How to talk to your children about sex

“Dadda, your penis is bigger than mine.

Mommy, mommy, I have a vagina!” Stated as my daughter entered our bedroom while pulling down her panties to prove her statement.

“Why do you and mommy go on dates?”

These are all questions or statements I’ve heard from my three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter. They are also great opportunities to talk about sex, sexuality, love, and life.

For many parents, when the subject of “the talk” comes up, there is an immediate sense of dread, fear, and anxiety.

The lack of information about sex most children today are armed with stems from the anxiety surrounding the idea of teaching your children about it.  Many parents believe, as perhaps you do as well, that the sex talk is something you have with your child when they’re teenagers. If this is you — um, how can I put this gently? …You’re wrong.

Teaching your children about sex and their sexuality begins at birth. And it begins with the simple labeling of their anatomy. For the record, boys have a penis and girls have a vagina (and actually the vagina is only part of the female genitalia; it actually is called the vulva).  Proper labeling of things will lay the foundation for future discussions.

The reason you want to start early

Studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parents about sex — because their moms and dads speak openly and listen — are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject.

If you are very uncomfortable with the subject, read some books and discuss your feelings with a trusted friend, relative, physician, or clergy member (you can even email me if you like). The more you examine the subject, the more confident you’ll feel discussing it.

Even if you can’t quite overcome your discomfort, don’t worry — just be honest with your kids. It’s okay to say something like, “You know, I’m uncomfortable talking about sex because my parents never talked with me about it. But I want us to be able to talk about anything — including sex — so please come to me if you have any questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out.”

Photo by macinate

Sex education belongs in the home

Think of a sponge (which is what a child’s brain has been referred to as) — it will absorb all that surrounds. But a full sponge can only absorb a little bit while the rest simply rolls off the surface. When you are the primary filler of the sponge, this leaves much less space for the teachings from the world of misinformation (such as locker room talk, peers, the Internet, and porn).

Plus, when you are trusted source of information for your child, your values are more easily included within the discussion.

A word of caution: It’s impossible to have your children adopt your values by force. They must be given the freedom to choose your values.

A few ideas to help:

1. Start early.

Teaching your children about sex requires a continuous flow of information that should begin as early as possible — for instance, when teaching your toddler where his nose and toes are, include “this is your penis” or “this is your vulva” in your talks. As your child grows, tailor the education by adding more information gradually until they understand the subject well.

2. Take the initiative.

If your child has yet to ask questions about sex, look for a good opportunity to bring it up. Say, for instance, a female friend of yours is pregnant. You can say, “Did you notice that Tsh’s belly is getting bigger? That’s because she’s going to have a baby and she’s carrying it inside her. Do you know how the baby got inside her?” Then let the conversation move from there.

3. Talk about more than the “birds and the bees.”

While children need to know the biological facts about sex, they also need to understand that relationships are more than sexual. They involve care, concern and responsibility. By discussing the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship with your child, she will be better informed to make decisions later on and to resist peer pressure.

And if your child is a pre-teen, include some message about the responsibilities and consequences of sexual activity.

4. Take your child on dates.

Dating is one aspect that many parents overlook when discussing sex with their child. The movies display all types of misinformation.  They show two people who meet and later end up in bed together.

In real life, there is time to get to know each other — time to hold hands, go bowling, see a movie, or just talk. Children need to know that this is an important part of a caring relationship. They also need to have this modeled for them.

If you’re a father, take your daughter out on dates beginning now. Model how a man acts: hold the door for her, talk and listen to her, dress up for the date. This will set the bar high for her future dates. The same holds true for sons. Moms can take them out and model how a lady acts.

5. Give accurate, age-appropriate information.

This is important. Talk about sex in a way that fits the age and stage of your child. A four-year-old doesn’t need to know every detail of the sexual acts, but you can lay a solid foundation for later.

For the most part, information they don’t understand will roll off and be understood in a later conversation. Again, you don’t have to go into every detail, but be prepared to later.

Photo by Sugar Pond

6. Anticipate the next stage of development.

Children can get frightened and confused by the sudden changes their bodies begin to go through as they reach puberty. To help stop any anxiety, talk with your kids, not only about their current stage of development, but about the next stage, too. An eight-year-old girl is old enough to learn about menstruation, and a boy that age is ready to learn how his body will soon change.

7. Communicate your values.

It’s your responsibility to let your children know your values about sex. Although they may not adopt these values as they mature, at least they’ll be aware of them as they struggle to figure out how they feel and want to behave.

8. Talk with your child of the opposite sex.

Some parents feel uncomfortable talking with their child about topics like sex if the youngster is of the opposite gender. While it’s certainly understandable, don’t let it become an excuse to close off discussions.

9. Relax.

Don’t worry about knowing all the answers to your child’s questions; what you know is a lot less important than how you respond. If you can convey the message that no subject, including sex, is forbidden in your home, you’re doing great.

Did I miss anything? Add your thoughts in the comments.

top photo source

Corey writes regularly about marriage and relationships on his site, Simple Marriage, which is full of laid back information sure to improve your relationships.You can also catch his radio show - Sexy Marriage Radio, a weekly show filled with straightforward and practical information that will help your marriage.

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  1. Oh, such a great topic…and I really love your take on it and what you included! As a mom of three very young ones right now, I often wonder what a loose timeline is as far as when certain topics should be brought up and talked about–

    Do you have any source for guidance on the age-appropriate details a parent should be offering children as they grow?
    .-= Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog ..The Weekly Beet : Healthy Bones Edition =-.

    • The one my wife and I are using currently with our kids is Where Did I Come From. It’s upfront and open about the entire process. Some of the info is too detailed for our kids to understand yet, but we don’t shy away from it.

      It is also good to watch your kids for cues. They will let you know what they’re interested or unsure about as each stage progresses.
      .-= Corey´s last blog ..How To Talk To Your Children About Sex =-.

      • That’s the book my mom gave me – as I turned out untraumatized, I would say it’s a winner!
        .-= annemarie´s last blog ..playreport =-.

        • This is a great book and I’ve used it many times. This is an incredible post that touches on all of the tough areas in this topic. This is a tough topic for me because it makes me very uncomfortable but I find that when I just bite the bullet and have a conversation it always turns out better than I thought it would.
          .-= Tina´s last blog ..The Bumble Bee Buggy by Little Tikes =-.

    • I would say two years before you think necessary! When I sat down to talk to each of my sons about a phenomenon that happens to young boys at night (yikes, am I typing this online!?), they told me that it had already been happening to them since they were 9 or so!?! You would think I would have learned from my first son, but I repeated the mistake with my second. They grow up so fast, and sometimes puberty-ish things happen way before it looks like it might be happening from the outside.

    • Beth Gillespie says:

      We have an amazing set called “how and when to tell your kids about sex” and it comes with 4 age appropriate books that you read with the child at different ages to prompt and guide conversation. The manual for parents is fantastic and completely sets the stage for a right view of sex, that wil help your child all the way through to adulthood.
      The only downside is the price, we found it pricey, so we have it as a resource with several other families.

  2. In our home we’ve loved (and used) the book How to Talk to Your Child About Sex by Linda Eyre. We love the age-appropriate discussion prompts…from toddlerhood to late teens. True some of the stories or ideas are hoakey…but we just leave those out. It’s a fantastic resource – which can springboard from this blog post. Bravo. And Thank you.

  3. Awesome post! My parents weren’t open about sex but I plan to start teaching my little guy as soon as he begins to understand. He’s 6 months old right now, but it won’t be long before we play the “where’s your nose?” game.

