Sex education doesn’t need to be a single tell-all discussion. Follow your child’s cues about what he or she needs to know — and when.
Sex education often begins as simple anatomy lessons during the toddler years. But during the school-age years your child might start asking specific questions about sex. Not sure what to say? Consider this guide to discussing sex with your school-age child.
Expect detailed questions
Toddlers and preschoolers are often satisfied with vague answers to questions about where babies come from. But school-age children tend to ask more specific questions about the connection between sexuality and making babies. As your child’s questions about sex become more complex — and perhaps more embarrassing — he or she may turn to friends or other sources for information.
When your school-age child inquires about sex, ask what he or she already knows. Correct any misconceptions, and then offer enough details to answer the specific questions. Don’t laugh at your child’s questions or use nicknames for your child’s sexual anatomy, which may send the signal that these body parts shouldn’t be discussed.
Privacy. Children need to understand from the time that they’re very young that no one is allowed to touch their private parts unless Mommy or Daddy says it’s OK (at the doctor’s, for example), and that the child should tell a trusted adult about any such touching. Kids sometimes play doctor, or “I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours” — that’s common because children are naturally curious about each other’s bodies — but let them know in a gentle way that other forms of play are better because they respect everyone’s privacy.
Consider these examples:
What’s an erection? You might say, “A boy’s penis is usually soft. But sometimes it gets hard and stands away from the body. This is called an erection.” Describe how an erection can happen while a boy is sleeping or when his penis is touched. This might also be the time to describe a wet dream.
What’s a period? You might say, “A period means that a girl’s body is mature enough to become pregnant.” Explain how menstruation is an important part of the reproductive cycle. You might offer details on bleeding and feminine hygiene products.
How do people have sex? If your child wonders about the mechanics of sex, be honest. You might say, “The man puts his penis inside the woman’s vagina.” Consider using a book with illustrations or diagrams to help your child understand.
Can two girls have sex? Or two boys? It might be enough to say, “Yes. There are many types of intimate relationships.” If your child wants to know more, you might take the opportunity to talk about respect for others or to share your personal thoughts about homosexuality.
What’s masturbation? You might say, “Masturbation is when a boy rubs his penis or a girl rubs her vaginal area.” Remind your child that masturbation is a normal — but private — activity.
The goal is to inform and protect your children while making them feel good — not ashamed — of their bodies. Even if you’re uncomfortable, forge ahead. Remember, you’re setting the stage for open, honest discussions in the years to come.