When you talk to your kids about sex, early and often, they are much more likely to delay sex and to use contraception when they do become sexually active.
Tips for the Talk
It’s not a one-time thing.
Most teens prefer to get information a little bit at a time, especially when it comes to huge topics like love, sex, and relationships. So don’t wait for the “right time” to have one big sex talk; that’s a relic of days gone by. Ideally, you should start laying the groundwork while they’re young and keep a dialogue open throughout their teen years. Check out our age-appropriate guidelines for help getting started.
- Ages: 3-5 (Pre-school)
- Your toddler needs to know:
- Love should make people feel good, safe, and wanted
- Bodies are different sizes, shapes, and colors — and that’s ok
- Their bodies belong to them
- There's a difference between a “right” touch and a “wrong” touch
- Ages: 5-7 (Elementary)
Your child should be able to:
- Develop, maintain, and—if necessary—end friendships
- Know family members’ roles and duties
- Be themselves without feeling the need to act a certain way within their gender
- Know that people can come from different homes, and no single one is the “right” one
- Ages: 8-12 (Pre-teens)
Your pre-teen needs to know:
- How to make and maintain friends and relationships
- What can happen if they have sex, including teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- About sexual abuse, abusive relationships, and ways to protect themselves
- About family values, community, and peer norms regarding dating
- Ages: 13-17 (Teens)
- Your teen needs to know:
- It’s okay to wait to have sex — not everyone is doing it and having sex doesn’t make them a man or woman
- They are responsible for their choices, behaviors, and personal values
- About different types of birth control and what is best for them
- Details about STIs and
Fake it ‘til you make it! Remember that your kid can’t see your heart racing or hear your pulse pounding. Take a breath and try to remain calm. If you seem relaxed when you talk about sex, your kid will take a cue from you and realize there is nothing to be nervous about.
Another tactic is to just admit you’re nervous. Saying something like, “I know this might be an uncomfortable subject to talk about” or “I feel awkward bringing this up” lets kids know that you’re being authentic and that they can be too.
Often just acknowledging the awkwardness can make it disappear. A little humor can help ease the tension, too.
Use the media.
Sex is everywhere in movies, TV shows, music, and online. Use that to start a conversation by asking open-ended questions based on what you’re hearing or seeing.
About healthy relationships.
“The guy on this show really acts like a jerk to his girlfriend. I don’t think the language he uses is very respectful. What do you think?”
About specific subjects.
“Wow…that song talks about “going downtown” like oral sex is no big deal. Do your friends think it is?”
“So in this movie, they just met and they’re already having sex? That seems too soon to me. How long do you think a couple should wait?”
Try to phrase things in a way that won’t sound like an accusation. For example, “Are any of your friends having sex yet?” instead of “You’re too young to be having sex.”
Admit you don’t know.
If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t be afraid to say, “That’s a great question. Let me research it and I’ll let you know what I find out.”
Stay with it.
If your child is stonewalling you, don’t give up! Try again later, and keep trying. Even if your teen appears to be ignoring you in the moment, they do hear your message. Kids say their parents are the biggest influencers on their decisions about sex—more than their partners, and more than their peers!