  4. The dating suggestion is an excellent one. Will keep that in mind…

    I wrote about a conversation my son and I had awhile back. Conversations are ALWAYS coming up, but this was one of the more involved ones.
    .-= Jennifer Jo´s last blog ..Concerning cilantro =-.

  5. I’m so glad you used the word ‘vulva’ instead of ‘vagina’. That is one of my pet peeves because the vagina is actually on the *inside* of a female’s body,

  6. I really like this article and can agree with most statements. The point that I’m always missing when talking with my american friends about this subject is that to reduce high risk behaviour you should also allow your children to have a save environment for their first sexual experience and this is in most cases the home of the girl’s family. If the parents don’t allow this, the risk is way higher that the child feels pressured into doing something he/she will later regret only because the oportunities were so limited.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hi Tobias-

      Would you mind expanding on this? My first response, in my head, was WHAT?!……But I don’t want to jump to any conclusions here, and wondered if you would mind expanding on your post…..


      • Okay, I try to explain my point a bit further. If the parent’s home with the parents being at home is not an option, then were else will it happen? On a school field trip, in the forest or on a party or in a hotel? In such a situation the pressure and expectations are high because the time slots are very limited and so it’s difficult to say no. Somewhen it will happen anyway, but when it happens it should be a pleasant experience. So I rather want my child to have a save place where he/she can really have the possibility to do it the first time when he/she is ready for it.
        .-= Tobias Linder´s last blog ..Don’t Worry =-.

        • i normally try not to post negatively toward someone else’s comment but i am appalled by this. actually, i’m disgusted that someone would believe it is appropriate for their CHILD to have premarital sex in the parents’ home with the parents at home. makes me sick to my stomach.

          • One way to incorporate Tobias’ advice, which I find interesting and have not thought much about before, is to broaden the definition of “sexual experiences”. If your personal values preclude premarital sex, maybe it is the first kiss instead. I personally was not ready for sex, and didn’t engage in it, until well into a college relationship, but there certainly were plenty of activities I experienced in high school that were “sexual experiences.”

          • I’m not surprised about the “WHAT?” and the negativ reactions to my comment. 
            While it is completely common in northern Europe for teens to have sex at home with the parents around it always surprised me how even very open minded Americans completely oppose the idea. At the same time international studies  clearly show that teens in the US have earlier sexual encounters with more partners. 
            To us this outrage is quite bigoted or do you really think that the parent’s “NO” will keep a seventeen year old from doing it? It reminds me a bit of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where everybody knows it’s happening but as long as we can pretend it doesn’t our world is alright.
            .-= Tobias Linder´s last blog ..Don’t Worry =-.

          • I appreciate this post and conversation!

            I think being “disgusted” by someone else’s obviously well thought out world belief is unfortunate. We can certainly learn from other parenting styles and become aware of how it makes us feel and whether it affirms what we believe is appropriate for your family.

            I like what Daisy has to say next too.
            .-= hillary´s last blog ..hillaryboucher: RT @ToniRaquel: RT @midwifeamy: Train your hospital staff WHY and *HOW* to do skin-to-skin contact after birth. =-.

          • hillary, with all due respect, i did think about tobias’ believe and “how it made me feel and whether or not it is appropriate for my family.” i could have been more diplomatic in my comment (i.e., sugar coat) but i wrote how it made me feel. you don’t have to agree with it but i think the fact that i have an opinion isn’t “unfortunate”.

        • Jennifer says:

          Thank you Tobias for expanding on this. That’s what I thought you were saying, but again….didn’t want to assume anything. I can’t say that I agree with your opinion, but who’s to say who is right???? To answer your question, the place to be having sex is when they’re away at college…Kind of joking/kind of serious here….I am very against allowing one of my children to have sex in my home unless they’re married. It’s not appropriate……I am also very against them having sex period while in HS, it’s too early! Now, kissing and holding hands is different. If one of them has they’re BF/GF over and they kiss (not mug down) in front of me I don’t think I would have a problem……But I’m not going to supply the love nest either, because if I do then I am saying that having sex that early is okay…….BUT at the end of the day it all goes back to the topic of this post……communication……And yes, I do think that having an open honest relationship with your child with help keep the sex under control. I also believe that we need to remember to be Mom and Dad, not friend…..I thank you again for the honest dialogue on this, I appreciate “hearing” your point of view! 🙂

          • Anna Melua says:

            Dear Jennifer
            I’m sorry to turn this section of the comments into a transatlantic cultural exchange board, but your answer to Tobias just made me very curious. 
            Here, opposing premarital sex is closely associated with religious fundamentalism and thus no real discussion can take place. But in the States this aversion doesn’t seem to stem from purely religious reasons. So, I would be really grateful, if you could patiently explain me a few things I can’t wrap my mind around yet. And please be assured that I don’t mean my questions to be criticism in disguise.
            Do you generally oppose premarital sex, or why is it inappropriate for your kids (let’s assume they’re over 16) to have it in your house?
            While I understand that we want our kids to have sexual experiences rather later than sooner and that we wish for them to only have a very limited number of partners, don’t you think ( especially after having read the part about STD in Meghan’s comment) that while these goals are morally pure they are also quite lofty ones if expanded to all unmarried live?
            And then, don’t you think that setting moral goals that are too ambitious (you kind of seem to assume they’ll have sex in college) will severely hamper honest conversations because the kids will sense your disagreement and stop asking questions to avoid questions from your part?
            Could it be that that the general opposition against premarital sex leads to youngsters marrying too early and thus contributes to the States’ high rate of divorce? 

          • Jennifer says:

            Hi Anna,

            The blog didn’t give me a way to respond directly to your comment, so I have responded to mine hoping you will see it.

            I do not take your response as some sort of criticism, no worries :-). In fact, I welcome honest, respectful dialogue like this. When we have an opportunity to speak honestly in a forum such as this it gives us both an opportunity to learn something and maybe look at an issue from an angle we hadn’t before.

            I’ll try my best here to answer your questions. You are right to be confused. Heck, I’m confused as to why I feel the way I feel on this sometimes! It’s such a personal and heated topic. One that can’t always be explained logically, and with concrete reasons. There is a lot of emotion tied to this one. I do agree that religion plays a huge role here. Even though we have seen a big decrease in the past few decades of Church going Christians within the States, these beliefs still hold strong, and you’re right when it gets to religion reasons, you can’t debate that…….I am obviously speaking only for myself here, but I think part of the struggle we have is that we know how strong the urges to have sex are, especially when you’re a teenager, and you think you’re in love. Most of us probably gave in to that as teens, and lived the hurt when that relationship came to it’s natural end. We don’t want our children to then experience this. In some way, I think it comes down to trying to be responsible parents. Now, please note: I’m not implying that those of you have an opposing view are not responsible parents…I’m just saying that it goes back to that Maya Angelou quote, “When you know better, you do better”. Now, we all know that our children will one day have sex. They’re supposed to! We are supposed to reproduce after all. It’s just that there are a ton of emotions that go into having sex with someone, especially for girls. In fact we now know that when a female is having sex her brain releases petocin (excuse the sp here :-)), which is the same brain chemical that is released during breastfeeding. The purpose of this chemical is to form emotional attachment…….Males do not release this hormone. When it comes down to MOST teenage boys……they just want to have sex, and for the most part they don’t care who with…….We don’t want our girls being used and we certainly don’t want our boys being the users. I am a Christian, I do go to Church every Sunday, but I also agree that preaching to our children not to have sex for religious reasons is not going to work…….I had my first sexual experience in college before I was married, so I’m not going to be a hypocrite and tell my son or daughter (I have one of each) not to have sex before marriage for religious reasons. I will however, explain the emotions that go into it, and how important it is to respect each other. 16 and 17 are too young to have sex. With sex comes potential consequences…btw-I would never advocate unprotected sex btwn unmarried individuals. I have started the sex conversation with my daughter (10), and will soon with my son (5). Of course they both were taught the correct names for body parts, and know the basics, but with my daughter we have gone to more detail. I will also explain my feelings about sex before marriage. They may or may not listen, but just because I think they won’t doesn’t mean I’ll provide them the place to do it……That, in my opinion, would be advocating the behavior. In my mind that would be the same as buying them beer and cigarettes……

            In reality I do understand that sex will be had before marriage, I just would like it to happen when they’re a bit older and can discern when they are really in love and just want to experiment……I don’t feel that, that is too lofty of a goal. I don’t think this view will hamper open conversation with my children and no, I don’t think it leads them to get married young and then lead to divorce. I think that the divorce issue is a whole other conversation! :-).

