6 Tips for Talking to your kids about sex
Talking about sex can be pretty tricky business, even for adults talking to other adults about it.
But it gets even more challenging when you’re talking to your kids about sex.
Here are my top tips to maximize your success and lessen the awkwardness when talking to your kids about sex.
I’d like to preface this blog by saying this, you should, of course, do what works best for you and your family. This is just advice, and ultimately you know what’s best for your family.
Okay, ready to dive in?
1- Be someone they can talk to
My number one tip is working to cultivate a relationship with your kids where they feel comfortable talking to you about sex. Or talking to you about anything. It’s so important that they feel safe to ask you questions, and trust that you’ll provide them with loving, non-judgmental fact-based answers.
You can start this process as soon as they are able to talk. When they come to you with questions, or want to tell you something they are confused, challenged, or scared about, prioritize listening over ‘solving’. Be someone they can trust will listen to them. Sometimes this might even mean not punishing them for doing something you don’t approve of.
Ask yourself, is it worth it to punish them, and risk them not feeling safe talking to you the next time? Sometimes it’s better to hold off on the punishment, because it might discourage them from talking to you in the future, out of fear of being punished. If they aren’t getting information and advice from you, they will get it somewhere else. Usually from less reliable sources of information1.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with.
2- Answer their questions
It’s so important to answer your child’s questions honestly, but it’s key to not provide them with additional, unasked information.
A great way to start this process is by asking your child “what do you think” when they ask you sexuality or reproductive questions, and then if they guess incorrectly, you might say “It’s not exactly like that, but that’s a great guess. Would you like me to explain?”. You can then see if they have follow up questions.
For example, if your 4-year-old asks “where do babies come from?” an honest answer might be “they grow inside a person’s uterus”. They may have any number of follow up questions like, ‘how do they get there?’, ‘what is a uterus?’, ‘how do they get out?’. You can continue to answer each honestly, but only answer the question asked. This allows their curiosity to lead the direction of the conversation, and helps keep things age-appropriate.
The theory behind this parenting technique is that children are able to determine their own interest (and maturity) levels, and then receive only age-appropriate information. Nothing more. This prevents children from being confronted by information they weren’t ready to hear. It also prevents adults from assuming what aspect of sexuality their child is interested in or projecting their own narrative onto their children.
“From a developmental perspective, this situation is all about figuring out what your child is ready to learn,” says Roseanne Lesack, Ph.D, director of a child psychology clinic at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. “That’s why asking ‘What do you think?’ works so well.” says Lesack.
3- Leave the judgments to Judy
One of the most important things you can do while developing your relationship with your child through conversations around sex, is show them you’re a non-judgemental, safe person to talk to. Try your best to keep any of your personal preferences and opinions out of the equation, even if they ask you directly.
For example, if your child asks “what do you think about having sex with someone of the same sex?”, you can simply explain some of the logistics and safety measures.
A lot of the time, children’s questions about sex are an opportunity to build trust and intimacy with them, so don’t miss out on this by being judgemental. Help them stay safe and educated.
4- Give facts-based information
I can’t stress this enough. Do not guess answers you don’t know, or lie to your kids. Most of the time children will only ask questions they are ready to hear the answers too. See Tip 2 again for a refresher.
Being someone they can talk to is great, but what about when they ask questions you don’t have the answers to? It’s great to say, “that’s a wonderful question, I don’t know the answer, let’s look it up together”. That creates a fun atmosphere where learning is encouraged, and shows them it’s okay to not always have all the answers.
Here are some great online resources for sex education:
-Age-Appropriate blogs from Sex With Emily (well duh)
5- The Same Sex-Ed For All
In the past (and sometimes still in the present) kids were separated by gender for sex-education. This is a big mistake as all children, regardless of gender, should receive the same information. Everyone deserves factual, non-judgemental information about different genitals, reproductive systems, safe-sex, and consent.
Gender, sexual orientation, and any other divisive aspects should not be a factor. Let children ask their own questions at their own pace, and give them the honest answers they seek.
6- Pleasure is Important
This is up to your personal preference of course, but at Sex With Emily, we believe that pleasure can be an important part of the conversation. Keep it age appropriate, keep it factual, keep it fun.
If it’s age appropriate, you might even like to discuss the orgasm-gap with them. Including the fact that vulva-bodied people tend to take longer than penis-bodied people to reach orgasm. Sex should be safe and fun for everyone involved.
Some people feel concerned that having accurate sex education will encourage teens to have sex, increase the risk of teen pregnancy, and they prefer an abstinence-only approach. While technically abstinence is the safest form of sex, it’s unlikely that everyone will stop having sex because of this.
In fact, studies show that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates. “If teens don’t learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs, and how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it, and from whom?” 2.
The one big sex talk, sitting your kid down to tell them all about the birds and the bees, is a thing of the past. Parents are now embracing an ongoing dialogue with their children about sex in an age-appropriate, fact-based, judgment-free way. And studies are showing their kids are much better off for it 3.
I know if I was going bungee jumping for the first time, I’d want all the facts, risks, and education on how to do it safely, instead of just being told it was safer to avoid it. I get that it’s safer to avoid it, but I’m gonna bungee anyway.
Isabella Frappier is an Australian ex-pat living in LA, who swapped gumtrees for palm trees. She’s a writer and a holistic Sexuality Doula, who specializes in body literacy, sexual sovereignty, and BDSM.
She is also a host on the popular new Sex Magic Podcast. When she’s not busy championing her sex positive agenda, she—oh wait—she’s always busy doing that. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
1- American Adolescents’ Sources of Sexual Health Information, December 2017, Guttmacher Institute
2- Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S, Kathrin F. Stanger-Hall 1 , * and David W. Hall 2, 2011 Oct 14. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024658.
3- Comprehensive Sex Education for Teens Is More Effective than Abstinence, Carter, David, AJN, American Journal of Nursing: March 2012 – Volume 112 – Issue 3 – p 15.