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Guide

How to talk to your children about sex

It’s not about one embarrassing ‘big talk’. Prepare and protect them by applying these basic principles early and often

Photo by David Hurn/Magnum Photos

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Eva Goldfarb

is professor of public health at Montclair State University, New Jersey. For more than 30 years, she has developed sexuality education and sexual health programmes for youth, parents, educators and other professionals, and has trained current and future school teachers across the United States.

Edited by Christian Jarrett

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Need to know

Isn’t my child too young to learn about sex?
Won’t this destroy their innocence?
Won’t it just make them more curious and want to experiment?
What if I get it wrong or don’t know what to say?

If these are concerns you have when you think about talking with your child about sex and sexuality-related topics, you are not alone! As a sexuality education professional, who has helped thousands of worried and anxious parents and caregivers to become more comfortable, confident and skilled in having these important conversations with their children, I’ve been asked these very questions too many times to count.

Raising a sexually healthy child is one of the most fraught aspects of parenting. You want your child to be safe from abuse and exploitation (and later from unplanned pregnancy and STIs), and to grow into an adult with the capacity for sexual relationships that are loving, healthy, responsible, consensual and, yes, pleasurable. At the same time, you are afraid you don’t have the know-how to answer all of their questions, worry about feeling awkward, are not sure when to have ‘the talk’, and most of all – if you are like the vast majority of people – you want to make sure you do a better job than your parents probably did.

In large part, the reason parents lack confidence in talking to their young children about sexuality-related issues is that they themselves did not get very good sex education or information when they were growing up. Some 50 years ago, the clinical psychologist, author and pioneer sex educator Sol Gordon observed there’s something wrong with a country that says: ‘Sex is dirty, save it for someone you love.’ Unfortunately, this contradictory message, and the often unhelpful guidance it generates, continues to flourish today so that, despite their parents’ best intentions, young children often learn early on that sex is a taboo subject, that the human body is shameful, genitals are dirty and offensive (yet perplexingly, for females, also precious and sacred), and that there are strict and different rules for how girls and boys are expected to feel and behave.

Silence is not an option

The dilemma, of course, is that avoiding the topic altogether essentially abdicates one of your most important roles as a parent, and serves only to reinforce those unhealthy messages. So silence is not an option. Our parents did the best they could. We have to do better.

I’ve found that the core concerns of parents have not varied much over generations and regardless of their cultural background. However, one dramatic change that has brought new urgency for parents to start talking with their children early is the ubiquity of the internet and social media. If parents and other responsible adults don’t talk with children about sexuality starting at a very young age, their naturally curious children will learn (mis)information, values and attitudes about sex from their equally ignorant peers, older siblings (and older siblings of their friends), television, social media, video games, music videos and lyrics, and yes, porn.

You cannot keep your child from being exposed to bad information or values you don’t agree with. But you can help them think critically about what they hear, differentiate fact from fiction, good and bad sources of information, and, most importantly, you can share with them your values and beliefs about sex and sexuality.

In any case, you remain the most important sex educator of your children. Beginning in infancy, and in the course of daily living, children learn primarily by watching the behaviour of adults in their families, and listening to the conversations between those adults. Throughout childhood, they are saturated with messages and values from their families about their bodies, individual agency, the meaning of touch, physical and emotional intimacy, communication, gender norms, consent, boundaries, privacy, relationships, love, and so many other aspects of human sexuality. You may not realise how powerful your influence is, but the research tells us that young people’s sexual decision-making tends to reflect what they see and hear from their families. Studies also confirm that children who learn about sex from their parents at an early age are more protected from child sexual abuse when they are young and, when they are older, tend to wait longer before they have sex, have fewer partners, and use protection more frequently when they do.

From infancy through old age, humans are sexual beings. Just as you want to support your child’s physical, emotional and cognitive growth, it’s also important to nourish your child’s healthy sexual growth. Each stage of sexual development is characterised by certain hallmarks. Knowing what these are can help you to know when and how to address different topics.

