father explaining sex education to son

An age specific guide to sex education for parents

Inside:  Many parents are unsure about how to start explaining sex education to their kids. What do you talk about, and at what age?

Recently I was asked by a parent, about how to start explaining sex education to their kids, and not knowing where to start!

They are not alone, as most parents just don't know where to start!

So let's look at the different things you can talk to your child about, and when to start talking.

You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.

At some stage during our journey as a parent, we start thinking about sex education. Sex education isn’t one of those things that parents decide to start, just on the spur of the moment! We usually start thinking about it for a reason.

It might be because we find our child ‘playing doctor’ with the little kid from next door. Or because we have suddenly noticed bumps appearing on the chest of our 11 year old. Whatever the reason, it is usually because some behaviour or change in our kids has made us start thinking that we need to talk.

When our kids are born, they don’t come with an instruction manual. We work out what to do through trial and error but also based on the role models around us. The problem though, is that when it comes to our own sex education, most of us had poor role models i.e. parents who weren’t comfortable talking about sex. Which means that when it comes to talking to our own kids about sex, we often don’t know where to start.

Here you will find an outline of the different things about sex that kids eventually need to know about. The topics and ages are just a guide, and are based on what we know about child sexual development, and in keeping our kids healthy and safe in our world today. 

Babies & toddlers

As a parent you can:

  • Name the private body parts (or genitals) for them.
  • Let them grab their vulva or penis at bath time or during nappy changes.  
  • Point out the differences between our bodies – some bodies have a penis whereas others have a vulva.
  • Talk about what the different parts of our body are for - we use our mouth for eating and kissing, our penis/vulva  for peeing.
  • Introduce family rules about nudity - it is okay to be naked at home but not at the shops.
family smiling

Open and honest conversations without shame.

2 to 5 year olds

As a parent you can:

  • Name the private body parts (or genitals) for them and what they do.
  • Point out the differences between our bodies – some bodies have a penis whereas others have a vulva.
  • Talk about your family rules for masturbation or holding their genitals
  • Explain that our bodies are different and that is okay to be different.
  • That their body is changing as they grow up.
  • Talk about families and how other families can be the same or different to theirs.
  • Talk about friendships - how to be a good friend,  why they shouldn't tease people, what they like in a friend, how to be a good friend.
  • Talk about feelings and where we feel them - When I feel scared, I might feel sick in my stomach. 
  • Talk about  private and public  in regards to the different parts of the body, places and times.
    • Private body parts - penis, vulva, nipples, bottoms and mouths.
    • A private place might be your bedroom.
    • A private time is in your bedroom when no one else is there.
  • Respect your child's privacy - let them shut the toilet door and knock before entering their room.
  • Explain that conversations about bodies (and where babies come from) are private conversations and not for school.
  • Explain your family rules about touching their own genitals (and other people's) -  where and when they can do this.
  • Teach them that they are the boss of their body and can say who can (and can't) touch them.  
  • Explain that  they should ask before touching someone elses body (consent) - it's not okay to hug or touch someone, especially if they don't want you to.
  • Explain that we don't keep secrets about our bodies. Secrets can be about surprises and presents.
  • Remind them that they can always tell you about anything that makes them feel bad or funny. And that they won't get in trouble. 
  • Start talking about and pointing out examples of reproduction - trees drop seeds, dogs have puppies and humans have babies.
  • Answer their questions about pregnancy, where babies come from and how they are made.
  • Explain that they might find pictures of movies or naked people online and what they should do if this happens - you can read this article to learn more about how to talk to your child about  pornography.

6 to 8 year olds

As a parent you can:

  • Use the correct names and name the different private body parts (or genitals) for them.
  • Talk about the internal reproductive organs – uterus, ovary, fallopian tubes, urethra, bladder, bowel.  
  • Discuss that  bodies come in all different shapes and sizes -that everyone is different and that's okay. 
  • Talk about puberty and that their body will need to change to an adult body.
  • Discuss that some children  change sooner or later than others, and that male and female bodies  have some changes that are different. 
  • Explain why their feelings will change as they get older.
  • Explore how they feel about growing up and changing.
  • Talk about the similarities and differences  between male and female bodies, girls and boys.
  • Explain that we have body parts that may feel good when touched.
  • Talk about your family rules for masturbation.
  • Encourage them to look after their own body i.e. private parts, hair, teeth, skin, etc.
  • Teach them refusal skills, body safety and about consent
  • Discuss that their bodies will change as they get older and that puberty is a time of physical and emotional change. 
  • Talk about feelings and what makes them feel good or bad, how to know what others are feeling and how to cope with strong feelings.
  • Talk about friendships and how they change as you grow up, including what makes a good friend, how to be a good friend, why can it be fun to have a friend who is different to them, some of the bad ways people can behave towards one another, how to identify bullying (and what to do if being bullied), and  how to repair friendships.
  • Discuss why are some parents are married and some aren't, including same-sex relationships and that people can experience different loving relationships throughout their lives.
  • Explain how babies are made
  • Discuss that adults have sex and that it’s a natural, normal and healthy part of life. 
    • That adults often kiss, hug, touch and engage in other sexual behaviours with one another to show caring for each other and to feel good.
    • That sex is an adult activity and is not for kids.
    • That adults can choose whether or not to have a baby.
  • Explain that sexual behaviour is private i.e. masturbation, sexual intercourse.
  • Discuss that bodies can feel good when touched.
  • Explain that sometimes people look at pictures of naked people or people having sex on the internet and this is not for kids. You also need to discuss with your child what they should do when (not if) they come across these images.  You can read this article to learn more about how to talk to your child about  pornography.
  • Explain that some adults fall in love with someone of the same or opposite sex. 
  • Talk about love including what it is, the different types of love, how we express love to different people.​
  • Explain that dating is when two people are romantically attracted to each other and spend their free time together, and that it starts as a teen. 
happy family