            I hope I have answered your questions. If I have brought up others from my comments, please feel free to ask!

          • Anna Melua says:

            Dear Jennifer
            Thank you so much for your extensive explanation. I can’t really say that I understood it completely, but I will think about it for another while.

          • hi jennifer – i’d like to thank you for writing what i feel/believe in a way that was less judgmental than what i myself wrote. i can’t say i regret what i wrote because i do feel that way but your lengthier explanation does a better job of expressing what rose my hackles about the comment. i, too, had premarital sex so even though i’m not for it, i’m also not naive. i don’t believe middle school or high school aged kids are ready for sexual relations because i don’t believe they are ready to handle the ramifications (i.e., potential pregnancy, STD, heartbreak of giving ourself to someone who dumps you, etc.).

            i think something else that is culturally different, though, is sex is still thought of (regardless of what hollywood portrays) as a pretty private aspect of our personal lives. the idea of having sex in my parents’ house is just bizarre to me and i’ve been married for eight years and have two kids. and, no, i’m not a prude. i’d just prefer to have sex somewhere that doesn’t involve my parents! 🙂

  7. YES! I completely agree. I grew up in a tiny, tiny very religious town, my family was one of the few exceptions to the extreme ideology. (We’re talking no dating until after high school and the first kiss should be at the alter – with no room for discussion about what comes after that because why would they need to know about sex? They won’t be having sex….right…). I am analytically minded and always asked a ton of questions about everything, still do, and that included my body, human relationships, sex, etc. My parents followed your model here, and because of that my sister and I grew up with fairly healthy age appropriate relationships. My sister was involved with a boy whom started to become abusive, but because she knew what a healthy relationship should be (despite the fact our parents are divorced) she talked to our mom. Mom helped sort out her feelings, little sis realized that this boy was abusive and the relationship ended. Our school had high rates of teen pregnancy (well, the girls just disappeared, usually off to live with an “aunt,” hard to believe that still goes on), and at one point a huge outbreak of one STD. The school had to get involved with the testing and treatment, the parents were livid because the school was bringing up the topic of “sex.” My friends regularly came to me for information, and it was well known that one rather progressive teacher (progressive for that town, most people would see her as responsible) would provide information on contraception and birth control, and GOOD information about sex, since the school and most families only covered abstinence in the briefest of ways.

    My husband and I recently found out that our “little one” is going to be a girl. I certainly plan to handle sexuality the way you advocate. It’s the way he and I were both raised, and I’ve see the disastrous consequences of denying children the truth.

    • Cynthia says:

      I’m from a religious group that believes (and I believe myself) that all premarital sex is wrong. Please don’t stop reading here. If your child truly accepts this belief from a young age, they will be strong enough to stand up for it later. Now, if my kids don’t do that, I’m not “sending them to the aunt”. We’ll work through whatever consequences come up. And I intend to be very open about the subject, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My parents have never spoken to me about sex. Not even when I was getting married. The most difficult part of the lack of information was that I was afraid to flirt, because I didn’t know what was acceptable. I had male buddies out my ears, but rarely dated. So they dropped the ball a bit there, and I don’t intend to. But, the point I’m trying to make is that you can believe in waiting, but still give your kids accurate and full information while conveying that belief. Especially if you are clear that they can come to you no matter what.

      • Cynthia,
        Your post was so lovely that I wanted to thank you for it, even if we don’t share the same beliefs. You’re obviously great at productive dialogue and I expect that means you’ll have an excellent rapport with your children.

        • Cynthia says:

          Thank you Daisy, I appreciate hearing that.

          • Hi Cynthia – I would echo what daisy said…beautifully written. I think some people confuse information with permission, i.e., if we tell them about sex, they’ll run out and have sex, which is obviously not the case.

      • Cynthia, I really appreciated your perspective. I also come from a religious background that stresses that premarital sex is inappropriate. My husband and I were each other’s first sexual partners–and we have taught our children to have the same expectation.

        I realize that this is, of course, a matter of personal discretion, but I just want to say that abstaining from premarital sex is completely possible. And normal. 🙂
        .-= Rachael´s last blog ..home again, home again, jiggety-jig =-.

        • Thanks so much for saying that! I get a little irritated with the “well everyone is doing it anyway” or “you might as well get them on birth control or give them a safe place to have sex because they are going to do it anyway.” People do wait. My husband and I waited. All my siblings did. My parents did. I had many friends in high school who did as well. It IS possible.

          The shows on MTV 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom are very popular. Although I don’t always agree with the content and premise of each show, almost every single girl regrets having sex and many wish they would have waited until they were married.

      • Thank you, Cynthia, for your post. I appreciate a person with convictions. I especially appreciate a person that is unafraid to share those convictions. I, too, believe that God created sex for a married couple to enjoy and for the purpose of reproduction. I plan to be open and honest with my two daughters about sex. However, I will also be honest with them about God’s plan for marriage and sex as well. I will under no circumstances provide a place for my children to have premarital sex! I hope that more mothers have your courage to stand up for what God has ordained. I will be in prayer for my daughters that the cultural environment in which they will be raised will not take precedence over the values which will be instilled within our home.

  8. Stefani M. says:

    I’m dealing with this right now a bit. I’ve found it’s easiest to just let things come up naturally. No need to force information on them when they are not ready. When they are ready, you’ll know and they’ll learn bit by bit at a natural pace in an order that makes sense to their developing minds–which will be different for each kid–at least that’s my opinion. From the beginning, we’ve called our children’s privates by proper names (vulva and penis), which was hard at first, because the last thing you want is YOUR child to be the one blurting out that they have a vulva in the middle of church, but I’ve learned to get over that (I came from a more prudish family in that regard… when we had to learn sex-ed in school, and I had questions on a worksheet I couldn’t answer, my Mom just handed me a medical dictionary, and that was that). Anyway, I’m now expecting baby #3 in two months, and my daughter (5 years old) already knows that babies come out of vulvas. This happened because the baby would kick and I would joke that he’s trying to come out my belly button. She laughed knowing that a baby would NOT fit out of a belly button. So, I matter-of-factly told her that babies come out of vulvas (yes, yes, more the vagina of course, but we use vulva as an all encompassing private parts area identifier, but it’s not wholly untrue either.. and eventually she’ll ask for more specific information when she’s ready to learn more). When I was at my sister-in-laws house the other day, her six-year-old and I were talking about the baby kicking, and I again joked about the baby trying to come out my belly button, but how that’s a silly idea. My sister-in-law then said, “For all he knows they do.” Seriously? Oh my goodness.

    • Rhonda35 says:

      I commend your use of proper wording, etc. with your kids, Stefani. I had to giggle though, at your comment regarding your daughter understanding that a baby can’t fit through a belly button. I have to say, there were quite a few times during labor when I was pretty sure a baby wasn’t going to fit through my vagina, either!! 😉

      When our son was about 5, he kept asking how babies get out of their mothers’ bellies. He wasn’t ready for the full explanation at that point, so I just told him that “they push their way out.” He was completely satisfied with that answer, it wasn’t overwhelming information for him and it also wasn’t a lie. So, I guess my point is that, when it comes to our children, we usually have a sense of when they are ready for information and how much they can handle at one time.