The stages of sexual development in young children

The following information will help you better understand the different stages your child goes through, but remember that each individual child develops at their own pace.

Infants and toddlers

At this stage, most children are curious about their own and other people’s bodies and will want to explore. This includes experiencing erections or vaginal lubrication, and being curious about that too. It is very common for children this age to touch their genitals for pleasure and comfort, and talk openly and freely about their own and other people’s bodies. During this stage, they are able to learn and say the correct terms for body parts, including their genitals. They also are able to identify their gender and the gender of others, recognising physical differences in the bodies of different sexes.

Age four to five

At this age, most children continue to experience the same body curiosity and exploration as before, but with more awareness about how their body functions. They also expand their curiosity to everything around them. They may ask where babies come from, and how they themselves were born (especially if they know someone who is pregnant, or if a new sibling is born). Their interest in bodies may lead them to play games like ‘doctor’ with other children. By this age, most children are sure of their own gender, and recognise and apply gender-role stereotypes and norms to themselves and others.

Age six to eight

By now, most children have a stronger self-concept in terms of body image and gender. They tend to like socialising with their own gender almost exclusively, and may engage in same-gender sexual exploration. They adhere rather strongly to pre-defined gender roles, and may tease a child who does not express their gender in traditional ways. However, if they are taught about it, they are also able to understand the concept of stereotyping and the problems it can cause. They develop a more complex understanding of sexuality, and come to recognise that sexual behaviours, including sexual intercourse, can be separate from making a baby.

By this age, children are also aware of society’s values and norms about sex and sexuality (as well as norms around talking about these topics). They may be less likely to ask questions than they did when they were younger, especially if parents and caregivers are hesitant to talk about it. They also begin to rely more on peers, media and other sources of information about sex and sexuality aside from their families.

There are no scripts

Many parents want to nurture their young children’s healthy sexual development but wonder about how, and how much to say, as well as when and in what way to say it. While there are no scripts with precise words that will work for all families and all situations, there are some very straightforward and effective guidelines for talking with young children starting at birth – and I share these with you in the next section. With a little practice, some courage, and a lot of compassion for yourself and your child, you can make sure your child has the right tools to navigate a sexually challenging world.

What to do

Think about the values you want to pass on to your child

It starts with you, as a parent, deciding what are the most important and enduring messages you want to make sure your child gets from you. When you’re busy, it’s tempting to just pass on the values your parents instilled in you without examining them closely. So take some time to think about not only what values you inherited from your parents – about appropriate gender roles, attitudes toward certain body types, beliefs about sex and marriage – but what values and big messages you want to pass on to your children, and then make sure that you make them part of your daily conversations and interactions, regardless of the specific topic. Further, try to behave consistently with your values. Your child is always watching. To get going, think now: if you could pass on just one or two messages to your child about healthy sexuality, what would they be?

Have ongoing conversations throughout their childhood

A common misconception is that you need to have one ‘big talk’ to explain the ‘the birds and the bees’. In fact, it is better to talk early and often with your child, to let them know that sexuality is an important topic in your family, that it is not taboo, and that they can come to you with their questions and concerns. Frankly, it’s also much easier for both of you when these conversations are shorter, simpler, more casual, and integrated into your regular parenting conversations early on. You are establishing lines of communication that will make it easier to have more challenging conversations when they get older. Trying to save it all up for one big talk – usually around puberty – is too late, extremely overwhelming, and will be much harder to do at this stage of your child’s development if you haven’t been practising open, honest and supportive communication with them from the start.

Your influence on your children’s understanding of and attitudes toward sex actually begins when they are still babies. A child’s earliest emotional attachments are formed in infancy and toddlerhood, through their physical and emotional contact with you. When you hold, kiss, hug and snuggle them, soothe them when they are upset, sing to them, and play with them, they learn to trust and experience the comforting positive sensations of being loved. Research in the area of attachment theory suggests that the early bonds between an infant and their parent/caregiver can set the foundation for more mature forms of physical intimacy and love that develop later. Children who establish a secure attachment with a parent/guardian at a very early age are more likely to become adults who have trusting, lasting relationships, and can share their emotions with friends and partners.

