When should I talk to my child about sex?
Michele Morgan, MD, is a psychiatrist on staff at Banner Arizona Medical Clinic, Peoria. Her office can be reached by calling (623)876-3940.
Question: When should I talk to my child about sex?
Answer: The simplest answer is: As soon as they start asking about it. Young children are naturally curious about everything and every day, life offers countless opportunities for these questions – seeing a pregnant family member or friend; inadvertently witnessing sexual activities of animals; seeing a scene on TV; or even interrupting mom and dad during an intimate moment.
Questions about sex are natural and should be greeted as an invitation to begin a dialogue that will continue until your child grows up and leaves home.
When discussing sex with your child, keep the information simple and age appropriate. It can be helpful to look at different children’s books on the subject to see how the information is handled. If you find one that you like, pick it up for future use. When your child expresses curiosity about a pregnant woman, for example, you can say “she has a baby growing in there, just like you grew in me” or words to that effect. When the inevitable question of how the baby got there comes up, you can discuss it.
Decide ahead of time how much information you want to share. This is an excellent opportunity to talk about some basic difference between boys and girls and what their bodies can do. This is also where a book written specifically for young children can come in handy as it is already in age-appropriate language and has helpful pictures. Such books helped me when discussing the issue with my own daughters. I was able to answer their questions and also share my values in a positive way.
Keep in mind that it is not helpful or healthy to scare children about sexuality or give them negative messages, even in the spirit of trying to keep them safe. Curiosity about their bodies and bodies of others is a natural developmental milestone; not a sign something is wrong. Children will eventually grow into sexually active adults and you want them to be able to enjoy their sexuality within the context of your value system.
You may feel awkward or uncomfortable at times discussing sex with your children. This is natural. Even as a mental health professional, I was surprisingly embarrassed when reading that first book to my daughters. But that feeling passed as they asked questions and we began this important dialogue. It was the start of an openness in our relationship that continues to this day.