You'll have to endure a lot of awkward discussions as a parent, and knowing how to talk to your kids about sex is a handy tool to have when the time comes. Research suggests that teens who had "the talk" with their parents make safer decisions about their sexuality later in life, according to Planned Parenthood. It's kind of ironic that just as you get totally comfortable in your own sexuality, now you're responsible for educating another human on the "birds and the bees." Can you believe I just used that lame euphemism just there? You see, talking to others about sex can have that effect. You might get uncomfortable, after all sex is one fun activity that doesn't require (that much) chit-chat.
But, aside from all the things you need to teach your child about the parts of his or her body and what they can and can't do, you now have the chance to teach your kid all the other sex things your parent never taught you. Social-emotional aspects of sexuality are just as important to a developing young person's well-being as the physical stuff. And even though my parents were hippies, no one taught me about masturbation, different types of consent, or cis- and transgender people. My parents weren't bad people; it was just a different time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of female teenagers and 47 percent of male teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 are sexually active. STDs continue to affect teens as young as 13. And what about the emotional safety of kids as they come into their sexuality? As a new mom, these years seem eons away. But it's the work you put in now to talk to your kid about sex that builds the foundation for "the talk" that comes later in life. If you start early, talking about sex will feel more natural. But what do you say?
You might think that two is too young to begin talking to your toddler about sex. But this age marks the beginning of early childhood, according to The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), an organization responsible for pioneering an overhaul of sex education, making it more inclusive. SOGC suggests that at two years old, your kid should be familiar with his or her body, and know the name for their genitalia. There's a very solid argument for teaching kids the correct names for genitalia, but it's your choice.
At three years old, your toddler is definitely curious about his or her body, as well as the bodies of others. SOGC's website noted, "by around age three, children should have a clear sense of whether they are a boy or a girl and have sense of autonomy and confidence in themselves rather than overriding sense of guilt and shame." Keep enforcing how amazing the body is, and all the cool things it can do.
Four is an important age because in one year, your kid is likely entering school. So, when your kid is four, you need to teach him or her about privacy, and that they should only touch their genitals in private, both recommendations from the SOGC. Whether you choose to be naked around your kid or not, by four, you need to teach your kid that nudity is not engaged in publicly.
When your kid reaches five years old, that marks the end of early childhood. At this age, you may find your kid "playing doctor," and engaging in genital play with a friend. Certified sex therapist Marty Klein told Psychology Today that this is totally normal. So what do you do?
"It depends on what you want to accomplish," Kelin said. "If you want to interrupt her from exploring her sexuality in a safe, comfortable environment, stop her. If you want her to hide her sexual questions and exploration from you, stop her." If you want the opposite, Klein suggested to explore your kid's developing sexuality as any other developmental milestone like "taking care of their teeth, the importance of good manners, how to deal with conflict," and all the other skills they'll need in life.
Did you know that by six years old, kids still don't have a grasp on gender constancy, according to SOGC's website. What an amazing developmental opportunity to talk to your kids about cis- and transgender people. By now, your kid is meeting other kids and their families, which means a diversity of families. There's not much research on this out there... yet.
By six, you should tell your kid where he or she came from, because, trust me kids will be asking. Be as literal as possible, suggested Parenting. You should avoid slang, and say something like mom pushed you out of her vagina. If your kid presses for more details, explain that a tiny cell "called a sperm" joined together with a tiny cell called an "egg." If your kid is adopted, you should consult a psychologist about how to answer this question, as this raises another set of questions.
At this age, your male child is probably experiencing erections. He will ask you about them. Parenting suggests praising your kid for asking about his body, and then explaining, "Oh, that happens sometimes. It will get soft again soon." Easy peasy.
At seven, your kid is going to need a more in-depth explanation of sex. Parenting suggested that you tell your kid something like, "When the penis and the vagina fit together, sperm, like tadpoles, swim through the penis and up to the egg." Of course, there are other ways of making babies that don't involve the penis and vagina "fitting together."
The ironic part here, is that kids are way more tolerant than adults. An article on CNN discussed how parents feel more uncomfortable discussing same-sex relationships and conception than their kids. So, just be cool. Don't be uncool.
Eight years is another developmental milestone according to Parenting. By this age, your kid's peer group, the media, and Nicki Minaj are talking about sex to your kid. So, get in there! By eight, your kid knows that sex is valued and important. It's up to you to put boundaries on the value of sex and sexuality. You might want to explain that sex is an expression of love people have for each other (or oneself). Or maybe you check out a sex-positive bookstore and find a storybook that expresses the sentiment you want to convey. Books are a great way to introduce a topic and start a dialogue.
At nine, your kid could experience the onset of puberty, according to the Center for Young Woman's Health. If you haven't already discussed consent, you need to talk about consent and rape now. Your kid will likely be exposed to hearing about rape on the news. An article on CNN suggested that this talk might be different for boys and girls, but that parents need to stress empathy for rape victims, regardless of gender, and that any kind of rape is a crime.
Age 10 & Up
Your kid is now a tween. In other words, it's time to consider having a more in-depth conversation about sex, consent, safety, and emotions that come with sexual relationships and how all this stuff affects self-esteem. Planned Parenthood has a detailed guide on exactly what to say to your tween about sex at this age, but one theme that comes up again and again is how important it is to convey is the idea of boundaries.
Planned Parenthood's resource guide emphasized, "As they grow, our teens are increasingly likely to encounter opportunities for potentially risky situations." By checking in with your kid you can set boundaries. Whether physical or emotional, I've found that boundaries are vital to my sexuality, and that's something parents can model as they talk to their kids about sex.