Let's talk about sex! How best to do so with your child

If you’re feeling uncomfortable about discussing the facts of life with your child consider this: he’s going to learn all about sex somehow – wouldn’t you rather it was from you?

Mum, where do babies come from?

If you feel a tad uncomfortable about discussing where babies come from with your child, you’re not alone. It can be hard to face up to the fact that the child who was once an innocent babe in arms will one day be a sexually active adult – and sooner than you think, if research is anything to go by.

But the tough talks are a necessary part of parenting – and studies suggest that kids whose parents are open and direct with them when it comes to discussing sex feel more able to talk to their parents about it and are less likely to engage in the kind of high-risk behavior that can result in unplanned teen pregnancy. And at the end of the day, your child is going to learn all about the facts of life somehow – wouldn’t you rather it was from you? Your guidance can steer your child towards making the right choices when it comes to sex.

Take the initiative or wait to be asked?

This all depends on your child. Most are naturally curious enough to start asking questions once they reach their tweens, especially if you become pregnant again. If your child seems to be maturing fast it’s probably a good idea to broach the subject yourself, especially if it's a daughter on the verge of her first period. Studies suggest girls are maturing much younger these days and forewarning her about what to expect will avoid panic.panicking.

Broaching the subject

A good kickoff-point is a book, or you could find a way in through a TV program your child watches, using the characters as examples. Pregnant mums often become obsessed with TV shows on pregnancy and birth, and sitting down with your child to watch one is also a great way of raising the subject (how the baby got in there is bound to come up!). So, assuming it’s time to talk the talk, how should you go about it?

  • Your young child: cover the basics early on

    The key to getting past the squeeeeee factor is to cover the basics early on. That way, you and your child won’t feel so self-conscious about the nitty-gritty once it’s time to talk about what they’re for. To your young child, genitals are just body parts – so treat them as that.

    How to do it…

    Be matter of fact about labelling your child's private parts with their proper names or any word your child may use himself, when bathing or dressing. This way, you’re getting the message over that they are just another feature of your child’s body, like arms and legs. Being coy will give the impression that they’re something to be self-conscious and embarrassed about – leading to red faces a few years down the line when it’s time to talk about the birds and the bees.

  • Your tween: be age-appropriate

    Your tween is entering puberty and may well be brimming with questions about sex. Head off any anxiety by being open about the changes their body will be going through over the next few years.

    How to do it…

    Talk about how the hormones that decided if your child would be a boy or a girl also mean that their body will change as they get older: a boy’s voice deepens and he’ll start having erections; a girl’s breasts develop and her body starts to release eggs that mean she will bleed each month; hair grows on the genitals.
  • Your teen: Stress feelings, responsibilities and consequences

    Once your child is a teen, that first proper date will loom on the horizon. It’s important to make your teen aware of the emotional side of a sexual relationship. Knowing that it involves more than biology means they’ll be less likely to give into peer pressure to have sex in order to keep up with their friends.

    How to do it…

    Emphasize that caring should come before sex and that being sexually active can lead to responsibilities and pressures your child is too young to deal with. Talk about how caring is a vital part of any relationship and that it’s important to get to know someone before going all the way. Mention too that it’s wrong for an older child to pressure a younger one into sex – hopefully this will mean your child has the confidence to say no if they come under this kind of pressure. But keep in mind that at some point, your teen is likely to act on those urges – so you need to be clear on the responsibilities and the consequences that can accompany becoming sexually active…
    Clue them into birth control They need to know how to use it and where to get it – and bear in mind that just because they know it’s available doesn’t necessarily mean they will use it as an excuse to have sex. What it will provide is the knowledge they need to avoid unwanted pregnancy when they do have sex.
    Educate them about STDs Teenagers are the largest social group affected by STDs such as chlamydia, herpes, and HIV and AIDS. Make sure your child knows that they won’t be immune just because they’re having sex for the first time, and do some online research together to find out about the risks and effects of unprotected sex.
    Preach about unplanned pregnancy It’s the heart of the matter: just one night of teen passion could result in a red-faced, crying bundle of joy nine months later. Here is where you go into detail about the potential effects of an unwanted pregnancy on your teen’s life and future: reinforce just how it would impact on your child’s youth, education and career. Boys and girls need to know that sex before they’re ready could result in them becoming parents before they’re ready.
If your religious or cultural beliefs make it difficult to be open with your child this needn’t preclude discussion – after all, you can convey your values to your child when you talk to him.


Single parents

Single parents often feel awkward bringing up the subject of sex with their children of the opposite gender but try not to avoid the subject if you can. A trusted relative or friend your child is close to might be able to help out; alternately your child’s paediatrician might agree to see you both for a chat. 

Related links

Peer Pressure: Whether they have fallen in with the ‘wrong crowd’, or started dressing like a slob, peer pressure may be partly to blame for your teenager’s behaviour. The Supernanny team has some simple ways you can support your child.

Teen Drinking: It's the 'socially acceptable' drug... but what do you do when your child starts drinking to excess? How can you talk to them about alcohol without shutting them out or losing their trust?

Find out more

Parentline Plus has a section on young people and sex, and includes advice on how to talk about the issues.

The Family Planning Association is the UK's leading sexual health charity

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