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Talking With Your Child About Sexual Health

How to talk to your child about sex

  • Look for opportunities. Whenever a child asks a question, respond, even if the reply is, "Good question. We can talk about that later." (Don't forget to talk about it!)
  • When there is an opportunity - take it. You might start a discussion about something you see on TV, if you see a pregnant woman or if a pet has babies.
  • Remember that some children will ask questions but others will hesitate - you may need to start the conversation or ask the questions.
  • Make your answers honest, short and simple. You do not need to know everything about sex to teach your child what he or she wants to know. What you do not know you can find out.
  • Give information using words and ideas they can understand at their age.

For example, if a child asks, "Where do babies come from?"

  • Answer for a four-year-old: "Babies are made by a father and a mother and grow in a special place in a mother's body called a 'uterus'."
  • Answer for a nine-year-old: "Babies come from a man and woman having sexual intercourse. If they both want to, the man and woman get close together. Then the man slips his penis into the woman's vagina. This is called 'sexual intercourse'. Sperm comes out of the man's penis into the woman's vagina. If the sperm joins with an egg in the woman's body, the egg is fertilized. This new cell usually develops into a baby. It grows in the mother's uterus over the next nine months.”

Clarify what your child really wants to know before you answer.Talk Sex

  • Child: "Where do babies come from?"
  • Parent: "Do you want to know where they grow?”

Clear up any wrong information your child may have.

  • Child: "I grew in Mommy’s stomach."
  • Parent: "You grew in Mommy's uterus, dear.”

Find out how much your child already knows.

  • Child: "What does 'rape' mean?"
  • Parent: "What do you think it means?"

Find a time and place that is comfortable for you and your child such as at bedtime or when you are walking together.

Find your own words, to fit your needs and those of your child.

Acknowledge when you feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or you don't know an answer. It's okay.

Take time to think about how to answer a child's question. This could be a few minutes or a few days, as long as you help your child get an answer. You may want to talk with another adult about how you might answer a difficult question. If you aren't satisfied with the information you give or the way you handle a situation, explain this to your child and start again.

Be honest. If you give your child misinformation, sooner or later your child will learn that you didn't tell the truth. Your child could also be embarrassed by repeating incorrect information in front of others who then make fun of him or her.

"Remember when I told you that condoms are a type of balloon? Well, I know that you need to know that condoms are really used by people to keep from having a baby or getting a disease."

If two parents are raising the child, make sure you talk over what you want to say. If you find conflict between what your child is learning outside your home and your family's values you may want to reaffirm your own values. You may find it helpful to talk to your family doctor, your child's school or public health staff.

There are times when it may be better for a parent not to talk. For example, when an adult is having sexual problems, in the middle of a family crisis or when they are embarrassed, disgusted or fearful about sex. A book or pamphlet, a family friend or a trusted teacher may be a better source of information at this time.

If your child reacts strongly when you raise the subject, don't push him or her to talk more. Some parents find it easier at times like these to use a book or pamphlet-or just wait. No matter what you choose to do, make sure your child knows that you are willing to talk and listen. Keep trying different ways to start a conversation. With most kids something will eventually work!