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When Should You Talk to Your Child About Sex?

When Should You Talk to Your Child About (Gulp) Sex?

As squeamish as it may make you, the sex talk is a rite of passage all parents know they are going to face. It starts with a simple question: where do babies come from? And it continues on with queries about sex, body parts, and what really happens in the bedroom.

The topic begs a question that many of us moms find ourselves pondering sooner or later: (gulp,) how do I begin to tell this story? We all want to say and do the right thing when our kids start asking questions, but don't know exactly how to handle it. Many of us are concerned about what our kids will hear about sex on the school playground or from the casual conversations about sex that others have in front of them. We also wonder how to deal with adults we believe shouldn't be discussing sex so openly in front of our kids.

"So what's a mom to do?" asks Naudeen R., who is "getting uncomfortable" with her almost 9-year-old son's questions. He wants to know what sex is, so she "told him briefly that it is when two people, like mom and dad, show one another how much they love each other." She adds that while this seemed to put a stop to his questions, "I personally think that maybe it is time to tell him about his own developing body, on his level of course."


Debbie L. recommends the direct approach and that moms tell their kids before they find out on the playground. "My daughter, who is now 11, was told by a classmate what sex was at nine," says Debbie L. "I was shocked. I'm very glad that she felt as though she could come to me. It was a very uncomfortable conversation but I think it is good to let your children know they can talk to you."

Encouraging open conversations and letting your child know that you will answer whatever questions he or she has is the first step toward opening the lines of communication for sex education, says Debbie L. But she cautions that parents should caution their children not to repeat the conversation with their peers. "I forgot to do this and my daughter went and told a friend. Thank goodness the mom and I are friends and she was understanding, but it could have been bad."

Erin K. and many of our readers agree that the direct approach, versus answering questions after your child has been served up sex information from their peers or others, is best.

"'My daughter is 11 and we have had the talk about what's going to happen to her body and the sex talk more than once," says Erin K. She says she started talking to her daughter several years ago when asked the "where do babies come from?" question. "I would get as in-depth as you are comfortable with and just answer your child's questions as they come."

While many agree that ages 9 through 11 are appropriate ages to initiate conversations about sex, others are concerned about what to do and say when relatives, friends, or others start the conversation when their children are younger.

Janet J. says she grew up in a conservative home where her parents did not discuss sex, so she's surprised now and uncertain what to do when her in-laws start discussing their sex life in front of her 2-year-old son. "I'm worried that as he ages, he will hear their conversations and repeat (what he hears)," she says, adding, "How do I approach them to tell them to cut it out and watch the sex talk around my kid? "

"Watch what you say" is how you'd like to react, says Dara S., adding that because Janet is dealing with inappropriate behavior from extended family members, she should tread lightly but be honest, and explain in an assertive but kind way that these types of conversations are private and that she's not comfortable when others have them around her kids.

"I tell the adults that conversations about sex are inappropriate for my child's age," says Dara S. "Another friend I know tries to get this message across with sign language, trying to send signals to the adults to stop the conversation."

She also says that when kids overhear inappropriate conversations about sex, parents should address the issue with them directly: "I use the opportunity when potty time pops up, and I tell my child that this is a private time for your body," says Dara. "That opens the conversation about what to and (what) not to talk to others about."

Renae K. agrees. "I would tell the adults that conversations about sex are inappropriate for my child's age. . . . Another friend I know tries to get this message across with sign language, trying to send signals to the adults to stop the conversation and straight-out ask them to keep the topic of conversation clean and appropriate around your child as he is starting to repeat things he hears," she says. "This goes for sex, swearing and any other inappropriate talk. Surely any reasonable person would respect your wishes."

Ultimately, readers say it is best to tackle the "sex talk" directly with your child before they hear about it elsewhere.

"I think it is really important in this day and age," says Heidi R., a mom of a 10-year-old daughter. "We need to prepare our children because if they are starting to ask us you know they are talking about it with their friends. I'd rather talk to my daughter about it [than have her] ask her friends and get false information."