How you react to your infant or toddler’s natural exploration of their own body can have a powerful impact on how they feel about themselves and their natural curiosities. Use proper names for your baby’s genitals and other body parts, when changing their diaper, giving them a bath, and in the normal course of talking to them every day. Normalise their exploration of their bodies, and also begin to talk about boundaries – when and where touching and exploration is appropriate. Explain to them when you are changing their diaper or bathing them that you are touching them to help keep them clean and healthy. Remember, at this stage, the exact words you use are less important than a relaxed, warm tone of voice and comfortable body language that conveys the message that our bodies are good and learning about them is too. Whether they are feeling their toes, touching their penis, or enjoying being naked, share your child’s delight in their exploration. Use an easy-going, relaxed voice, loving words and supportive facial expressions while saying something like ‘Your body has so many wonderful parts!’

As your child gets a bit older and you decide you want to put some boundaries around their behaviour, avoid language or actions that are likely to elicit shame (pulling their hand away or saying something like ‘Don’t do that’, or ‘Cover up your body right now’). Instead, give a supportive, loving message while clearly conveying your family’s values. The exact words you use will depend on your own views and values about appropriate behaviours and boundaries, but your tone, words and body language should convey warmth and reassurance about the inherent goodness of their body. For example, you might say: ‘I know you really like to be naked but not everyone feels the same way so when we have visitors it’s important to wear some clothes,’ or ‘It’s great that you like to touch your vulva as long as you do it in private. That is not something we do in front of other people.’

Be responsive to your child’s questions and follow their lead

Even if you are trembling inside or surprised by what your child asks about sex or sexuality, always validate their question. Let them know you are happy that they came to you, and that you are going to do your best to give them a good answer. It will encourage them to come to you with other questions.

The information younger children are seeking is almost always much simpler than you think. When they come to you with a question, start by asking them a few questions yourself, to get a handle on what they really want to know and how you want to respond. If your three-year-old asks you ‘How did I get here?’, try saying something like: ‘I can understand why you would be curious about that. How do you think you got here?’ Or try: ‘That’s a great question. What made you think about that today?’ Once you have a better understanding of what they want to know, you can formulate an appropriate response.

Take advantage of things you experience with your child or that they comment to you about. Only you can know when your child is ready to talk about sex. If they ask you about it or make a comment about it, it is important to take that as a cue to ask them what they know, what they are curious about, and then to respond. But it is also OK to decide they are not ready.

Suppose you are with your child at the zoo and together you witness two animals engaged in sexual behaviour – quite a common sight. Remember, follow your child’s lead. If they say nothing, you can say nothing. If they ask you what the animals are doing, tell them: ‘That’s a good question. What do you think is going on?’ If your child points to the animals and comments that they are fighting or playing, you don’t have to correct them if they are not showing any signs of interest in sex or sexual behaviour. Or, if they do know about sex and procreation, you can point out to your child that this may be what the animals are doing and that, like human adults, they may be doing it to make a baby or just because it makes them feel good.

Remember, you don’t have to answer everything all at once. Short, simple answers allow you to establish a foundation with your young child that you can build upon piece by piece as they mature, thus setting the stage for the more complex and difficult conversations that will come later on in adolescence.

Always check in with your child afterwards to see if you’ve answered their questions and if there is more they want to know. If you’ve shared something that is too advanced for your child’s interest or understanding, don’t fear – the most likely response will be that it will go over their heads, and/or they will lose interest.

If you’re unsure what to say, follow the LOVE principle

Whenever you get stuck and are unsure how to respond to your child’s question or comment about sexuality, think back to those essential messages that you want to convey and ensure they come through in your answer – and build your response from there. Use the acronym LOVE to help you to remember some important components to include:

Learning: What information and facts do I want to convey?

Outcome: What result do I ultimately want for my child from this conversation?

Values: What are the deeply held beliefs I want to convey in my answer?