      I’m enjoying the comments on this topic because it really shows how differently people handle the issue and how most of those various ways are workable answers. It all depends on the kid, in general.

  9. I love this. My mom was always crazy open and almost pushy about being open about sex and I was so mortified at the time, but so appreciative now. Especially when I compare what I learned from my parents to what my husband learned. Vast difference. We’re definitely going for my side of the family’s approach. We were planning a homebirth earlier this year and so I wanted to prepare my daughter – who is three- it was the perfect opportunity to start her on all the correct information. I’m not totally sure that the preschool appreciated it, but I had a little moment of pride when at circle time she said – my mommy’s boobs will make milk for the baby to drink!
    .-= darah´s last blog ..first and last =-.

  10. Michelle says:

    My daughter was very curious, even at 2, when I was expecting her younger brother. We found “Amazing You” (forgive me for not looking up the author this minute) and it is a great book for preschoolers. I really like the part where it says “We may have funny names for our privates” and it shows a Grandma reacting when a child uses the proper word! Love it, my mother is so prim and I unfortunately learned about sex from porn at a friends house. We now have 4 kids and pregnancy is a wonderful time to talk about our bodies. I love the part of your post where you talk about dating! You are so right about the movies showing couples meeting and then in bed. That was a very helpful suggestion.

  11. This is a great example of why I like reading the simple mom blog even though I am young and don’t have children yet. There’s such a wealth of information here about things to think about with children and the future.

  12. i have just been thinking about this and wondering when/how to start discussing things with our three year old daughter. really enjoyed the colum. guess the one thing i feel is missing (ironically the thing i need the most!) is a cheat sheet on what to discuss at what age, i.e., three year olds – sexual organs, etc. would love if you would do another post with this information – thanks!

  13. This is BY FAR the best post I have seen on this topic. So well organized and straightforward. I like that you noted that parents should try to get comfortable talking with their children of the opposite sex. To take that notion one step further, I believe both parents should be having these conversations and it’s a good idea to talk to each other and get on the same page first.

    Our current challenge — and advice is welcomed — is that our 3 year old son is alarmed by and anxious about his erections (particularly when he’s trying to pee). Beyond letting him know that this is a natural thing that happens to all men and boys, and that it will go away after a while if you relax and leave the penis alone (he makes things worse by trying to force it down when he’s on the potty), what else can we do to alleviate his concerns?
    .-= Daisy´s last blog ..To Breed or Not To Breed — That Was the Question =-.

  14. Brittany says:

    I have found with my kids that they each need a different level of detail about sex. When I was pregnant with my third child, my then 4 and 2 year olds definitely had questions and I answered them at as high a level and simply as possible. If they didn’t have any follow up questions, then we left it at that. If they had more questions, then I answered whatever they asked. My middle child is still content with the high level basics, while my oldest (now almost 7) wanted a lot more detail about the mechanics of sex (How exactly does the sperm get into the mommy? etc.).

    We have always taught the kids the correct names for their anatomy (though we do use vagina instead of vulva because that is the term that I always used growing up and it is a habit at this point) because an elbow is an elbow and a penis is a penis. Knowing the correct names for their private anatomy can also lower their chance of being victimized. As part of all of this, we also talk about the fact that penises, bottoms, and vaginas are private parts and while it is okay for the kids to touch their own private parts in the privacy of their own rooms, it is not okay for someone else to look at or touch their private parts (except their doctor while mom or dad is in the room) or for someone else to ask them to look at our touch the other person’s private parts.

  15. I’ve just talked about sex like I talk about cooking or reading a book or whatever – it’s just part of life and I figure treating it like no big thing will, hopefully, help my kids feel comfortable w/ their body questions and be able to come to me with questions or thoughts.

    It’s not always easy and comfortable (I was raised in a very repressed household!) – but they deserve truthful answers to their curiosity about their growing bodies.
    .-= deb the Turtle´s last blog ..Mondays Meanderings =-.

  16. I couldn’t agree more on the basic idea that sex education belongs at home. I also agree on using correct names for parts of the body – interesting how small details like that can end up making a BIG difference on views and conversation. Thanks Corey!
    .-= Susan´s last blog ..Quick and Easy No-Bake Scotcheroos – Jen Tilley =-.

  17. Hi Corey – Great topic and one all parents can appreciate.

    This year, we had a meeting with our 10 and 12 year old to discuss our expectations about dating and sex. Up until then we’ve used real-life examples to talk about the reality of sex (unplanned preganancies, rocky relationships where people get married for the kids, etc.) so this was a really open way to approach it.

    It wasn’t as “horrifying” as you might imagine and it really presented our values as a united team.

  18. Yes! Sex education NEEDS to be done by parents. I never remember being very curious about it, so I didn’t really ask questions (I’m pretty sure my parents would have answered, but they wouldn’t bring the subject up on their own). By the time I hit my first sex-ed class in 6th grade, I was woefully underinformed. I knew that boys had a penis and a little bit about menstrual periods… and that was it. I didn’t even really know where babies came from or how they got out (my mother would talk about my birth – but it was a C-section).

    I’m struggling a little bit now with how we start talking about it with our 2-year-old, especially when I am pregnant with our second child.

  19. I love the idea of my husband taking our daughter on dates so she can see how she needs to be treated, I think that would be so special! And I would love to do it with my son too 🙂 I find there are a lot of good books for kids out there about how they were made, and I think they are a great resource. I also believe that being informed as a small child will make it less uncomfortable when they hit puberty. Knowledge is power right (or something like that 😉
    .-= amber´s last blog ..My Little Boy Can READ! =-.

  20. If you’re religious, include prayer in the time you spend talking with your kids. While a lot of “sex education” comes from casual conversations as things come up, there’s usually at least one “big” talk.

    When my my husband was a boy and having this conversation with his dad, my father-in-law began by saying, “I have something very important and special to talk about. It’s so important and special that I want to have a prayer before we begin.” This began an open communication between the two of them that lead right up to my husband asking questions the week before our wedding.
    .-= Joanna @ Starving Student Survivor´s last blog ..Make Your Own Sour Cream =-.

  21. We talked about parts and sex and puberty, etc, just like it was any other thing in our house. Still do as the kids are teenagers, except now they’re the ones who get embarrassed. 🙂 Do they hide stuff from me? Absolutely. They’re teenagers. But do they come to me when they need to? Absolutely.

    As far as the values catching on, I tried talking to them about dating (or not dating, really) starting really young. I have one who decided to date as many as possible to narrow the field and one who watched the older sibling and decided that was stoopid and won’t date until old enough to find a mate. Thankfully, we’re open enough to talk talk about those things, too.

    Tobias, I can’t say I agree with you about giving my kids permission to have sex in my house, but I appreciate you sharing your opinion. It’s good to hear things from a different point of view, especially one as well thought out as yours.

  22. I also wanted to add that making sex an unacceptable and ‘feared’ topic in your family can have the opposite outcome expected as well. What I mean is that people fear their children will turn to their peers for information. My parents talked with me once. Ever. And it was far from age appropriate (little cartoons in upper elementary). I was too embarrassed to let my friends know I knew nothing (and too scared to talk with my family), so for years I laughed at jokes I didn’t understand and avoided the topic altogether when I could.
    Now my husband and I are continuing to battle that. After being together for several years, I’ve only begun to be comfortable with sexuality in conversation and in actuality. I don’t want my daughter to grow up uneducated either, and am really trying to break through my own barriers to teach her a healthy understanding of sex.
    Great article, thanks!

