What Age Should I Start Talking To My Kids About Sex?

talking to kids about sex tips Aug 26, 2021
Originally posted 20/04/2015
"What Age Should I Start Talking To My Kids About Sex?"
This is the most common question parents ask me. There are two parts to this answer:
1.   Actually you have already started
2.   Keep talking!!!!! "I have never mentioned anything about sex? How could I have  started the discussion?"
You have been giving your children human sexuality messages in the way you talk to them and interact with them. They are influenced by how they experience the world and the information you give them.  Specific words, feelings, values, attitudes, expressions and touch are all part of human sexuality.
A brief explanation of Childhood Sexuality:
  • ‚ÄčSex is not for children, and children do not experience sexual intent or desire.
  • However, childhood sexuality does exist and kids do need to learn about it. 
  • Childhood sexuality includes; being assigned a sex (and therefore, socially, a gender) at birth, knowing about body parts, respectful relationships, love, expression, personal values, decision making, appropriate behaviour (pleasurable non sexual touch) and more...
Adults need to think broadly about the term ‘Sexuality’
  • Human sexuality is so much more than a one off act of heterosexual, penis-vagina ‘sex’. 
  • When it comes to important discussions you should be having with your kids, you need to ‘strip back’ (excuse the pun) your adult layers of ‘sex thoughts’.
  • What I mean by this is all adults have a sexual journey. This journey and the associated thoughts about sex: your fears, pleasures, highlights, negativities, worries, experiences etc. are not relevant when a child asks a simple question such as: "Where do babies come from?"
"Tell me what I should teach a toddler or young child about sexuality?!!!!"
Just as you teach your kids about healthy eating, water safety, road safety and how to explore, play and enjoy life, you need to teach sexual health to your children.
Particularly now, as they grow up in our sexualised society.
Of course every child is different, particularly their brain and body development.  However, we know that there are general stages that children go through related to their age group. Children have specific learning needs through these stages and ages - as their bodies grow and brains develop, they experience different feelings, interests and social activities, e.g. starting pre-school. Specific child sexual development information can be found at the end of this blog post but for now here are the important bits:
You have already started to give your kids sexuality messages in the way you mention body parts and nudity along with your attitudes towards this. Make sure you use the correct terms: including vulva, vagina, breasts, penis, scrotum and testicles etc. Of course it’s ok to have nicknames or family names, such as 'willy', as long as kids know the real names as well. There are many benefits of doing this, for example it gives them words to use when they need to ask you questions in the future and most importantly it helps to protect them from abuse.
Relationships with others:
  • You need to demonstrate that children should be cared for with love, emotional nourishment and fulfilment. Unfortunately many children's psychological and physical needs of love, belonging and safety are not met. 
  • You have probably already explained who can and can't cuddle and kiss and touch them. Very important to do this.
  • Be sure to teach them about privacy.
  • Personal boundaries and safety should also be discussed.
  • Example to consider: if they don't want to, your child should not have to kiss and cuddle ‘Uncle Jack', who they have never met before. Give them other alternatives like a hand shake or high five or to give a wave as they say 'hello'.  
Information about child safety and abuse prevention can be found at the end of this post.
Kids are learning from you about touch; touch from others and touching themselves.  You are guiding them about what is and is not ok. I believe that positive, respectful human touch, (usually non sexual) is one of the most important components of experiencing fulfilling, respectful, satisfying and connected relationships throughout life.
Remember we are thinking broadly – most human touch is not ‘sexual’.
Two very different examples of important non sexual touch:
  • It is terrific when adult men, feel comfortable to physically greet each other, with not just a hand shake, but also give each other a genuine hug and pat on the back. This physical contact is an important experience of unity, affection, friendship and respect. 
  • If your 18 month old is touching their genitals in the bath and your reaction is: ‘No, don’t do that it’s dirty!’ That could be their first message of negativity towards knowing what feels good in their body and learning to explore and feel pleasure.  
Adults need to acknowledge that a young child’s self genital touch is not sexual, it is simply body exploration that feels good. The interpretation of this as sexual is our ‘adult observation’ of that behaviour. For more detail and tips on how to respond to these situations, see this simple guide: PRAISE.
Respectful Relationships:
If your child is exposed to an adult intimate relationship, such as their two parents, they are absorbing observations (like a sponge) on how two people, intimately connected, should treat each other. They learn about positive touch and caring for another person as well as how to interact with others. Hopefully they observe contact that is loving, tender and respectful. Unfortunately many will observe negative, intimidating or even aggressive or violent ways of interacting with partners.
Ask yourself: Are my children exposed to loving and respectful relationships from the adults around them? For help click here for DVRCV website.
Gender and sexual attraction:
You and your child’s society, are teaching them from a very early age what it is to be a boy or a girl. Gender identity is complex and very important. I cover this in my parent presentations.
Important to remember that more than 10% of the population is same gender attracted. Also remember that gender identity is not always just ‘male’ or ‘female’, 'gender diverse' is normal and needs to be explained in a positive way.
Good luck with your conversations! It's never to late to start :)