenting, never sure what I will open up and find. I think you are right on topic on so many levels. The point about telling kids about their bodies and the correct word is absolutely true!!!! I also agree with telling them what they ask and not any more unless they ask for more. Many parents tell their children way too much information when it could have been a simple age appropriate answer. It is really surprising how many people are uncomfortable when talking about sex with their kids. The truth is that you want your kids when they are ready to learn it from the parents, not from the school or worse the school ground that is really the job of for the parents. If a parent is uncomfortable with it get a book to help. I remember when my mom sat me down with a book and went over the birds and the bees. I can still remember the book title it was “where did I come from”
My daughter is 7 and she overheard a conversation about a mother that had a baby at 16 then had to give the baby up for adoption and there was no father. She came up to me and said mommy I don’t understand how she had a baby, when she was not married. I have to admit that I gave myself a pat on the back and my husband a kiss for keeping her this innocent still at age 7. I did explain that she was not married at the time and that is why she could not take care of the baby and then I held my breath waiting for her to ask me more…..she said ok and turned around and walked away…..I though right then and there I would have to do the birds and the bee’s but she was satisfied with that and so was I…lol
Could not help but see the question from concerned mom. The answer is you need to investigate where she got this from. It could be as simple as from an older sibling talking to a friend...? but no the part that is strange is saying to lick the mans butt, where did she get this from?
Concerned mom on October 05, 2010:
The other day my daughter was playing with a man and woman barbie and said the the woman barbie to lick the mans butt. Should I be too concerned with this? Or is this another child being curious? She is only six and definitely is never around anything like this or hear anything that is remotely close to this. Any answers would greatly be appreciated. It has me worried?
Jennifer Maldonado from West Palm Beach on July 01, 2010:
Thank you so much for the information. My child is getting to the age when I am soon going to have to speak to her in more detail about the situation. I have found her asking questions as the years go on, and like you said, at a certain age they can only grasp certain things. I do think it is important for us to teach them rather than learning from their peers. This way, they get correct information. Great hub!
ketama on September 07, 2009:
I think it will helps me!
Sufyan Majeed from karachi on July 19, 2009:
i think it will helps us!
Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on May 30, 2007:
My parents made sex taboo. They thought it was "clear" how they felt about it, so the topic went untouched... and I suffered for it. I'd say the most important part of initiating this conversation is opening the lines of communication for an ongoing dialogue. You may be uncomfortable talking to your kids about sex, but think about how much more uncomfortable you'd be with your beloved children blundering through a highly-sexed adolescence with little to no guidance, at the mercy of media stereotypes and peer pressure...
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on October 21, 2006:
jmuriset, I definitely am NOT the best parent of all time, but thanks for the vote of confidence. ;)
Great info, Ralph. You are absolutely right, sex ed. in schools is so important; but I do think that parents need to have a responsibility too. Parents shouldn't leave all of the sex ed talk to the schools. They have the opportunity to impact the sexual health of their children in a positive manner early on in life. I don't remember sex ed until high school. It seems like issues around sexuality are occurring earlier and earlier. Parents may be embarrassed about talking about sex. It is perfectly fine to let your child know this and say, "I am a little nervous/embarrassed about talking to you about sex, but I think that it's too important to ignore". Thanks for your comment.
Ralph Deeds from Birmingham, Michigan on October 21, 2006:
Makes sense. But few parents are very good at talking about sex with their children. That's why sex education in schools is so important, starting early and leading up to comprehensive sex ed in high school or perhaps junior high school. I was fortunate to have had a quite comprehensive sex ed class in my junior year in high school. It was an experimental program, and we were the first class to have it. It covered everything from A to Z using movies, lectures and reports by teams of students on various assigned topics, including prostitution, birth control, STDs, etc. One of the most interesting reports was the one on "sexual anomalies." In that one we learned that there are a lot of very weird people out there. I don't recall that the word abstinence was mentioned. However, at that time sexual activity was close to nil in my school. The message we got in the class was that sex is serious business with a variety of implications, desirable and undesirable. It should be regarded as more than a physical act and reserved for expressing love in a serious and enduring relationship.
jmuriset from Claremont on October 21, 2006:
You might be the best parent of all time. Great hub, Rob!
Robin Edmondson (author) from San Francisco on October 20, 2006:
I hope it helps, even if just a bit. ;)
fyxer from mt vernon on October 20, 2006:
great stuff robin thanks again