Emotions: How do I feel about the question? How might my child be feeling?

For example, imagine your eight-year-old says to you one day: ‘Kids in school were talking about sex. It sounds really gross. Do I have to do that when I get married?’ First, you take a deep breath. Then praise your child for coming to you with such an important question, which encourages them to ask questions in the future… and buys you a few precious seconds to calm yourself and consider a response. You might say: ‘I’m glad you are asking me that question because I don’t think third graders really have all of the right information when it comes to sex.’

What are some other things to consider? As I mentioned, let them take the lead and find out their level of understanding. You may wonder what exactly your child heard in school and what they actually know about sex. So first you might ask them: ‘What did the kids in school say about sex?’ This will give you an idea of the level of sophistication as well as the accuracy of your child’s thinking.

Now, when it comes to the information you give your child, you can use the LOVE acronym to guide the sorts of things you might mention:

Learning: How sexual intercourse is related to procreation; how the sperm get from one person’s body to another; what is required for fertilisation; differentiating ‘sexual intercourse’ from other potential forms of sexual behaviour.

Outcome: You want your child to feel good about themselves and their own agency. You want to reassure them that however they feel right now is OK and that they get to decide what’s right for themselves in the future. You want them to continue to learn about sex and sexuality at their own pace and comfort level.

Values: Sex can happen within or outside of marriage; sex should always be consensual; sex doesn’t have to be just for procreation; sex is only appropriate for grownups.

Emotions: You are happy your child is coming to you with their questions. You acknowledge their curiosity, confusion and even repulsion. If you are bothered because you feel your child is too young to be talking about the topic of sex with their eight-year-old peers, you can share that with them, too, and explain why you feel that way.

Remember, these are just suggestions for each step, you must make your own decisions according to your own values and taking into account your own child’s needs.

Sometimes – even with the help of the LOVE approach – there will be questions that really flummox you and you can’t think of an age-appropriate response (or the correct information!) ‘What is a condom?’ ‘What does transgender mean?’ ‘What is rape?’ In these cases, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know how to answer their question. You won’t always have the answers and you don’t have to. On these occasions, after thanking your child for asking, and maybe asking them what they know or what they’ve heard so you have a clearer understanding of their question, you can say something like: ‘That’s a great question but I’m not sure how to answer it. Let me think about it so I can give you a good answer.’ Then, if you need to do some research, and maybe talk with friends or other adults you trust, do that, remembering the four essential LOVE questions.

The great part about parenting is that these conversations are never a one-shot deal. If necessary, you get to say: ‘I don’t think I did a very good job of answering your question this morning. Here is what I wanted to say and what I want you to know.’

It is also perfectly fine not to answer personal questions from your children, such as ‘How old were you when you started having sex?’ Be honest as you explain your values around privacy. Just as important, model this value by not prying into personal areas that make your child uncomfortable. Let them set boundaries as well.

Help your child to process the information they get from the world around them

While you are your child’s most important sexuality educator, you are by no means their only one. You must assume they are also seeing and hearing things when you are not there. So, when your child asks you a question that shocks you or seems out of character for them, or is about something you don’t think is age-appropriate, it is essential that you remain calm (at least on the outside), validate their question, and then gently probe to find out what prompted it. Often they overheard their peers or older children at school talking about something having to do with sex, or they read something or saw something on TV or the internet that was not meant for them.

Knowing the source of the information can help provide you with some context that can guide your response. Sometimes, it is just impossible to give any kind of accurate answer to their question that will be age-appropriate. In that case, it is OK to say so. For example, suppose your six-year-old child gets off the school bus one day and says to you: ‘The older kids were talking about condoms coming in different flavours. What are condoms? Do they come in flavours for kids? Can we get some?’ You might try saying something like ‘I can see why you would want to know more about that. The truth is that condoms are for grownups and something you don’t need to know about right now, but we can talk about it when you are a little bit older.’ Or, ‘Condoms are something that some people use when they have sex. But sex is only something for adults, not children so it’s not so easy to understand right now, but we can talk about it when you are older, and I’m so glad you asked me about it so you don’t have to be confused.’ It is important again to share your values in whatever answer you give, and to reassure your child that their curiosity is OK and they are OK. This can put your child at ease about something that may make them uncomfortable, while keeping the door open for more conversations and giving yourself time to think about what you want to say to your child and how you want to say it if and when it comes up again.

