For many new parents, the thought of sex ed (education) either conjures images from the Netflix series or awkward conversations with their own parents from their childhood. It doesn’t have to be this way! If you’re on the fence of if and how to talk to your kids about sex, here are a few things to keep in mind.

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#1: If you don’t tell them someone else will

You really unfortunately only have two choices here: talk to your kids about human sexuality or someone else will do it for you. It’s tempting to blame social media for this phenomenon, but in the old days kids would share info they overheard from adults, magazines pilfered from the “stash” or make stuff up! In this case, if you haven’t established norms around talking about sex, you’ll never know the wild stuff other kids are saying (or doing) around your kiddos and never get to correct them. Sometimes this is innocent mistakes, sometimes a peer or slightly older kid (or adult predator) will use this to their advantage either socially or sexually.

The author's husband and kids pose at the beach. The two youngest are naked to illustrate a family culture comfortable with nudity and discussing human sexuality.
These kiddos know all of their body parts and keep us on our toes with all kinds of sex ed questions!

#2: Start at birth

Sex ed starts with the most basic thing you do for your baby—naming their body parts! Use anatomically correct language during bathing and diaper changes and model asking for consent. This sounds silly, though with most things you tell your baby you are truly building a foundation for the rest of their lives! Labeling body parts sounds and asking for consent sounds like “You pooped! Can we go change your diaper now? I’m going to wipe your anus!”. Now tell me the truth…did that make you uncomfortable to read? Most of us didn’t have the benefit of anatomically correct names for our genitals! Whether it’s triaging a yeast infection (“my vagina and vulva are itchy!”) or urinary tract infection (“my penis burns when I pee”) or getting a playground story straight (“little Jackie showed her what to who??”) the pet names many families use for genitals impede direct communication and send a message that bodies and their words are somehow secret or shameful.

#3: Find age-appropriate concepts

Teaching your kids about human sexuality does not mean that you are giving your 10 year old their own Playboy subscription (ok fine, pretend I used the name of your favorite site here). Just like death, kiddos will have natural phases of curiosity about birth and sex ed. Use the endless wealth of parenting resources on the internet or just google “talk to X year old about sex” to get ideas of what you do or maybe don’t want to say. Follow their curiosity and give short, truthful, direct answers. When you don’t know, or don’t know how to explain something it’s ok to say that to! At a minimum, being responsive to their questions when they arise will keep the line of communication on this topic open between you as they grow and things become more complex and crucial to understand.

#4: It’s never too late!

If you have been shy before, you can do a reset! Tell your kids you weren’t sure how to answer their body questions before because your parents didn’t talk about it with you but from now on, they can ask anything they are curious about. Even your college kids (especially if you didn’t talk about it before) can stand to gain here. Think adult kids are too old? Hereditary influences play deeply into our own reproductive systems from infertility, to pregnancy patterns, to how our bodies change as we age. 

You’ll find your style, and if it’s awkward try parallel talk like driving in the car or cooking together with older kids until you feel more confident. I was raised by a woman who literally co-wrote a book called “Human Love and Sexuality: A User’s Guide” and had no issues talking about sex and the human body. Yes kids can Google anything these days, but if there is any area of life you want to shape positively based on your personal beliefs I’ll bet this is it!


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