  23. Celina Green says:

    Great post and great comments – It’s great to hear other points of view and experiences!

    One thing I would add is don’t use funny names to refer to the penis and vagina/vulva. If you can’t say penis/vagina/vulva to a 12 month old then it will be that much harder to say it to your 10 year old. I have heard the strangest names that some parents have used and it just makes me wonder . . .

  24. This was a great post Corey!! I have a 3 year old and a 4 year old and am pregnant with my third. They ask me questions all the time about why my belly is getting bigger and now they understand that mommy has a baby in her belly, and that is what happens with “grown up girls” sometimes. They ask where the baby comes out, and because they are one boy and one girl, and know the proper names of their private parts, its easy to explain to them that baby will come out of mommy’s vagina when its big enough. I love that they ask these kinds of questions and I’ve just never had a big deal with talking about it.

    Such an important topic for your kids to learn from their parents.
    .-= Keya´s last blog ..Eating Traditional Foods While Traveling – Mission Impossible? =-.

  25. Great post. I liked the idea of taking kids on dates—really good advice.

    I’ve written about this topic, about one of the more in depth conversations I’ve had with my son. Stressful, yes indeed, but at the same time, they are plenty of fun, too!
    .-= Jennifer Jo´s last blog ..Concerning cilantro =-.

  26. This is such a great article and I am so appreciative of the civil discussion of different opinions. I have a 7 year old and a 3 year old and I would recommend the book “What’s the Big Secret: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys” by Laurie Brown Ed.D. and Marc Brown (of Arthur fame). I bought it for my older son but it’s my younger daughters’ favorite book. 🙂 She “reads” it almost every night!

  27. Fantastic. My girls both know all the names of their private parts and a boy’s private parts too. I read a great book by Meg Hickling who likens talking to young children about sex as “body science” so when parents get a bit turned off by the subject they can see the benefits of it in a new light. The book basically says that a child will only take in what they can understand anyway, so if you find yourself in a position of answering a question about how babies are made, tell them the truth. It is us, the parents who have the discomfort. Our kids will only feel that way if we do, so let’s teach them healthy self-confidence, knowing they won’t necessarily understand it all anyway. And in talking openly we are helping to protect them from sexual abuse too.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Questions For You About Nursing Your Toddler =-.

  28. Hi- I just wanted to add that I used to tell my girls to call their “down there” parts vagina, but it really is very inaccurate. Now I much prefer the term yoni which is a sanskrit word for female genitals. It sounds much softer and encompasses the entirety.

    • Christi says:

      Jamie, we started with vulva but ended up using yoni too. To me, it sounds both cute and respectful.

  29. What a great discussion. Thank you.
    My kids are 5, 3 and 1. So the eldest has definitely seen and asked about where babies come from. I got “Where did I come from” because I love revisiting books from my childhood. I answered questions as best I could, just as I do when I am asked about why is it night time in Australia when it is daytime here and why do we have to say please and thankyou. So far its easy. As for teenagers…. lets hope I am ready for that when they get there.
    Interestingly, my parents were always open and honest about sex and the body. I don’t remember ever “finding out” about sex, so I guess I learnt pretty young. My parents were fairly accepting also of teenage relationships. Yet I still made some really poor choices as a teenager. It just reminds me that our kids are not the result of singular parenting choices and our own individual beliefs. They are raised in a community of ideas and influences. We can offer them our thoughts but we cannot shape their lives, nor should we try to.

  30. Thanks Corey! This is a great post. I especially love the idea of taking kids out to dates so that we can model the desired behaviour AND set the bar for future dates! I think my husband would love to take our only girl out…she would love to be pampered and it would certainly help to lessen the anxiety (ours as well) of going out with a boy!

  31. I agree with most of the post and found the comments interesting to read as well. I grew up in a very open family. All my questions were answered in an honest age appropriate manner. I knew everything before I hit the education classes at school, my husband however grew up with the idea of sex being a dirty word, and not to be talked about.

    I answer all my children’s questions in an open, age appropriate manner. I don’t get flustered or embarrassed, it’s a comfortable conversation. If I feel they are asking a question that is not age appropriate, I simply tell them that it’s a good question, but they don’t need to know about that right now, and will telling them when they get a little bit bigger. This doesn’t bother them at all, they trust me and I’ve left the door open for later down the road. What is age appropriate for every family is different based on their beliefs. I know I’m in the minority, but we don’t use the technical terms for private parts. We use the term private parts, not silly names, because no matter what you call them they are private. I still feel I am being honest with them. I find it interesting that it is such a hot topic. We don’t call the rear end, butt or hiney the glutmous maximus or the head the cranium or the fingers digits. I don’t feel the argument of privates being just another body part like your nose or ears is a good one. It’s not just another body part, it’s special, hence private. I really feel that no matter what you end up doing, it’s all a matter of having an open, trustworthy relationship, and that encompasses a lot more than sex education.

  32. This is awesome. My son was 2 when I was preggers with his brother and demanded to know how the baby got in there and how it would get out . . . and I told him. I explained to him the basic mechanics of the sex act, that the baby would grow in my tummy and then come out my vagina. I had a homebirth and I really didn’t want him shocked by anything. People around me were horrified when he would explain how “his baby” would come out. It was a little funny when he kept asking to look under ladies’ dresses to see if their baby was coming out but I could not believe the flack I got that summer.

    Oh and I’m so glad that you used the correct terms for the parts. I grew up with sugarbowl (vagina) and puddin twirl (penis) as my terms of use. HORRIBLE I tell you. I have forbidden those words from being said to my children.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Dealing with Mommy Guilt Pt. 2 =-.

    • Wow — I am sorry you grew up with such a dangerous way to describe body parts. Sugar Bowl and Puddin Twirl are essentially pornographic to my mind. It’s over-sexualizing our children way before they are ready. (On top of that I’ll now be stuck with Sheena Easton in my head for the rest of the day!)
      .-= Daisy´s last blog ..Lesson One for Avoiding Becoming a Too, Too Mama — Just Hush Up. =-.

    • Sugar Bowl and Puddin Twirl? OMG, the things some parents do…in the name of love I guess. Kuddos to you for teaching you son better and explaining the birthing process. I had 2 home water births. My daughter, who was 2 at the time, walked into the bathroom just as I was about to push her brother out into the water. She saw the whole thing and watched in amazement with a smile on her face. It was priceless!

  33. Corey,

    Great post! (and another vote for Where did I Come from)

    I’ve said for years that the person who teaches the biology of sex is the one who also teaches the “theology” of sex. IOW, if you want to have any input about how they percive sex, and what they think about it, you better have the major input into what they know about the parts and practices of sex. And that means you have to get there before the school, the TV, and their friends.

    .-= Paul Byerly´s last blog ..Shakeing things up a bit =-.

  34. What a great post! I also enjoyed the diversity of the discussion that followed.

    Our family has followed the ‘organic’ approach. We’ve answered each individual question – honestly – as it has come along; but I’ve been surprised that the questions didn’t go further than they did. So in a way, I’ve been biding my time to get to the nuts & bolts of things. 😉 For us, a homeschooling family, we enjoy teaching our children all subject matter in due course. A study of the human body and its functions is scheduled for next year’s curriculum & I’m very much looking forward to teaching my children about the beauty of sexuality during that time. It’s been an amazing gift in my life & I hope they will find a mom & dad that can offer a joyful view of that gift.

    Relationship, communication, freedom to learn & grow ~ those are the things I think will matter in the long run, whether you call a penis a penis or a ‘puddin’ twirl.’ 🙂

    Thanks for posting!