Some issues are worth communicating to your child at different ages

If your child doesn’t ask questions about sex or sexuality, that’s perfectly fine too. They may not be ready for the information, so don’t worry about it. Remember, follow their lead. Nonetheless, there are certain pieces of developmentally appropriate information, messages and values that can be very helpful for your child even if they don’t ask about them explicitly. The guidance below will help you. You can weave these messages into your daily conversations and interactions with your child at different ages. Again, remember that children develop at different rates, and that what you actually say will depend on what values you want to share with your child about their sexuality.

Age three to five

Continue to normalise your child’s interest in their own and other people’s bodies while being more explicit about appropriate boundaries – what is and is not OK when it comes to touching other people or being touched by other people. Tell your child it is not OK for other people to ask or try to touch their genitals. Make sure to tell them that they can always tell you about inappropriate touches or other behaviours any time, even if someone asks them to keep it a secret.

This is an ideal time to begin to discuss your family’s values and rules. Be clear about when it is OK to be naked, where and when it is appropriate to touch their own genitals, what are appropriate ways to show affection. Some specific messages to give to your toddler:

  • Each person gets to decide what they want to do with their own body and who gets to touch them.
  • It is just as important for people to be able to accept ‘no’ as to be able to say ‘no’ to something they do not want to do. So convey to your child that it is OK if someone tells them ‘no’ if your child asks them to do something. It is not a reflection on your child, just a reflection of the other person’s wishes, and they must respect that. (This message is especially important for boys to hear and accept. Traditional gender norms teach boys from a very young age not to take ‘no’ for an answer, to keep pushing until they get what they want. That ‘assertiveness’ is viewed by some traditionalists as a positive aspect of masculinity. But when boys take that lesson to heart and enact it in sexual situations when they are older, they are at risk of perpetrating sexual assault.)

But talking is not enough. Your actions have to be consistent with your words. So, for example, don’t force your toddler to hug grandma or uncle Paul if they don’t want to. Grandma and uncle Paul are adults, they will understand (and even if they don’t, they will be OK), but your child needs to know that you mean it when you say they have control over their bodies, who they touch and let touch them.

At this age they are becoming very curious about the world around them, so they might ask you how a baby is born or how they themselves were born. Sharing your child’s own birth story can be a wonderful experience and may be all they need. It also provides an opportunity for you to explain that families can be built in many different ways.

By age four to five, some children might want to know more about how babies are made and press you for more detail. Remember, as tricky as it might be to figure out how to respond to them, wouldn’t you rather they learn from you than from another child or from the internet? I suggest telling them something like ‘There are lots of ways babies are made’, and then using basic biological language to a level that is appropriate to your child’s level of understanding and curiosity, such as ‘A baby is made by joining together a sperm and an ovum (egg)’ and ‘Two people can mix their sperm and their egg together or they might get sperm or an egg from someone else.’

Keep in mind that it’s always OK to tell your child that you will explain more details when they are older. Just make sure to be honest with them.

Age six to eight

As your child becomes more socially involved with their peers, they will be increasingly exposed to family structures and dynamics different from their own. Continue to help your child expand their understanding that families and relationships can take many different forms but what is important is that a family loves and takes care of one another. Some other messages that are important at this age include:

  • Everybody deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.
  • Every child deserves to be loved.
  • No one can tell you who you can love.
  • You are great, just the way you are.
  • Families are different and everyone gets to love and be proud of their families.

As peers take on increasing importance for your child, talk with them about the most critical relationships currently in their lives; about the qualities of a good friend (someone who likes you just the way you are; who supports you when you are sad; who shares interests with you; whom you trust…); how good it feels to have friends and family you love; and that friendships should be mutual (if one person gets their way all the time and the other person doesn’t ever get to do what they like to do, then it’s not a very good friendship).

