Planned Parenthood

Talking to Kids About Sex and Sexuality

Talking to Kids About Sex and Sexuality — at a Glance

  • It's best to start talking with children about sexuality in early childhood — but it's never too late.
  • Talking with children about sex and sexuality may be uncomfortable at first, but it gets easier with time and practice.
  • There are many different ways to start conversations about sex and sexuality. 

talk.JPGParents really make a difference when we talk with our kids. In fact, teens often name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sex. And teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use condoms and other contraceptives when they do have sex.

We can help our kids deal with topics related to sexuality starting when they are very young and throughout their lives. Sexuality includes a wide range of topics including male and female bodies and how they work, human development, reproduction, types of relationships, what makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy, sexual behavior, and how to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Talking to our teens about sex and sexuality may not always be easy. We're here to help you get the conversation started. Check out the video below.


Research shows that teens are more sexually active than parents think. By the time they're 19, seven out of 10 teens have had sex. Two thousand teens get pregnant in the U.S. every day. And teens have very high rates of sexually transmitted infections.

Parents really can make a difference. We can talk with our kids, build strong relationships with them, and set clear expectations and boundaries for them. These are proven ways we can help prevent teen pregnancy, reduce our teens' chances of getting STDs, and help ensure that they lead healthy and rewarding lives. So let's get talking.

Expand All

How Can I Start Talking to my Kids About Sexuality?

Everyday life provides lots of opportunities for talking about sexuality. When watching a TV show that shows a young person going through puberty or going out on a date, seeing an ad that prompts thoughts about body acceptance, or running into a pregnant neighbor, we can use that to initiate conversations with our children. These teachable moments occur every day, and can help make the conversation easier and more natural.

When Should I Start Talking to my Kids About Sexuality?

Some of us plan “the talk” for months, expecting to say everything important all at once. Then, when “the talk” doesn’t go as planned, we get frustrated. But talking with children about sexuality is a lifelong conversation. Doing a little bit at a time helps set realistic goals when we talk with our children. It also helps keep children from feeling overwhelmed.

It’s best to start talking with children about sexuality early. Children are curious about their bodies, being a boy or girl, and different kinds of relationships from a very early age. Their curiosity creates a natural opportunity to begin the conversation and start building a respectful and trusting relationship. For young children, you can start by teaching them the names of their body parts or asking if they know why girls and boys look different.

When we talk to our children about sex, it’s important to keep our conversation age appropriate. If a five-year-old asks, “what is birth?” we might respond, “when a baby comes out of a mother’s body.” If a 10-year-old asks the same question, our answer would have more detail and might begin with, “After nine months of growing inside its mother’s uterus, a baby comes out through her vagina…”

Providing young people with information that is age-appropriate makes it easier for them to understand that sex is a natural part of human and emotional development. It also makes it easier to talk with them about the more complicated aspects of sexual intimacy as they get older.

Don’t worry if you haven’t started talking with your children about sexuality yet. It’s never too late. Just don’t try to “catch up” all at once. The most important thing is to be open and available whenever a child wants to talk.

What Kinds of Things Should I Tell my Kids?

It’s important to give our kids truthful, useful, and accurate information that conveys our own values about sex and sexuality. It’s also important to prepare them to make responsible choices whenever they become sexually active. By the time they turn 19 years old, 70 percent of teens have had intercourse. So in addition to conveying our own values about sexual relationships, it’s important to talk with teens about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

It helps to think ahead of time about what messages we want to express. For example, a common topic that comes up with children is the difference between boys and girls or men and women. Some parents might want to convey the feeling that boys and girls are mostly the same except for some body parts, and boys and girls can do the same things. Other parents may want to express the belief that boys and girls are quite different from one another in many ways.

How Can I Make our Conversations More Comfortable?

Talking about sexuality may be uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier in time. Being open to discussing sexuality can be challenging. It’s common for parents and kids to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when talking to one another about sex. Owning up to that can help relieve the tension. We might try saying, “it’s totally normal that this feels awkward, but I love you and care about you so we need to talk about important things like this.” In time and with practice, it will get easier. The key is to keep the conversation open and ongoing. 

Listening to children shows them that we’re interested in and respect what they have to say. We don’t always have to agree with what we hear, but it is important to pay attention to what they say.

It can be tempting to jump in and give our point of view, but if we spend some time just listening and asking questions, we help our kids learn how to explain their ideas clearly. We get to know each other even better, and we build trust by showing we really care about our kids’ thoughts and feelings. We can show we understand their point of view by saying things like, “I think I see where you are coming from…” or “I understand what you are feeling and I often felt that way when I was your age, too.”

How Do I Answer My Kid's Questions About Sex and Sexuality?

Our kids have various reasons for asking us questions about sex and sexuality. They might ask out of curiosity. They may need help making a decision or making sense of the world. Or they may need to be reassured that they are “normal.” Kids may also disguise their real questions with other questions. So, no matter how surprising their questions may be, kids always need honest, factual answers. 

