Let’s talk about The Talk – you know “THE Talk” about the bees and the flowers. Because sooner or later kids starts ask­ing ques­tions about the human body and where babies actu­ally come from. And in that exact moment you might be not pre­pared at all. So how and when should you talk to kids about sex? Jen­nifer from YourPeri­od­Called put together a little guide for you. Let’s check it out!

Hav­ing “THE Talk”

This might be one of the hard­est or most nerve-rack­ing top­ics for par­ents to think about approach­ing with their kids. Sex is good and fun to talk about with pals over a glass of wine but approach­ing the topic with your 14-year-old might seem well … ter­ri­fy­ing! The good news is that it won’t be as bad as you think it will be. The other good news is that we put together a guide for how to talk with kids about sex from their earli­est years.

Sex is fun when it is healthy, con­sen­sual, and when we’re excited about what we are about to do. In real­ity, 40-85 % of chil­dren will have exper­i­enced some type of sexual explor­a­tion with chil­dren of the same age and body type, by the age of 13. How we view sex and sexu­al­ity does not start when we’re in puberty or start learn­ing about sex in school (if your kid has those school pro­grammes). It starts much, much younger. And healthy views and habits around sexu­al­ity are easier to develop with your kids than you think. We’re here to talk about when you should start talk­ing to your kids about sex and sexu­al­ity, what they should know at what age, and how to keep your cool as a parent.

When to start talk­ing to your kids about sex

Reflect on when you star­ted learn­ing about sex. Was it from a teacher? A par­ent? A school peer? Did you find a magazine when you were snoop­ing around your parent’s or older sibling’s room? Most of the time we learn about sex through chan­nels that are not the most optimal for learn­ing. These moments can shape our lives and views of what sex is sup­posed to be – whether that view is healthy or not. 

A rela­tion­ship-appro­pri­ate adult who talks about sex with an eleven-year-old, versus porn being a first encounter with “what sex looks like” will lead to very dif­fer­ent found­a­tional impres­sions of what sex is and can be. It’s import­ant to talk to kids about sex and sexu­al­ity in ways that are appro­pri­ate to ages, what your kid needs, and who they are as a per­son, as early as three or four, and to revisit it over the years. Here’s how you do it:

How to talk about sex with kids: Ages 5 and under

Learn­ing about ‘sex’ at three or four has noth­ing to do with actual sex and everything to do with bound­ary set­ting and the proper names for body parts. It’s highly pos­sible (nor­mal, healthy, and devel­op­ment­ally appro­pri­ate) that your chil­dren will start explor­ing their bod­ies at this age. If you find them touch­ing them­selves in ways that are sexual it’s per­fectly fine. To them, it simply feels good, and they have no clue what they’re doing. It’s import­ant in these moments to calmly tell them that it’s great to enjoy their bod­ies but that this is best done in private. This is a great age to tell them about “good” and “bad” touches. Good touches are things like hug­ging, hold­ing hands, diaper changes, whereas bad touches are things that make them uncom­fort­able, or hit­ting and kick­ing, and that they should say “No!” when they feel unsafe. 

How to talk about sex with kids: Ages 5-8

In these ages, chil­dren are show­ing a deeper under­stand­ing of gender roles and might explore with their friends a bit. They’re curi­ous about bod­ies and young males might start to exper­i­ence erec­tions. At this age, it’s import­ant to tell them that erec­tions are per­fectly nor­mal and that their bod­ies are get­ting older. Closer to eight you can tell them a bit more about how this is involved with human repro­duc­tion and include men­stru­ation. It’s a great time to start talk­ing or expos­ing your child to dif­fer­ent sexual ori­ent­a­tions, non-ste­reo­typ­ical gender roles, and how these are more fluid than simply “girls and boys”. If these folks aren’t in your com­munity already, you can help foster this under­stand­ing and expos­ure through games, pic­ture books, stor­ies, movies or other media. 

How to talk about sex with kids: Ages 9-12, and beyond

As puberty becomes closer, your kids will begin a nat­ural pro­cess of want­ing more space and inde­pend­ence. You can talk to kids about sex here by explain­ing how repro­duc­tion works. They will start feel­ing more sexual excite­ment and get more curi­ous about exper­i­ences around sex, bod­ies, and may be more pro­act­ive about their curi­os­it­ies at this age. 

The scary internet

We live with access to the inter­net and it’s import­ant to show chil­dren media lit­er­acy skills and set up par­ent pro­to­cols on devices. Show your kids where they can find reli­able and reput­able inform­a­tion on sex, sexual devel­op­ment and bod­ies. For men­stru­ation you can always turn to Vul­vani and YourPeriodCalled’s first period stor­ies for ice-break­ers. It’s a good time to start talk­ing about inter­net safety and the risks asso­ci­ated with meet­ing people online. How to be respect­ful of oth­ers and respect­ing their bound­ar­ies becomes increas­ingly import­ant as a skill (for adults, too). 

Respect and boundaries

You can do this through role-play­ing dis­cus­sions on respect and bound­ar­ies. Cre­at­ing some goal top­ics prior to your chat and cre­at­ing a net­work of trust that your child knows they can go to with ques­tions is help­ful. Chil­dren are becom­ing more inde­pend­ent at this age and might turn to unhealthy inform­a­tion pro­viders, like their peers or porn.

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Image from @YourPeri­od­Called

Com­mu­nic­at­ing with a teenager

After twelve, your child has stepped into teen­ager­hood and will be well-prepped to be set­ting their bound­ar­ies, know that sexu­al­ity is noth­ing to be ashamed of, and have a sup­port sys­tem they can turn to. While it might be uncom­fort­able, check in with your child at least once a year on how things are going, ask if they have ques­tions, and remind them that your com­mu­nic­a­tion door is always open (and have it be open). This is around the age when men­stru­ation starts and it’s time to talk to your health­care pro­vider about set­ting up their first sexual health check-up. Espe­cially if they’re hav­ing relationships. 

Jennifer’s Tips

Before we wrap up, here are some addi­tional tips:

  • When you’ve answered a ques­tion, ask if their ques­tion was answered and wait for a response; hold space for your child.
  • The ques­tions may be ador­able, try your best not to laugh or giggle. Do not get angry. Your child should not feel afraid or ashamed to ask questions. 
  • Keep it brief! They have short atten­tion spans but be ready to repeat yourself. 

Take a deep breath and know that you’ve got this! A well-pre­pared child starts with a par­ent tak­ing the time and care to sup­port their healthy devel­op­ment. If you have any ques­tions, you can con­tact YourPeri­od­Called or Jen­nifer directly.

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Jennifer 
founder of YourPeri­od­Called, pro­gram designer, facil­it­ator & activist / YourPeriodCalled.com | Web­site | + posts

Jen­nifer is the founder of YourPeriodCalled.com and a children’s and health learn­ing pro­gram designer and facil­it­ator. Since her teen years, she has been a pas­sion­ate act­iv­ist for health, children’s optimal psychoso­cial devel­op­ment, and learn­ing. Ori­gin­ally from Montreal, Canada, she cur­rently lives between a tiny island called Malta and the ever-vibrant Ber­lin. Jen­nifer holds a master’s degree in Early Child Stud­ies and a cer­ti­fic­ate in Learn­ing Design.