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Talk to Your Kids about Sex

pre-teen boy

The Basics

Teach your children the facts about their bodies, sex, and relationships. Talking with your kids about sex may not be easy, but it’s important. You can help them stay healthy and make good choices as they grow up.

It may be hard to know where to start, especially if your parents didn’t talk to you about sex when you were growing up. But these tips and strategies can help.

What do I say?
Kids will have different questions and concerns about sex at different ages. As your child gets older, the things you talk about will change. Remember to:

  • Talk early and often – you don’t have to fit everything into one conversation.
  • Be ready to answer questions. Your child’s questions can tell you a lot about what she already knows.
  • Listen carefully to your child, even if you don’t agree with his opinion.
  • Try using examples from TV or music to start a conversation.

When is the right time to start talking?
It’s never too early to start talking to children about their bodies. Use the correct names for private body parts. To learn the correct names, check out these labeled pictures of the female reproductive system External Links Disclaimer Logo and the male reproductive system. External Links Disclaimer Logo

Be sure to keep talking with your child during adolescence. Adolescence is the stage between childhood and adulthood. During this time, your child will go through puberty.

What do I tell my child about puberty?
Puberty (“PEW-br-tee”) is when your child’s body starts to change into an adult’s body. Puberty is different for each child. Some children start puberty at age 9. Others may not start until age 13 or 14.

Puberty can be a confusing and overwhelming time for many kids. As a parent, you can help your kids by:

  • Telling them that puberty is a normal part of growing up
  • Sharing the facts to help them understand their changing bodies and feelings
  • Talking about your own experiences when you were a kid

During puberty, kids may be less likely to ask you questions, so it’s a good idea for you to start conversations. Get more information about puberty to share with your kids. External Links Disclaimer Logo

What do I tell my child about pregnancy and STDs?
Make sure your kids have the facts they need to make healthy decisions. This includes information about pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), like HIV/AIDS and herpes.

Both boys and girls need to know how to stay safe. Even if you think your child isn’t dating or having sex, share the facts about pregnancy and STDs.

Check out these links for more information:

How can I help my child build healthy relationships?
Families have different rules about when it’s okay for kids to start dating. Whatever your family rules are, the best time to start talking about healthy dating relationships is before your child starts dating.

Start conversations about what to look for in a romantic partner. Help your kids develop realistic and healthy expectations for their relationships. Get more tips on talking to your kids about healthy relationships.

Take Action!

Young people need information from an adult they trust. Start the conversation with your child today.

Talk early and often.
Start having conversations about your values and expectations while your child is young. Your child will get used to sharing information and opinions with you. This will make it easier for you to keep talking as your child gets older.

There’s more than one way to talk to kids about sex. Try having lots of little conversations about sex instead of one big talk. And remember, if you’ve been putting it off, it’s never too late to start a conversation about sex.

Try these communication tips External Links Disclaimer Logo the next time you talk with your child about sex.

Start small.
Try not to give your kids too much information at one time. Give them time between conversations to think. They may come back later and ask questions.

Be ready to answer questions.
When your kids ask you questions, ask them what they think first. Their answers will tell you more about what they are asking and why. This will also give you time to think about your answer.

Do your best to answer questions honestly and correctly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you could say, “I’m not sure. Let’s look that up together.”

Keep in mind that kids get information about sex from lots of different sources – friends, partners, the Internet, and others. This can create confusion for your child. That’s another reason why it’s important for you to answer questions clearly.

Ask questions.
Give your kids the time and space to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Ask for their opinions. Be sure to listen, even if your child has an opinion you don’t like.

Try asking questions like:

  • When do you think it’s okay to start dating?
  • Have you talked about puberty or sex in school? Do you have any questions?
  • When do you think a person is ready to have sex?

Always take your child’s values and opinions seriously. This will show your child that you respect what she has to say.

Practice active listening.
Active listening is a way to show your kids that you are paying attention and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. Try these tips:

  • Nod your head.
  • Repeat back what your child says in your own words. For example, “So you are feeling frustrated with our rules. You feel that you are old enough to make your own decisions.”

Get more listening tips for parents. External Links Disclaimer Logo

Use examples to start a conversation.
Young people see and hear messages about sex every day on TV, in music, and on the Internet. Use an example from a TV show or song to start the conversation.

Talk in the car or in the kitchen.
It can sometimes be easier to talk about sex if you don’t have to look at each other. Try asking a question when you are driving in the car or busy cooking dinner.

You can still show your child that you are listening by nodding your head or repeating what your child says to you.

Be honest.
It’s okay to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Be honest with your child about how you are feeling. Remember, when you are honest with your child, your child is more likely to be honest with you.

Talk with other parents.
Remember that you are not the only parent thinking about how to talk to kids about sex. Ask other parents how it’s going for them. You may be able to get useful tips and ideas.

Talking to other parents is also a great way to learn more about the messages other kids are getting about sex.

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Content last updated on: August 24, 2012

National Health Information Center

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