How to talk to your kids about sex


It’s the conversation many parents dread – telling their little ones how babies are made and explaining awkward and complex topics like sexuality and intimacy. So how exactly should you have “the talk” with your kids? 


Is Junior ready for a discussion about sex?
How can you tell if your child is ready to have the sex talk? According to Ho Shee Wai, a psychologist, and director at The Counselling Place, the issue is not so much about whether your child is mature or old enough to know about sex. What matters is whether you and your spouse are ready to have the discussion. 

“As parents, you should ask yourselves if you’re comfortable talking about sex with your child,” says Shee Wai. “You have to be willing to bring up the subject, and when you do, you have to ensure that the information you’re sharing is accurate and age-appropriate.”

If your child asks you about sex, however, you should do your best to answer him. “Never dismiss your child’s curiosity about the subject,” says Hershey Regaya, programme manager at the Education & Outreach Department of the Family Life Society. “Questions should be answered as they arise so that your child’s natural curiosity is satisfied as he matures. Make him feel that you’re an approachable parent so that he won’t solely rely on friends or the media for answers about any sexual issues.”

You shouldn’t make your child feel bad for asking questions about sex, either, or he will think that talking about it is off-limits. Instead, affirm his interest and express appreciation that he raised the topic with you. “Your child should walk away with the impression that you and your spouse are the people to approach for questions about sex and sexuality,” Hershey adds.


Sex education is not a one-off discussion
The earlier you start talking to your child about sex, the more likely he will be able to make sound and healthy decisions on his own about sexuality. But the talk shouldn’t stop at one conversation; it should be an on-going task. 

Shee Wai advises you to use “teachable moments” to discuss various sex-related issues with him. A teachable moment is not planned; rather, it is a fleeting opportunity that must be sensed and seized.   


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“If, for example, you’re at the zoo with your child, and you see a female chimpanzee with her young, you can relate it to how human babies are made,” Hershey offers. “Or, if you’re changing your baby son’s diaper and your daughter points to your son’s penis and asks why she doesn’t have one too, you can use the opportunity to teach her the names of the various male and female body parts.”
Remember these tips when you have “the talk” 

These expert pointers will help make that conversation about sex a little easier:

Anchor the talk with references to family or religious values combined with scientific explanations. This is important whatever your child’s age, says Shee Wai. Your discussions about issues like forming healthy relationships, self-control, love, respecting others, and so on, should be grounded in the values your family subscribes to. 

And be sure to use scientific explanations where needed – so no nicknames or slang terms. Using anatomical terms de-stigmatises those body parts and helps your child develop a body image that is positive and free of shame. 

Use age-appropriate language. If your child is a pre-schooler, it’s okay to come up with creative but simple ways to explain different aspects of sex. For instance, Hershey suggests using words like “seed”, “egg” and “planting”, which serve as good analogies to the process of conception. 

Remember to emphasise the concept of love between Daddy and Mummy when explaining this process to your child. Shee Wai suggests saying something like “Sex is one of the ways people show love for each other and feel close to each other”.

If you don’t know something, say so. Be honest and say, “I don’t have the answer to that right now, but I’ll find out and get back to you”. And make sure that you do get back to your child, so that he understand he can rely on you if he ever has questions relating to sex or sexuality. 

Hershey suggests building a “tool kit” – made up of a list of sound and reliable web sources, books and magazines – as early as possible, so that you know how to answer your child when he approaches you at any age. 

Ask your child what he means. “No matter how old your child is, it’s always wise to respond with ‘What do you mean?’ so as to avoid confusion,” says Hershey. “For example, a question like ‘Where did I come from?’ could be a geographical one, or, if he heard his teacher tell his class to ‘Line up by sex’, he could just be asking for a vocabulary clarification when he asks you what ‘sex’ means.”


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Hershey continues: “In asking ‘What do you mean?’, your child will have to give you an answer one way or another. From this, you’ll be able to tell what generated his question in the first place. Once it’s clear that he really wants to know what sexual intercourse means, then you can dive into the subject.” 


