Talk to Your Kids about Sex

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

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. The following tips and strategies can help.

What do I say?

Kids 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.

Will talking to my child really make a difference?

Parents are the most important influence on a teen's decisions about sex and relationships – even more important than friends, siblings, or the media. Most teens say   that it would be easier to make decisions about sex if they could talk openly and honestly with their parents.

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 (sexually transmitted diseases), if they do choose to have sex.

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The Basics: Bodies and Puberty

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 slideshows:

What do I tell my child about puberty?

Puberty is when your child's body starts to develop and change into an adult body. Puberty is different for each child.

Puberty can be a confusing and overwhelming time for many children. 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 growing up

As your kids get older, they may be less likely to ask you questions, so it’s a good idea for you to start conversations with them.

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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 than the sex that's listed on their birth certificate. For example, a child who was born male 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 diverse." Some kids may feel this way from very early on, while others may start to feel this way during puberty.

It's important to let your children know that you love and accept them – no matter what. Get more tips for parenting a gender diverse child.

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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 form realistic and healthy expectations for their relationships.

Talk about opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

When you talk about sex and relationships, don't assume that your teen is only interested in opposite-sex relationships. Some teens may be interested in same-sex relationships or identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

No matter what, it's important to let your children know that you love and accept them. 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 with your kids about healthy relationships.

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The Basics: Pregnancy and STDs

What do I tell my teen about preventing pregnancy and STDs?

Make sure your kids have the facts they need to make healthy decisions. This includes information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like HIV/AIDS and chlamydia.

Both boys and girls need to know how to stay safe. Even if you think your teen isn’t dating or having sex, talk about ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Tell your teen about different kinds of birth control. It's also important to make sure your teens know how to use condoms to prevent STDs – even if they're also using another method to prevent pregnancy.

Check out these links to learn more:

Ask your kids where they get information about sex, pregnancy, and STDs.

Make sure you know where your child is getting health information. Some sources of information may be more accurate than others. 

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Take Action!

Take Action: Start Talking

Kids need information from an adult they trust. Use these tips to start a conversation with your child today.

Talk early and often.

Start having conversations about your values and expectations while your child is young. Your child will get used to sharing information and opinions with you. This will make it easier for you to keep talking as your child gets older.

There’s more than one way to talk to kids about sex. Try having lots of little conversations about sex instead of one big talk. And remember, if you’ve been putting it off, it’s never too late to start a conversation about sex.

Start small.

Try not to give your kids too much information at one time. Give them time between conversations to think. They may come back later and ask questions.

Practice active listening.

Active listening is a way to show your kids that you are paying attention and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. Try these tips:

  • Nod your head and make eye contact to show that you are interested in the conversation.
  • Repeat back what your child says in your own words. For example, “What I hear is that you are feeling frustrated with our rules. You feel that you are old enough to make your own decisions.”

Get more listening tips for parents.

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Take Action: Ask and Answer Questions

Ask questions.

Give your kids time and space to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Ask for their opinions. Be sure to listen, even if you don't agree with your child's opinion.

Try asking questions like:

  • When do you think it’s okay to start dating?
  • Have you talked about puberty or sex in school? Do you have any questions?
  • When do you think a person is ready to have sex?

Always take your child’s values and opinions seriously. This will show that you respect what your child has to say and it can help your child feel more comfortable talking to you.

Be ready to answer questions.

When your kids ask you questions, ask them what they think first. Their answers will tell you more about what they are asking and why. This will also give you time to think about your answer.

Do your best to answer questions honestly and correctly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you could say, “I’m not sure. Let’s look that up together.”

Keep in mind that kids get information about sex from lots of different sources – like friends, the internet, and TV. This can be confusing for your child. That’s another reason why it’s important for you to answer questions clearly and accurately.

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Take Action: Conversation Tips

Use media to start a conversation.

Kids see and hear messages about sex every day in the media – like on TV, in music, and online. When something comes up in a TV show or song, use it as an opportunity to start a conversation with your child.

Talk in the car or in the kitchen.

It can sometimes be easier to talk about sex if you are doing something else at the same time. Try asking a question when you are driving or cooking dinner.

You can still show your child that you are listening by nodding your head or repeating what your child says to you.

Be honest.

It’s okay to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Be honest with your child about how you are feeling. Remember, when you are honest with your child, your child is more likely to be honest with you.

Talk with other parents.

Remember that you are not the only parent thinking about how to talk to kids about sex. Ask other parents how their conversations with their kids are going. You may be able to get useful tips and ideas.

Talking to other parents is also a great way to learn more about the messages other kids are getting about sex and relationships.

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