What is the right age to talk to your children about sex?
I was appalled to find out that my sister had already talked to her 9-year-old daughter about sex. I have an 8-year-old myself and I can’t imagine having that kind of conversation with her in the next year. How old should a child be for the “sex talk”? How much do I tell her?
Nonverbal messages start the conversation.
You’ve been letting your daughter know how you feel about sexuality for a long time. Children are keen observers; they watch how we express intimacy. For example, your lingering hugs with her daddy are different from your affectionate hugs with her grandpa.
- Make sure your body language doesn’t indicate embarrassment so that sex seems “off-limits” for questions.
- Avoid suggestive clothing marketed to “tweens,” including inappropriate messages across T-shirts (such as “My boy-friend is out of town”).
- It’s a process more than a one-time event
The curiosity of children provides many opportunities for “sex talks.” Weave these conversations throughout childhood and adolescence. The story is told of a preschooler who asked, “Where did I come from?” Her parents explained sperm and ovum, ending with birth. At the end, she said, “Oh, Allie came from California.” Here are some tips:
- ”Tell me what you think … ” can be handy to make sure you are answering the question the child is asking!
- Preschoolers can understand that a baby grows inside the mother’s uterus. Avoid the word “tummy” because this leads to mixed-up images of the baby and food that the mother eats!
- Picture books help because facts about prenatal development are complex. Remember that children don’t understand their ABCs without repetition. Facts about sex need to be explained more than once, too.
Their questions help guide the timing.
When my oldest daughter was four, she noticed a pregnant woman in a nearby supermarket checkout line and asked, “If the egg is in the mommy and the sperm is in the daddy, how do they get together?” I answered, “The mommy and daddy are very close together in a special way so that the sperm can go inside the mommy.” That satisfied her and she turned her attention elsewhere. But it let me know that soon she would be ready for a basic explanation of intercourse in a more private context.
- Keep building on previous knowledge.
- Check on what they are learning from peers and clear up any misconceptions.
- Integrate your faith and your discussions – remember that God could have made us an asexual species, but instead we were given the gift of sexuality! Beginning these discussions when your children are young, will make it easier to keep the channels open as they enter their teens.