What to talk about
These guidelines will help you know when to discuss what.


What to talk about:

Up to three years old, talk to your child about physical contact (appropriate versus inappropriate touch), exploring body parts, using accurate names and answering questions like “Where do babies come from?”. For four to five year-olds, give accurate information, and talk about nudity and masturbation.


How to describe sexual intercourse, conception and pregnancy:

“Daddy and Mummy love each other so much that we decided to make someone that would have Daddy’s and Mummy’s traits. To do this, Daddy had to be very close to Mummy so that he could put something into Mummy’s body. This tiny something is called a cell. The one coming from Daddy is a sperm cell. Mummy also has a little cell, but hers is called an egg cell. 

God/Nature has great plans for Mummies and Daddies to create babies, which is why God/Nature created Mummy’s and Daddy’s bodies to fit each other perfectly. The sperm and egg cells joined together in Mummy’s body to create a wonderful, unique person with Mum and Dad’s traits put together – and that person is you.” 

Whatever you communicate to your child, remember to ask him to repeat a few key points, since kids this age tend to have vivid imaginations, Hershey adds.


Lower Primary 
What to talk about:

The body parts related to the sexual functions, how babies are conceived and born, puberty and how the body changes during puberty, and menstruation,

How to describe sexual intercourse, conception and pregnancy:

“A child is born or created out of a very special love between Mum and Dad, or a husband and his wife. Mum and Dad show this special love by hugging, kissing and wanting to be close to each other. God/Nature created male and female bodies to fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s a unique way for Mum and Dad to say, ‘I love you so much!’ to each other without even saying a word. 

“As Mum and Dad are expressing their love for each other, a tiny cell from Dad called a sperm cell joins up with a tiny cell inside Mum called an egg. Together, these two cells form a baby. 

“This baby grows inside Mummy’s uterus – a place in a mum’s tummy that was made just to grow babies – and that’s why a mummy’s tummy grows bigger over nine months. It blows up like a balloon until the baby is ready to come out of his mummy’s body. It’s such an amazing process to give birth to another human being who has Mummy and Daddy’s trait’s and that unique human being is you.”

At this age, be sure to emphasise that sex is intimate and special, and that it is meant to take place in a marriage, says Hershey. And, like you would with a preschooler, remember to ask your lower primary school-age child to repeat a few key points to you to avoid misunderstandings. 


Upper Primary 
What to talk about:

The same topics as when you’re speaking with a lower primary child, plus birth control, sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV and Aids) and how they are spread, masturbation and homosexuality.


How to describe sexual intercourse, conception and pregnancy:

“Sexual intercourse is the scientific name for ‘making love’ or ‘having sex’. Sex is not just a physical activity; it involves not just the body but also the mind and heart. That’s why sex is best expressed in a marriage, where the husband and wife are committed to sharing their bodies, minds, hearts and souls with each other for the rest of their lives. 

“Having sex before and outside marriage degrades sex and can put the man and woman at risk of physical traumas, such as unwanted pregnancies or contracting sexually transmitted diseases, as well as emotional and psychological traumas. 

“When a couple wants to express their love for each other, they do so by being intimate with each other – they kiss, hug, and get as close to each other as they can. It’s a special and wonderful feeling for them. Their bodies are really saying ‘I love you!’ to each other without using any words. The sperm from the dad and the egg from the mum come together to form a zygote, and this zygote stays in the uterus until it becomes a baby. 

“After nine months, the baby is born, and a new life is created out of the love expressed by the husband and wife. The entire sexual act is therefore a means to create new life and to express the most intimate love between two people.”

Again, ask your child what he heard to make sure he didn’t think something different from you. “If your child asks for more details, such as which part of a dad’s body sperm comes out from, tell him ‘the penis’. Likewise, if he asks which part of a mum’s body a baby comes out from, tell him ‘the vagina’. Your overall tone and demeanour when you say these words should be matter-of-fact, lest you convey a message that sex is bad or dirty,” says Hershey.