    PS ~ the book we have that we will use next year is called “The Wonderful Way Babies Are Made” by Larry Christenson. FYI: This is a Christian resource that encourages sexual relationships between a husband and wife. It offers two stories in one ~ one less detailed version for very young children, and one very detailed version for older children. A great book!

  35. I so loved this post. My favorite idea too was the take-you-kids-out-on-dates role modeling. I’d never even considered doing that.
    I shared this post on my blog today, Rosie Girl Dreams. It can be found at:
    Thanks again!
    .-= Rosie Girl´s last blog ..Sharing Saturday | Think of Those in Need =-.

  36. This is a great topic, Corey! Our girls are still young (ages 1 & 3), but we do many of the things that you wrote about in this post already. We don’t make a big deal about the topic. We just answer questions as they come up – honestly, respectfully, and age-appropriately.
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Focused =-.

  37. Great post! As someone who’s sex talk was simply “Here, read this”, I want to make sure my son gets a better education, even if I do find it awkward.

  38. hi

    This is really very interesting and practical post..
    I definitely agree with you that the proper to educate children about sex is when they are still young.
    Although others they cant understand but as son as they gets older they will gonna understand the informations clearly….

  39. We have a slightly different spin on things here, because my daughter’s own story is not your typical “when a man and a woman love each other very much . . . . ”

    She was conceived through IVF using my parter’s egg and anonymous donor sperm, and I carried her.

    We’ve been telling her the story of how she was made since she was literally a few days old, and a few weeks ago (she’s a couple months shy of 3) she started telling it back to us.

    (Which is, I must say, the most adorable thing ever. Complete with ey-uhgs and spewm and da embweeoh wight in Mama’s utuhwus, and Mama puuuuuushed (me) out Mama’s utuhwus fwew Mama’s ‘agina!)

    We’ve also told her about how “most babies are made,” (“the man uses his penis to put the sperm in the woman’s vagina”) and since there aren’t any penises in our family, we try to give her opportunities to see little boys (cousin, friends) having diaper changes and such, so that she will at least be familiar with what they look like (it’s really kind of hard to explain to someone who’s not seen one!) and they won’t be some big mystery to her.

    Oh, and we use the term “vulva” here, too, but she also knows about the vagina, mostly in the context of birthing babies and where that tampon is disappearing to 🙂

  40. Wow! This is one of the most candid articles on this subject and rightly so! I grew up with a terrible knowledge because I used to be a messenger of “love” for my big step-brother (he would give me notes to his inaccessible GFs in our area because I was so cute at the time, I could get into any house without being challenged and deliver those notes). The girls would later turn up for sex. My mom just said to me, “Do you want to leave your life like that?” Then because my father had a pharmacy business, young people would come for medicine because of their STDs. That combination was seemingly all it took for me to know that illicit sex was a no-go. Then coupled with Church teachings that premarital sex was fornication, it became like a three-fold cord, which could not be easily broken. That combined information helped me resist the mind-breaking pressures (and still does).

    In summary, I never had sex until marriage. I was naive, but enjoyed that naivety both then and now (after two kids). The thing is there is nothing wrong with sharing our experiences with our children, just a little at a time see help them resist peer pressure and see them achieve the seemingly impossible. You’d be amazed at how sharing your experiences – heartbreaks, fun, etc. would help your kids later in life when they actually need to be practical.

    Thanks so much for a well-written article.

  41. Great post. Couldn’t agree with you more on all 9 points. Nice to find another person who takes a sex-positive approach to sex education. I especially liked the idea of the father taking his daughters on “dates” to show how men should treat women. Keep up the good work!

  42. i think it’s really a shame that this post didn’t address how ill-served gay and lesbian kids often are by sex ed. it’s important to let kids know from a very early age that boys don’t always fall in love with girls or vice-versa. so much of the family strife that accompanies many children’s coming out process is wrapped up in the fact that because they’ve only heard their parents express a certain type of relationship future for them that they feel they are somhow ‘letting their parents down’ by not ‘living up’ to that image. having conversations with children from an early age about the diversity of loving relationships is important to avoid major family drama down the road. (use real life examples to make this easier to talk about!)

    finally, i’ll just touch on how damaging hetero-only sex ed is for gay kids by relating my own experience. i grew up in a very conservative area, where the sex ed class sophomore year of high school (which was way too late as evidenced by the pregnant girls who had already started popping up in the hallways in middle school!!!) consisted of a wildly uninformed gym coach who only talked about abstinence– which when you think about it is sort of like a geometry teacher who refused to talk about shapes. same-sex relations were never mentioned (which is ironic as there were 4 gay boys in the class). even though i considered myself pretty well-informed by the time i had penetrative sex for the first time (at 16), i later realized that i had actually put myself at risk for contracting std’s because i used an oil-based lubricant with latex condoms. this is really basic information that i should have known, but because i had never had comprehensive sex ed or any other person to ask about things like that, i didn’t know better. in retrospect, it makes me really angry (and sad) to think that the school system and the community in which i grew up cared so little about me that they would rather put my life at risk than give me basic information about health and sexuality.

    • You’ve go a really good point, there. I am heterosexual, but I realize homosexuality was never mentioned in my sex education. That is a big flaw. I hope it has been added to the program since then. My son will start kindergarten in the fall, but he already knows that some boys go out with boys, as some girls go out with girls. I hope this knowledge will help him feel any orientation is ok, and not be ashamed by what he may feel, or be judgmental of others.

  43. I would say that this post was just written for me…I just loved it…I knew that i need to talk with my daughter about sex but i could not…After reading this post, i am going to definitely talk with my daughter…i really appreciate the time and effort you have put in this post…Very very thanks….Hoping for some more posts in future also…

  44. I wish my parents were more open with me. Im 15, and its really hard for me to talk to my mom.. And i really wish i could, but shes always given me this feeling that she doesnt care in a way. And when ever i have tried talking to her about a boy, she gets really uncomfortable.. She doesnt tell me, but i see it in her body language and facail expressions SO i just kind of decided to keep to myself now. And, i dont want to make that mistake with my children if in the future i decide to have any, i dont want my daughter going online trying to look for answers or advice like i have.. It sucks.

    • My mom was just like yours. My mom’s closed-mindedness led me to do all sorts of foolish things, putting myself and others at risk. I had my first sexual activity at only 12, and later dated men way older than me. I am now 35 and have 2 kids, and I do my best to be a better teacher and be more open. When I was younger, I didn’t have anyone to trust in that regard, so my advice to you would be that if you can’t talk about sex and relationships with your mom, find another adult that you trust (a teacher, a neighbor, a friend’s mom…) who could just share with you and offer you advice if you need to. Good luck!