Image Source: Corbis Images
Join The Conversation
AllanaMitchell AllanaMitchell 4 years
heh, my daughter is 4, and what she knows about where babies come from, is that they come from Mommies tummy, how did it get there? Jesus put the baby there to grow safely. But were a Church-going family. this seemed to tie off her curriosity so far. Period? she knows what it is, because when i was potty training her we would just go together, she had hers, i have mine. a boy would have been a different story. she knows it will happen when she is older. she knows what pads are. I made sure of this, because I dont want her to be scared when it happens, as scary as it is, ive given friends the talk about periods because they had no clue what was going on. I started very young, and so did most other women in my family. Id like to be prepared in case she does too.... I started at 8 and was already wearing a C cup. What would i do if i had a boy? i have no clue!
ChristinaHollandRadvon ChristinaHollandRadvon 6 years
We're homeschoolers, so we were left to our own devices to decide when and how much to tell our 8 year old. We picked up a wonderful book based on another homeschool family's recommendation; "It's Not the Stork" explains body parts, how the sperm meets the egg, very briefly discusses physical love between two married adults who are deeply in love and who want to make a baby, gestation, age/life phases, and "okay touching" vs. "not okay touching". The book is geared to kids ages 4 and up and you can read JUST THE PARTS YOU'RE COMFORTABLE SHARING. My son didn't have questions about ALL of that, so we use it as a reference book when he has questions. It gives us a starting point for the conversation and helps my husband and I tailor our answers to our son's level of understanding. It really is a great resource for families!
Holly9513 Holly9513 6 years
my son is 5, 6 right before school and he already has "girlfriends"....these girls will attack him wherever he is! they try to kiss him and this is a game that they play with him! what do i do with THAT?! i'm mom AND dad...this seems like something "the boys" need to talk about, don't you think? help me out! thanks!
nanaespandari nanaespandari 6 years
my sons are 10 and 5 years old and i always had a hard way to explain them a thing that have a conection with sex actifities like "why people get kissed in mouth?', or why a girls have to use Bra? heheheh i don't know they just ask everything in their mind..... sometimes i just let their father to answers the question.
KellieBarragan KellieBarragan 6 years
There isn't just one "Talk" about sex and development...It should be an on-going conversation with your kids, at their appropriate ages/stages. My main hope is that I can stay ahead of the misinformation that she may be exposed to along the way, so when she encounters it, she already knows the facts. Balance and open communication are the key - as with all issues of parenting!
AllisonBlank87278 AllisonBlank87278 6 years
My older children are 12 and almost 9 and they know a huge amount about the physical aspects of sex and reproduction. I have always answered questions honestly and age-appropriately when they asked them, which started pretty young for the both of them. I don't see how discussions about sex or where babies come from or certain body parts are inappropriate.Those are all normal, natural parts of life, and I wouldn't avoid talking about them anymore than I would avoid talking about blowing noses or having diarrhea or what foods have what nutrients. Too many people have hang ups and are completely misinformed when it comes to these issues and I greatly preferred my children learning this from me, rather than other children who most likely won't be giving them accurate information. My children also feel completely comfortable asking me anything about this subject; there's no tension or apprehension.
AmandaKazee AmandaKazee 6 years
My son just turned eight this past Febuary. When he was six he caught my husband and I (not his father by the way) making love. He never told me that he saw us, but he did however tell my mother that "Shane looked like a crab all over mommy", then strarted girating his arms all around his mamaw to show her what he saw. My mother then told me what he had told her. I can't believe I did this, but I snaped at him and told him to never repeat that again because I didn't know how to handle the situation. Of course he went on to tell his teacher, and his new Stepmom everything he had seen. I was mortified. I felt that he was way to young to have the "TALK" at that age. He has never forgotten this and he brings it up every now and then to me, so I think it is time to have the "TALK" with him. I don't really know how to handle this very well because I have since divorced my husband and I am raising him all by myself. His dad is in the Navy and rarely spends time with him, but he is going to get him for about two weeks for the summer break. Do I let him give the talk man to man, or should I do it?
ElaineShreve ElaineShreve 6 years
I feel this has been an ongoing conversation with my children. We have answered questions and asked questions all their short lives. I like the rite of passage concept that helps me keep my 10 yr old from telling all he knows to my younger children. I used a book that helped us communicate our Christian values during different talks: babies, sex, marriage vs promiscuity. Etc.
jenniferfox97130 jenniferfox97130 6 years
I have spoke to my 11 year old at 9. Even I drew as I explained about the development of a pregnancy of a baby inside. It became an eventure to her while explaining. Also talking about the uterus, falupian tubes and what not. Just making an art to it. It maybe a good idea.
viviannamwanje viviannamwanje 6 years
its nice to talk about that issue ,but some adults just say anything when kids r around
MorganRyder MorganRyder 6 years
My son is 8 and has been asking questions off and on for a few years, since he was about 5ish, around the birth of our youngest child. At that time I told him that I had no problem telling him, but that it was a conversation for when he was older. He's started making comments, like how the queen bee needs a king so they can do stuff for babies, or things like that. He hasn't outright come and asked specific questions. This week my in-laws are taking our 2 younger girls to the beach for 3-4 days. I'm debating if maybe my husband and I should sit him down and have a conversation about it while it's just the 3 of us.
AylishEaton AylishEaton 6 years
My son was told from a classmate when he was seven . I was shocked and was frustrated. I told him thats what grown ups do when they love each other. Then I told him more in depth when he turned eight and asked more questions.
JenniferRenninger JenniferRenninger 6 years
My daughter is only 6, and a classmate was talking to her about sex. I was speechless. The first time I called the girl's mother, but the second time the number had been disconnected. I gave my daughter a simple answer, and told her it was inappropriate to be talking about these things at school, then I contacted the teacher. This was not a topic I thought I would have to discuss with my daughter until she was closer to being a pre-teen.....
DonnaBarclay DonnaBarclay 6 years
I think children are told way too early about the birds and the bees, let them be children and let them guide you, when they start asking the questions then I think its time to start thinking about the talk. I only learnt from sex education at school and taking child care as one of my options at school.
KristinCullen KristinCullen 6 years
I was a T.A. for a Human Sexuality class set while I was in college. My daughtr found the text one day & was leafing through it, asking what things were. I simply provided age-appropriate answers on a need to know basis. This has continued as she's grown, & she's now 11. I like that she will come to me with questions. Other kids are far more informed (however inaccurately) than most parents are willing to admit. We live on a small farm & are a medically-employed family. If it's natural to describe an arm, it's natural to describe any body part & its purpose. When these things lose their aura of 'forbidden' to become a natural, respectful process at appropriate, acceptable times, your child has nothing to lose to peer pressure. My daughter is disgusted by promiscuous behavior & well-armed against gossip fallacy. I believe in her & feel we're on the right track.
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