Talking to your children about sex is never easy or the most fun thing you can do with them. Sure, you’d rather take your kids to see Pixar’s Elemental or Peter Pan & Wendy or go test out the new engineered-wood-fiber playground at their school. But you know you have to find time to talk with them about sex now because one of them just asked you, “How did mommy get a baby in her tummy?”
You’ve thought about employing the approach your parents likely did and credit it all to the stork or magic or God, but you also know the optimum way is to be open, honest and as real as you can be that is most age-appropriate.
In a recent article in Today’s Parent, “How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex: an age-by-age guide,” Nadine Thornhill, a Toronto-based sex educator and mom to an 11-year-old, confirms that while it’s normal to feel awkward and nervous, it’s important to focus on being honest: “This is what I do for a living and I still struggle to have these conversations with my own child. There’s more risk with not telling them enough than telling them too much.” And yes, it’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers.
Written by Lindsay Kneteman, the article astutely breaks down what’s appropriate for discussions with your child into different age groups, starting with birth to age 2 then progressing through different stages into their teenage years.
However, before you try to respond to any of your young child’s innocent inquiries, she cites a suggestion by Cory Silverberg, sex educator and author of Sex Is A Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings And You, that you first ask a clarifying question such as “Where did you hear that word?” to give an appropriate response.
“While pop culture likes to portray teaching kids about sex as just one big ‘talk,’ experts agree that sex is something kids should always be learning about,” Kneteman writes, recognizing that sex education should happen at home. “They recommend weaving sex into everyday discussions, layering in more information over time and introducing certain concepts at specific ages. With that in mind, we’ve put together this age-specific guide to help you learn how to talk to kids about sex.”
In her July 2022 article “How Do I Talk to My Kids about Sex” for Motherly, Dr. Emily King reminds that, if you don’t take the lead in having “The Birds and the Bees Talk” with your kids, then they will hear it from their friends, romantic partners, or Google, and “Google doesn’t know your kids.”
Your kids need you for so many reasons, and informing them about sex and consent is one of the most essential. “We must talk to our children about their sexual health,” she declares. “No more excuses. No more avoiding. And, no more thinking you are done with ‘the talk’ after just one conversation.”
Providing her own age-by-age guide in the article, Dr. King also discusses why parents are so uncomfortable with talking about sex with their kids and how it’s usually futile to wait for the right or best time.
“We are ill-prepared to field these questions, especially when they are sprung upon us—and they are ALWAYS sprung upon us,” she says, like the time her 5-year-old son asked if she had a penis. “No child ever has said, “Dad, I’m planning to ask you about sex tonight, so be prepared.”
Her explanation makes perfect sense for that deer in the headlights feeling when a child poses a sex-related question and reconfirms the need for parents today to be better prepared for the big question.
“We are likely so uncomfortable because we didn’t receive an open and thorough sex talk when we were children from which we can model,” she says. “And because we never feel prepared for this topic, we fall back on what our parents did, which is likely not what our children need in this current generation of the internet and social media.”
One cool celebrity couple, Dax Shephard and Kristen Bell, offers an exceptionally enlightened and straightforward approach on their podcast Scary Mommy as to how they discuss sex with their children that can serve as a great role model for young parents.
“I’ll tell you one thing that my wife does that’s ingenious,” Dax said. “When she describes sex to our children, she says, ‘And then the woman takes the man’s penis and puts it in her vagina.’ So right away it’s like, you’re in charge of this, you will decide to put this in your vagina, not the man puts his penis in your vagina.”
Clearly proud of his wife for framing that conversation in a sex-positive way that places consent front and center, he added: “I was like, that’s a nice little adjustment we’re gonna make.”
Their podcast features other super celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow discussing similar topics, and the two are always refreshingly candid, like when Dax revealed how he feels about men who comment on their need to protect their daughters’ virginity.
“My response is, I do not want my daughters to have sex so they can get approval from somebody,” he said. “But if my daughters are horny and want to have sex, that was my favorite activity, remains my favorite activity, I’d be lying if I said I was in any way anti-that activity. I’m anti-getting esteemed from that activity, but that’s it.”
At some point, again in an age-appropriate way, one your talks should include a discussion of sexual abuse and personal safety, advises Dr. Tia Kim, VP of education, research & impact, Committee for Children. She says: “When parents communicate early and often, they create environments where kids feel comfortable asking questions and having difficult conversations, like disclosing abuse.”
So exactly when should you have the storied Birds and the Bees conversation with your child?
“Anytime is the right time to talk with your child, and you can start today,” recommends the Committee for Children. “So, grab a cup of hot chocolate, download our How-To Guide, and have a Hot Chocolate Talk® moment.”
Actually, the timing right now couldn’t be better, since May is “Sex Ed for All Month!”