Because of the likelihood that your child will explore (or accidentally stumble upon) social media, the internet and adult television and movie programming, talk with them about how to navigate this world safely. Tell them what your family’s values are, and rules about appropriate and inappropriate use of technology and, importantly, explain why you have those rules (I discuss the issue of pornography in more detail in the Learn More section of this Guide).

At this age, start to talk more explicitly about the dangers of sexual abuse. Tell your child that sexual behaviour is never appropriate between adults and children. If an adult asks them to touch the adult’s genitals or asks to touch the child’s genitals, it is never OK. Tell them that they can always tell you or another trusted adult, even if the person tells them to keep it a secret. Ask them to identify people in their lives they consider to be trusted adults.

Tell your child your rules about talking with strangers or sharing pictures with friends online. If you decide you want to fully monitor their digital behaviour, explain to them why. Tell them that, while you respect their privacy, it is your job to keep them safe and so you will have access to all of their communications. This is much better than spying, and helps to clarify personal boundaries.

Talk with your child about how bodies change and grow. Show them pictures of themselves from the time they were born up through their current age, and comment on how much their body has changed and how they are still the same person. Talk more explicitly with your child about privacy, personal boundaries, masturbation and nudity.

Prepare them for more changes that will be coming with puberty. Tell them about some of the changes that will happen in their bodies as they grow older. Waiting until they are already going through puberty is too late!

Remember you don’t have to do this all by yourself, there are a lot of wonderful resources to help you talk with your child about all these different topics. Not only are there books and websites for parents, there are innumerable books for children of all ages that tackle sensitive topics with simplicity, humour and great age-appropriate information – see the Links and Books section for suggestions. If you’re ever unsure, talk with your partner, with your friends, with other parents. Compare notes. Don’t feel like you have to do this alone.

Key points – How to talk to your children about sex

  1. Silence is not an option. You cannot keep your child from being exposed to bad information or values you don’t agree with. But you can help them think critically about what they hear, and share with them your values and beliefs about sex and sexuality.
  2. Know the stages of sexual development in young children. It is important to understand the different stages and levels of understanding your child goes through, while remembering each individual child develops at their own pace.
  3. There are no scripts. There are no precise words that will work for all families and all situations but, with a little practice, some courage and a lot of compassion for yourself and your child, you can make sure your child has the right tools to navigate a sexually challenging world.
  4. Think about the values you want to pass on to your child. From issues around gender roles, appreciation of bodies, to sex and marriage, spend some time thinking about the values and big messages you want to pass on to your children.
  5. Have ongoing conversations throughout their childhood. A common misconception is that you need to have one ‘big talk’ to explain the ‘the birds and the bees’. In fact, it is better to talk early and often with your child. Take advantage of everyday experiences with your child or things that they comment to you about.
  6. Be responsive to your child’s questions and follow their lead. Always validate their question. Let them know you are happy that they came to you, and that you are going to do your best to give them a good answer.
  7. If you’re unsure what to say, follow the LOVE principle. Think about what facts you want to your child to learn; what you hope the outcome will be for the conversation; what values you hope to impart; and consider your own and your child’s emotional feelings about the question.
  8. Help your child to process the information they get from the world around them. While you are your child’s most important sexuality educator, you are by no means their only one.
  9. Some issues are worth communicating to your child at different ages. These include the dangers of sexual abuse, and respecting the right of other people to say ‘no’.

Learn more

How to talk about pornography

If your child uses smartphones or the internet without adult supervision, if they attend school or have playdates outside of your home, if they are already consuming media, including television shows, commercials, movies, music or books, if they have older siblings or friends, or if they are asking you questions about bodies and sex – it is the right time to talk with them about pornography.

A survey of American teens published by Common Sense Media in 2022 revealed that the average age of first exposure to porn is 12 years, with 15 per cent reporting their first exposure at age 10 or younger.