Here are some tips:

  • Try to find out what is really being asked. What seems like a straightforward question might not be. To find out the true nature of the question, we might ask, “What have you heard about that?” “What do you think about that?” or “Can you tell me what you already know about that?”
  • Don’t answer with too much information. We can keep answers short and simple and explain new words that our children might not have heard before. After giving an answer, we might encourage our kids to ask us follow-up questions by asking, “Is there anything else you would like to know?”
  • Check their understanding. After answering a question, we can ask, “Does that answer your question?” 

Some parents worry that they won’t know the answers to their children’s questions. It’s perfectly fine not to know something, or not to have an immediate answer. One of the best ways we can teach our kids about sexuality is to find the answers together and then talk about what we’ve learned. Seeking out information together in books, online, or by asking others can help build a respectful and trusting relationship, as well as model how our kids can seek answers on their own.

Check out this video for more information:

What Are Some Questions Preschoolers Ask?

Preschoolers ask very basic questions. Here are examples of how we might answer some of them.

Q. How do babies get in your tummy? 
A. When a woman has a baby in her tummy, it is called a pregnancy. Women have tiny eggs in a special part of their tummy. Men have very tiny seeds. Sometimes, when a man and a woman have sex together, the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina. They can start a pregnancy if one of his seeds comes out his penis and joins with one of the eggs in her body. Do you have any other questions about that?

Q. What's that? (pointing to a woman's breast, or other body parts.) 
A. That's a breast. Women have breasts. Men don't. Would you like to know anything else about that? 

Q. How come I have a penis and you don't? 
A. Boys have penises and girls have vulvas. I'm a woman — a girl who is all grown up — so I have a vulva instead of a penis. And you're a boy, so you have a penis instead of a vulva.

What Are Some Questions Elementary Schoolers Ask?

Here are a few examples of questions elementary school-aged kid commonly ask and some possible answers:

Q. Is it okay to touch yourself? 
A. Sure, it's okay. It feels good to touch ourselves, but we should only touch ourselves in private. 

Q. How do people get AIDS? 
A. AIDS is caused by a tiny germ called HIV. The germ hides in people’s blood. It can also hide in the fluids that come out of men’s penises and women’s vaginas. And it can hide in a woman’s breast milk. That’s why people can get HIV from people who have it in different ways. They can get it by having sex with them or by sharing needles with them to do drugs. Babies can get it from mothers who have it in their milk. The good thing is that most people can avoid getting AIDS by using condoms when they have sex. You cannot get AIDS just by being around someone who has it. Is there anything else you want to know about AIDS?

Q. Do boys have periods? 
A. No. Only women have periods. What do you know about periods? 

Q. What does "gay" mean? 
A. Some people are attracted to people of the same sex. They are called gay. People who are attracted to people of the other sex are called straight. People who are attracted to both sexes are called bisexual. Do you have other questions about that?

What Are Some Questions Teens Commonly Ask?

As kids grow and become teenagers, they ask more complex questions. Here are some common questions that they ask and some possible answers: 

Q. How do you know when puberty is over? 
A. It can be hard to tell. Some people don’t experience all the changes that happen during puberty until they’re 20 years old. But it can end earlier than that. Do you have other questions about puberty? 

Q. How big will my breasts get? 
A. It depends. Breasts come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. And when they're developing, they change all the time. Breasts can range from small to enormous. Whether yours are lemons or grapefruits, they're normal.

Q. Is it true that a girl can't get pregnant the first time she has sex? 
A. No, that's not true. If you're having vaginal intercourse and not using condoms or other birth control, you can get pregnant — whether it's the first time or the one hundred and first time. That's why most people use birth control the first time they have sex.

Q. What's the best birth control method? 
A. Different methods of birth control are best for different people. That's why it's important to learn about each method of birth control so you can choose the one that best for you. (Teens who are thinking about birth control might find it helpful to use My Birth Control.)

Q. Should people have sex if they're in love? 
A. Not necessarily. Sex is just one part of a whole relationship. It's just one way to express love. Choosing to be in a sexual relationship is a big decision. There's a lot to think about. And two people can love each other very much without having sex. Do you think you’re in love?

Q. Does it hurt to lose your virginity? 
A. Some women experience pain the first time they have vaginal intercourse. That’s because they may have a hymen in the opening of their vaginas that gets stretched open during first intercourse and may cause pain and bleeding. Guys do not have hymens, so this is not an issue for them. Do you have other questions about virginity?

We asked teens and parents — including actors Cynthia Nixon, Elizabeth Banks, and Alfre Woodard — about the conversations they've had with their families about sex. Here are their stories.

 
 

What Else Can I Do to Help My Teens Have Good Sexual Health and Relationships?

We can follow a few simple guidelines that will make teens less likely to engage in risky behavior such as drinking, smoking, having unprotected sex, or having sex before they are ready. Read more about setting boundaries for teens.

  • tumblr icon
  • google plus icon
  • twitter icon
  • rss icon
Talking to Kids About Sex and Sexuality