The Basics: Overview
Teach your children the facts about their bodies, sex, and relationships. Talking with your kids about sex may not be easy, but it’s important – and it's never too early to start. You can make a big difference in helping them stay healthy and make good choices as they grow up.
It may be hard to know where to start, especially if your parents didn’t talk to you about sex when you were growing up. These tips and strategies can help.
What do I say?
Kids will have different questions and concerns about sex at different ages. As your child gets older, the things you talk about will change. Remember to:
- Talk early and often. You don’t have to fit everything into one conversation.
- Be ready to answer questions. Children’s questions can tell you a lot about what they already know.
- Listen carefully, even if you don’t agree with your child’s opinion.
- Try using things that come up on TV or in music to start a conversation.
- Be honest about how you are feeling. For example, if you are embarrassed or uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so.
The Basics: When to Start
When is the right time to start talking?
It’s never too early to start talking to children about their bodies. Use the correct names for private body parts. To learn the correct names, check out these labeled pictures:
Be sure to keep having conversations with your child during adolescence. Adolescence is the stage between childhood and adulthood. During this time, your child will go through puberty. Puberty (“PEW-ber-tee”) is when your child’s body starts to change into an adult’s body.
The Basics: Puberty
What do I tell my child about puberty?
Puberty is different for each child.
Puberty can be a confusing and overwhelming time for many kids. You can help your kids by:
- Telling them that puberty is a normal part of growing up
- Sharing facts to help them understand their changing bodies and feelings
- Talking about your own experiences when you were a kid
During puberty, kids may be less likely to ask you questions, so it’s a good idea for you to start conversations with them.
The Basics: Gender
What if my child has questions about being a boy or girl?
Some children act or feel like they are a different gender (boy or girl) than their birth sex (male or female). For example, a male child may feel like a girl, not a boy. And some kids don't feel like a boy or a girl.
When people act or feel like they are a different gender than their birth sex, this is called being "gender non-conforming." Children may feel this way from very early on, or they may start to feel this way during puberty.
For some kids, being gender non-conforming is temporary – for others, it's not. Either way, it's important to let your child know that you love and accept him no matter what. Get more tips for parenting a gender non-conforming child.
The Basics: Healthy Relationships
How can I help my child build healthy relationships?
Families have different rules about when it’s okay for kids to start dating. Whatever your family rules are, the best time to start talking about healthy relationships is before your child starts dating.
Start conversations about what to look for in a romantic partner. Help your kids develop realistic and healthy expectations for their relationships.
Talk about opposite-sex (straight) and same-sex (gay or lesbian) relationships.
When you talk to your child about sex and relationships, don’t assume she is straight. Let your child know that it’s okay to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight – and that you love and accept her no matter what.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens whose parents are supportive are less likely to be depressed, and more likely to make healthy choices about sex and relationships. Find out how you can support a lesbian, gay, or bisexual teen [PDF - 256 KB].
Get more tips to help you talk to your kids about healthy relationships.
The Basics: Pregnancy and STDs
What do I tell my child about preventing pregnancy and STDs?
Make sure your kids have the facts they need to make healthy decisions. This includes information about pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) like HIV/AIDS and chlamydia.
Both boys and girls need to know how to stay safe. Even if you think your child isn’t dating or having sex, talk about ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs.
Tell your child about different birth control methods, like condoms and birth control pills. Make sure he knows which methods also help prevent STDs.
Check out these links to learn more:
The Basics: Why It Matters
Will talking to my child really make a difference?
Parents are the most important influence on a teen’s decisions about sex and relationships. Your child may want to talk to you about sex and dating, but may not know how to start the conversation.
Teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to put off having sex until they are older. They are also more likely to make healthy choices, like using condoms to prevent pregnancy and STDs, if they do choose to have sex.
Get more tips on talking to your teen about sex and relationships [PDF - 1.5MB].