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What Age Do You Talk to a Child About Sex?

by Kathryn Walsh

Ignoring dirty laundry won't make it go away, and putting off giving your child "the talk" won't make that task any easier when the day comes. In the age of the Internet and sexually charged TV shows, ads and music, your child is probably aware of sex and sexuality. Before she learns one more piece of misinformation in the school hallway, start the conversation now.

When to Begin

Your child will likely give you signs she's interested in talking about sex and sexuality. According to HealthyChildren.org, it's normal for children to be curious about the topic from toddlerhood on, and you can answer questions as they arise. As she enters elementary school and moves toward middle school, you might want to give her a more formal talk, in which you explain the act of sex, sexual safety and when it's OK to have sex. HealthyChildren suggests having this conversation before your child reaches puberty, at about 8 or 9 years old. You alone can judge when your child is ready for this step, and it's better given late than never. If you've never broached the topic with your 16-year-old, now's the time to start.

Talking to a Young Child

Your young child will give you plenty of openings in which to talk about sex in broad strokes. She might ask questions about where babies come from, why boys and girls have different parts and why mommies and daddies kiss. Ideally you'll give her answers that are age-appropriate but honest. She doesn't need to know what having sex means, but you can talk to her about how bodies differ. If you're comfortable, you might teach her the correct names for the private parts. Talk to her about how she needs to keep her private parts covered unless she's in the bath, and that only doctors and nurses or her parents should see these parts, and then only during medial exams or when something hurts. Be prepared for her to ask about where babies come from. According to KidsHealth.org, simply saying something along the lines of, "A baby grows from an egg inside a mommy's body and comes out through her vagina," might be enough for a young child.

Talking to a School-age Child

She's noticed the ways boys and girls treat each other; she might even be dealing with her first crush. Once your child enters school, she'll go through a few years in which sex and everything surrounding it seems mysterious and confusing. She'll probably have lots of questions, according to MayoClinic.com, so use these opportunities to talk about puberty and sexuality. She might ask what it means to be gay, what's involved in different sex acts and what masturbation is. Explain to her what happens during menstruation and during an erection. Both boys and girls should be educated on these topics. If masturbation comes up, MayoClinic.com suggests telling her that the act is normal but should be kept private. If you're uncomfortable with any topic she broaches, look for books about puberty at the library, and ask her school nurse for pamphlets and other resources you can use.

Talking to a Teen

Sex becomes real rather than hypothetical when your child becomes a teenager. This is also the age at which your teen might start to pull away, relying on her friends and other sources for information instead of you. You might need to initiate talks about sex once she's a teen rather than waiting for her to come to you. MayoClinic.com suggests talking to your teenager about when she will be ready to have sex. You might share your beliefs about waiting until marriage, or help her understand what kind of relationship she should have before she has sex. Talk to her about types of birth control and how to use them, and tell her about the ways she could contract sexually transmitted diseases. Keep the conversation going throughout the teen years. According to HealthyChildren.org, teens are more responsible sexually if they have parents who talk openly about the subject.

About the Author

Cooking, travel and parenting are three of Kathryn Walsh's passions. She makes chicken nuggets during days nannying, whips up vegetarian feasts at night and road trips on weekends. Her work has appeared to The Syracuse Post-Standard and insider magazine. Walsh received a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.

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