It is a good idea to utilise parental controls and locks on your televisions and your child’s internet settings. You should also establish rules about when and where your child can access the internet. Don’t let your child go to sleep with a phone or tablet. Monitor their phone conversations (with their knowledge). Even with all of these guard rails, however, you can’t keep your child from seeing and hearing inappropriate content. But you can help them to understand what they saw. And, like everything else, the best time to have these conversations is early on, before they are likely to be exposed to it.

The good news is that, if you’ve been following the advice in this Guide and have already established a practice of talking with your child on a regular basis about sexuality-related topics, you are in great shape! Talking about pornography, again in short, casual snippets, will be much less challenging for you and much easier for your child to understand if you are both already used to talking about sexuality-related issues.

The goal is to help your child to develop media literacy (and porn literacy), so that when they encounter harmful or unrealistic messages outside of your presence, they will be able to think critically about what they are seeing and hearing, making it less likely they will be affected in a negative way. In addition to the messages you have been giving them all along about things like respecting bodies, consent, boundaries, nudity, and gender equity, include specific media-related messaging in your conversations. For instance, when you are watching television or a movie with your child, model critical thinking by asking questions (‘Do you think most women usually dress that way in real life?’ or ‘How come they always show families that have a mom and a dad. Why don’t they show other kinds of families?’) With young children, these questions don’t have to be about sex per se. You are helping your child to develop a healthy scepticism about what they encounter in the media, and skills to understand how and why media depictions may not represent reality. Point out messages that are exaggerated, false, or problematic in some other way.

As your child gets older and more curious about bodies and sex, you can share more specific messages about depictions of sex in the media and, in particular, pornography:

  • Pornography is made for adults.
  • Pornography does not portray how people really have sex. It is a fantasy made with actors and it’s their job to get you to watch and, ultimately, to pay money for it.
  • You don’t want them looking at pornography because it can be scary for a child who won’t know what they are looking at, and it’s not for them.
  • Your child should always tell you right away if they ever come across something like that, either by accident, or if someone else shows it to them, and that you are always there to talk with them.

As with all of the conversations about sexuality that you have with your child, keep in mind the big picture. Use the LOVE model to consider what messages you want to give and what the ultimate outcome is that you want for your child. By continuing to normalise your child’s curiosity and concerns, and making yourself a safe and trusted source for support and information, you are helping your growing child to develop respect and appreciation for their own and other people’s bodies, and the skills to keep themselves healthy, safe and informed now and into the future.

Links & books

Amaze is a website featuring more than 200 videos and resource guides to help tweens learn about their bodies and relationships. It serves educators and caregivers by providing resources and advice they can then deliver to young people. Amaze Jr features videos for parents and caregivers of children ages 4-9. The videos and accompanying discussion questions help adults find the words to address tough questions. There are also videos for young children themselves.

Sex Ed Rescue is an online resource developed by a sexual health nurse from Australia. It simplifies sex education and helps parents to empower their children with the right information about sex, so kids can talk to them about anything, no matter what.

Sex Positive Families is a website that provides parents and caregivers with education, resources and support to raise sexually healthy children including parent coaching, a podcast, reading lists and more.

Books for children

There are numerous books about sexuality written for children of different ages. I suggest reading a book before sharing it with your child. Select the ones that reflect your values and your own child’s needs. Here are some of my favourites for their great descriptions, illustrations and inclusivity.

For very young children: What’s in There? All About Before You Were Born (2013) by Robie Harris (for ages 2-5); It’s Not the Stork! A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends (2006) by Robie Harris (for ages 3 and up).

For children aged 4-8: What Makes a Baby? (2013) by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth; Where Willy Went (2004) by Nicholas Allan, a book on reproduction that is not explicitly about sexual intercourse; The Great Big Hug (2019) by Isy Abraham-Raveson, a book on consent and boundaries; It’s So Amazing! A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families (updated 2014) by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley (for ages 6 and up).

For slightly older children: Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and You (2015) by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (for ages 8-10); It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health (2014) by Robie Harris (for ages 10 and up).