  45. Misty Young says:

    Hi , I was wondering how do I a single mother talk to my son about him getting a boner , when I don’t even understand or really know what it is ? He is 12 years old and one day he came up to me and ask ” Mom why is my thingy sticking out ? ” I told him that he is having a boner . Then he ask ” Whats a boner ? ” And I couldn’t answer him ! What do I do , help me !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  46. I am the parent, of a preteen, who has practiced most of the actions suggested in the article since my daughter was a preschooler. But I would like to add a few more suggestions based on what is happening with sex ed in my home right now. My daughter and I (and her father) have a very good two way communication relationship for virtually all topics, and she is used to our using the teachable moments… and she will also come to us directly for clarification on issues she doesn’t understand. But I have noticed that even my very “with-it” kid doesn’t always put every thing we talk about together in ways I might expect. If you want to know what your child understands, believes and feels themselves about sex–ask them. As parents we often look for help to tell us what to say… but we also need to remember to open up the topic for our children to tell us back what they have “soaked up”. I “brought up the topic” by asking my daughter to “tell me how she would explain sex to a friend (of same age) who had (hypothetically) asked her because he/she wasn’t comfortable asking his/her own parents”. I casually prompted her to “tell me all about sex” while I went about some household chore, ’cause mom staring at her while she filled me in could make her nervous or something :). Her response was not incorrect sexual information, in fact she sounded very much like a 7th grade biology textbook. But her response was not as complete as I would have thought for the amount of time we have openly talked about sex. So, and this is my second suggestion- we talked about it some more. And she asked new questions I had never heard before, and asked questions related to old conversations. Talking about the same stuff again as you child gets older will help them to fill in the gaps and clarify misconceptions. And my third suggestion- and I offer this with all due respect to any and all personal, cultural and/or religious beliefs your family may hold about sex- tell your kids about the depth and breadth of sex beyond the options you would have them choose. We have choosen to share the following definition of sex. Sex is the stimulation of any body part that elicits sexual arousal- by any means (mouths, fingers, apparatus, other sexual organs) by any partner. We also share our beliefs on what forms of sex we feel are healthy and/or align with our moral values, including the time and place for sex. We have also had detailed conversations concerning what forms of sex can transmit disease- and how. We have shared ours and others beliefs on the “purpose” of sex. As a women, my greatest hope is that my daughter will feel comfortable and uninhibited in the sexual identity she chooses for herself (especially if she chooses more conservative and traditional preferences*). But realistically I want my daughter to feel at ease (or at least not shocked or confused) amonst all notions of what the kids and the world around her have about sex- so that she will feel more confident with her choices (which I hope will be informed and healthy ones.) *to clarify: I find it ironic and unnecessary that a woman who has a religious or conservative outlook, can feel prudish or inhibited while practicing sex in ways that align with her moral beliefs. Talk early, talk often, talk extra and tell them to talk back!

    • Very good advice, thank you! I do often ask my 4 yo son to explain things to me. It is interesting to see what they know or how they interpret what we tell them. Sex is just another subject!

  47. Parents should be aware that too much information too young can be VERY uncomfortable for kids, and communicate accordingly. Not only may the parents be uncomfortable, kids may be too (if there hasn’t been open communication in the past.) I disagree with the ages stated. Most girls will not start menstruating until 11-12, so why discuss it at 8? Unless your daughter watches a bunch of TV and has friends discussing this (definitely not the 8 year olds I know) you can wait a year or two. Why freak your daughter out about something she is not going to experience for another 2-3 years?

    • I don’t think talking about the menstrual cycle would freak out an 8 yo. I guess it all depends how you explain it, but you could just tell her that this will happen in the next years, without details. If she asks for more, she is ready to hear it.

      I had my periods on the first day of school when I was 12 yo. I had never been told about it, and there was NO pad or tampon in the house. Can you believe I still resent my mom for that? I think I would compromise for talking about it around 9 or 10 yo and then explain ALL about it. The how, the when and the why.

    • Rachel – many girls are menstruating earlier these days. I read an article recently that said the average first age has dropped significantly in the last 40 years. I have more than one friend whose daughter got her first period at age 9 or 10. So yes, you really do need to start talking to them about it around age 8 so they are prepared if it happens early.

  48. Obviously a hot topic! I see why this was re-posted.
    Great post, Simple Marriage!

  49. I’m very glad to see such a well written article regarding this topic. My parents NEVER talked to me about sex, changes that the body go through, etc. I was on my own. What I learned was from peers, movies, and sex ed (which, at that age, I certainly didn’t want to ask questions and take the risk of being made fun of by my friends). I learned the hard way. However, after many, many mistakes I survived, and am able to sit and talk with my 7 year old son openly about the questions he has. It was uncomfortable at first, but he trusts me, and comes to me now with any questions he has, and for that I am grateful. Talk with your kids.

  50. >>>>”For many parents, when the subject of “the talk” comes up, there is an immediate sense of dread, fear, and anxiety”<<<<<

    Yep! Even when I read your title I got all anxious inside. Isn't that wierd? Thanks for this. It was the last thing on my mind this morning but you have lots of good tips.

  51. Rhonda35 says:

    When our son began asking questions that needed more in-depth explanations, I went to the children’s librarian at the local public library and she recommended a fantastic book called It’s So Amazing. Our son was a bit shy about discussing the answers to his questions if the answers were more than a sentence, so I left the book on his nightstand, told him to look through it and, if he had questions, his father and I would be happy to answer them. After a few days, I checked in with him and he had bookmarked the pages regarding things he wanted more explanation about – it was a great way of broaching the subject on his terms and we had a frank and quite interesting discussion without any squirming on the part of child or adult alike!

  52. Hi Corey! I LOVE this article. I’m a mom of a 9 & 7 year old and really enjoy answering their questions about sex…probably because my mom was so tight lipped about the subject. I particularly like your point about taking the kids on dates and showing them how to behave and what to expect. Our children need us to step up and give them leadership and guidance…that starts with honesty. Thanks again!

  53. Good article. I was raised with virtually no information at all, as was my husband, and we decided that we would do things differently. We have 2 daughters, both grown, and we started talking early on and never stopped. One day when my girls were pretty young, the topic of STDs came up, so we talked. My oldest really struggled with this and wasn’t so sure she wanted to have sex for fear of catching one of these diseases. I tried my best to reassure her that it was a lifestyle issue more than anything else. About that time my husband came home from work for lunch, and as soon as he was in the door I outright asked him “Are you afraid of catching an STD?” Once he recovered, he said “No.” I asked, “Why not?” He said, “Because I don’t have sex with anyone but you.” That seemed to satisfy my daughter, since there was no way that could have been ‘rehearsed’. Not too long ago she was home for a visit and that incident came up. “Remember that time . . .?” We had a good laugh about it, but she did say that she appreciated us being so straightforward with her. She never doubted that she could come to us with ANYTHING!

  54. Maybe it’s just me (and my age group), but I cringe every time I hear a toddler refer to his penis or to her vagina. With both of my kids (one now in college, one becoming a teen), we used euphamisms (winkie and woo-woo) until they were old enough to develop discretion and understand that one does not come running out of the bathroom at a dinner party, for instance, screaming about “I have poop all over my vagina!” (as a friend’s daughter once did) or announce, rather loudly in church, “My penis is itching!”

    • I don’t like using the euphanisms because it almost downgrades the beautiful body parts God created. We call “a nose” a nose. “A hand” a hand. Why do we have to have juvenile names for a penis and a vagina? My parents did that, and by the time I got to 7th grade sex ed, I was almost afraid to call the parts by their names. We taught our kids (who are very young ages 6,4, and 2) the actual names. We’ve talked about privacy and when to talk about certain subjects. Even if they occassionally would say something in public, I would remind them of “privacy.” Honestly it would not be a big deal to me.

  55. This is such an important topic- one thing to consider is to protect children as much as possible from the over-sexualized media- katy perry songs anyone?!

  56. I appreciate this post and have several “take aways” from it, moving forward. One thing that a few people have touched on, but this definitely ties in with – is sexual abuse. One in four girls and one in six boys will experience a form of sexual abuse by age 18. That is heartbreaking. We as a society need to take the blinders off and wake up. It isn’t just some Jerry Sandusky/far away thing that happens. Look at your kid’s class. Do the math. We all need to equip our children so they are not victimized. Calling vagina or vulva or penis – the REAL words – and teaching them who should see these private areas and who should not – is important. A sexual predator is just like any predator in the animal kingdon – they choose the weakest. A child who says, “Don’t touch my penis!!” to a predator, is obviously strong and will not be victimized. One who doesn’t understand the words for body parts, and is unaware of simple mechanics – ripe for victimization. I agree with everyone who talks about the appropriate age for everything, but starting very young with the right names and a concept of privacy could save a child from a lifetime of hurt. Corey, I’d encourage you to do a post on this topic – how to prevent sexual abuse. A nonprofit who works in this area, called Darkness to Light, is a great resource. They offered a free class at our hospital so I took it. Great information, and should be disseminated more to the general public. Please everyone – let’s stand up to this issue and not let our children be victimized!

    • Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t even think about the correlation between calling the parts by their right names and sexual abuse. Good point.

  57. Great post, thank you. Since folks have been asking for more resources, may I offer up a few favorites? First, the book “From Diapers to Dating” by Debra Haffner (and it’s followup, whose title I can’t remember, that covers the high school years) has a similar viewpoint to this post, and offers ideas of what to discuss at different ages, from toddlers to middle schoolers. Second, many UCC and UU congregations offer “Our Whole Lives” (OWL) classes about sexuality for learners in kindergarten through high school. Most are happy to include children and teens who are not a part of their congregations. The curriculum covers mechanics, but also relationships and emotions, and is fully accepting and inclusive of homosexuality and alternative expressions of gender. It is a religious curriculum, and so it isn’t for everyone, but I appreciate that it includes more thought about spirituality of sexuality than can be covered in a school setting.

  58. Loved this post!
    I will keep in mind the date thing, since I have 2 boys. I will definitely show them how a lady should be treated.
    I would have added the Oedipus complex phase. I knew it meant kids were attracted to the parent of the opposite sex, but I learned just recently how it works. And the reaction of the parents is crucial.
    For example, when the little boy says he wants to marry his mom, the mom explains why it is impossible, and what kind of man she likes (and married). That is when the boy will take this model to grow up, so he can be loved by his mom this way. By then, of course, he should be attracted by other girls. Same goes with the opposite sex.
    I found that really helpful and would love a post on that, because I feel I still can’t explain it the way I would like to. 😉

  59. That is actually one important topic that most parents overlook. I am one of those parents who had the idea that the sex talk should come when the child is a teenager but I guess I was wrong. Thanks a lot for sharing. I will have to reconsider and start having the talk with my 5 year old boy.

  60. Kristen says:

    Not sure if this has been posted or not, but the children’s book “Where Willy Went” is a fabulous way to start the conversation and plant the seed for future conversations about sex. I think it’s a great book and even lent it to middle school and high school health teachers I have worked with in the past (I’m also a teacher) and they read it to their students when doing the reproduction unit. Granted, they went much further into detail but it was a great ice breaker to open the discussion…

    • cynthia says:

      We loved this book, too. My son’s name is Will and he was intrigued by the book bearing his name. We also own a book that we used to assist with educating our kids about sex and their bodies. I have no problem with the discussion but a good book is useful for illustrating the discussion and for frequent reference. I found it amusing that my daughter, between the age of 3 and 4, would pull out the book whenever she needed clarification. She would see my husband come out of the shower and the book would come out- she would point to pictures and explain at which stage of development she was and then me and then daddy.
      Find a book you like and you can pick and choose the bits that assist with the age appropriate discussion at the time. When kids are too young to read, you cover the parts that are needed and they can look at the pictures without reading any details that they may not be ready for.
      Another thing we avoid is the introduction “when a man and woman love one another very much….”. It’s not long before they recognize that pregnancy has nothing to do with love- it is a result of the physical act. Ideally we want them to choose to become parents with someone that they love very much.

  61. Geraldine says:

    Thank you for settling my mind with regards to sex ed. My daughter is 9 years old and I havent discussed the full sex ed yet. Ive been humming about it for a while now. But I think Im going to talk to her and discuss everything with her. I do believe that we as mothers are the sponges in the family.(not that the fathers are not important),But when it comes to daughters its our responsibility to educate them correctly.Thanks again for a wonderful article.God Bless…

  62. Thank you for a wonderful post! I especially liked the dating part, I hadn’t thought about that. I’ll ask my partner if he’d like to take our daughter out to dinner some time! 🙂
    I don’t know if this has been mentioned or not, but I think it’s especially important to educate the girls. After all, the boy’s penis is kinda obvious, while the girl’s vagina is hidden from her unless she gets to look at it in a mirror or otherwise being told about it. It’s so much easier to respect a part of your body if you know it’s there, right. 🙂

  63. I love this post. I work with children who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse, and we always train parents to talk to their kids about their bodies when they are very young so that they will know when someone is violating their privacy/boundaries and can give words to what has happened in case they need to tell an adult. A great resource that we use is They have great lists of age appropriate behavior and information as well as other resources and example videos so you can see what a conversation may look like and what kinds of questions a child may ask at different developmental stages.

  64. Thanks for a great post! I’m linking to it this week on my blog. Thanks!

  65. Cat Harvey says:

    I talk about privates and you own them. We don’t touch privates. Daddy has penis and it’s different than yours.

  66. Thank you for this post. As a family physician, I frequently see parents who don’t talk to their kids about sex until the teenage years but by then its too late…both because the kids have already found out all sorts of information (and misinformation) from other kids and the media and because if parents haven’t been talking about it all along, teens aren’t going to accept it now. I think its also easier for parents to get used to the idea of talking about sex if they start when their kids are little and parents can kind of ease into it. By the time you’re talking about the really difficult topics, you’ve practiced on something easier.

    I would add to the above list that it is vitally important to talk to your kids about personal safety. My three year old knows that his body belongs to him and that he can say no to any touch. He also knows what private parts are and to tell my husband or I right away if someone touches or tries to touch them or shows theirs to him. Our motto is that in our family we have surprises (presents, parties, treats) but not secrets.

  67. It’s always tough giving ‘the talk’, but I like how you don’t position it as ‘a talk’ and more of ‘a never-ending conversation.’ I’ve always been in the ‘be open about it’ camp.

  68. Amanda Risher says:

    I have a question for you. I have 3 kids 6 and 3 year old girls and a 10 month boy. We never really talked to our kids about sex or even correct names for body parts. Then my daughter came home from pre-school talking about her “coochie”. This has gone on her 2 years . My question is how to fix this. My parents never talked to me about sex and I’m not sure how to correct what has been already instilled in her mind. What do you suggest?

  69. just tell them the truth.

  70. What a facinating conversation! I’m so in favor of parents owning this subject, and taking the initiative to start conversations with their young children. I have actually written two books on this topic, and have spoken nationally to parents of young children for many years with the parent program, “Sooner than You Think!”. My first book, “Simple Truths with Mary Flo Ridley” gives parents five simple steps and sample conversations to have with children of pre-school to pre-teen ages. Amazingly, I have used the idea of the sponge as well, and find it very helpful to help parents remember that it is their privilege and responsibility to fill that sponge. If we leave the sponge “dry” we leave our children wide open for whatever they may absorb in the culture! My first book is what I would call “values neutral”…and my newest book, “God’s Very Good Design” is written for parents who wish to share their faith with their children on this topic. All parent’s need a litte coaching, and each family should be able to send the message that is most meaningful to them to their own children! Bravo to Simple Mom for this post!

  71. Awda patel says:

    Can I talk about how people interact in sx to a 10 years daughter ,, she is very curious and trying hard wz me to now what is exact meaning of the word sex ,, and how it’s like . Pls advise . Thanks

  72. I have two sons, I would like to know how to talk to my sons about not dating a cousin…..his uncle married a cousin and his wifes (cousin) daughter is dating a coysin. There are many cousin marriages in the family. I believe its wrong and disgusting. There are so many people in this world.

  73. Great point about talking early and often. I put off talking to my daughter about sex until she was nine, and then she totally didn’t want to hear it. You got to start early, parents! 🙂

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