Become your child's main source of information about sex.

9 to 12 year olds

As a parent you can:

  • Keep on talking about the content for 5 to 8 year olds, but with more details. 
  • Talk about the physical, social and emotional changes of puberty for both males and females.
  • Prepare your child for their first period, ejaculation and wet dreams.
  • Explain that periods and ejaculation mean that they are fertile, which means their body could make a baby with someone.
  • Talk with more detail about sexual intercourse and other sexual behaviours.
  • Provide them with basic information about STIs & how to prevent them through safe sex (condoms) as they may hear about them – sometimes you can catch infections when you have sexual intercourse but there are ways to make sex safer.
  • Provide them with basic information about how to avoid pregnancy - there are things that you can do that will prevent pregnancy.
  • Share your values and beliefs about  love, dating, contraception, when it's okay to become sexually active, etc.
  • Explain that once puberty starts, they may slowly start to feel more sexual and develop romantic feelings towards their peers.
    • Same sex fantasy & attraction is not unusual & does not necessarily indicate sexual orientation. 
  •  Talk about pornography and that it is not the best way to learn about sex. That sexuality is exaggerated in porn. You can read this article to learn more about how to talk to your child about  pornography.
  • Discuss  cybersafety and how to use their mobile phone responsibly.  
  • Talk about the characteristics of respectful relationships. 

Some kids are curious about sex and some aren’t. Both is normal. Once puberty starts, they will slowly start to think about sex as being something that they may someday want to do.
By starting conversations about sex with your child, you are letting them know that it is okay for them to come to you with any questions.

13 to 16 year olds

By now, your child will haev started puberty and will be interested in how their bodies will change, periods, wet dreams, erections, fertility, pregnancy (how it can be avoided) and safer sex. 

They may also be wondering if their physical development is ‘normal’.

They'll want to know about the difference between sexual attraction and love and whether it is normal to be attracted or in love with someone of the same gender. 

Some young people will either be sexually experimental or know friends who are. They will be interested to know what they should expect of a partner and how to talk to them. They will need more information on contraception, sexual health and how to access services. 

They will want to know about different types of relationships and homophobia. They may want to know about how to cope with strong feelings and how to cope with the pressures to have sex. 

They will also be interested in other influences on sexual decision making such as the law, different cultures and religious beliefs, pornography, the media and the effects of drugs and alcohol.​


The huge benefit of talking to your kids from an early age is that you have empowered them with the knowledge to be able to make good decisions about sex. You will also have a relationship with them where they know that they can talk to you about anything – and I mean anything!

The information that you have given your child is important, but what really matters is that you keep on talking about it! At the end of the day, it is the relationship that really matters!

And remember, it is never too late to start talking!

Resources

My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.

Which means that inside this website, you'll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about love, sex, relationships and growing up.

My Sex Education 101 page includes all of the information on sex education. You'll find lots of different blogposts to help with getting started, on a wide range of different topics.

You'll find videos about sex ed in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about sex education yourself.

You’ll also find an extensive range of sex education books for children, for kids of all ages. There's even some books in there for parents!

If you're looking for some ideas on how to talk to your child about bodies, How to Talk to Kids About Bodies, will help you to start naming the private body parts and to have shame-free conversations with them about bodies. It is filled with lots of different ideas on how to have natural converasations with your child about their body. 

You'll also find some child friendly anatomically-correct cartoon illustrations of the genitals and internal reproductive organs that are appropriate for children from the age of 3 and up. Let's Look at Different Body Parts is a printable that will help take the awkward out of talking to your child about their body, so they grow up feeling educated, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.

If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then How to Talk to Kids About Sex, will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks it down into simple steps that  take the stress out of explaining!

If you're unsure about how to answer your child's questions about sex, then I have a number of different resources that will give you word-for-word answers that are age specific.

If you want a printed book to hold in your hands, then the  The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid's ask parents about sex. Which means you don't need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands. 

If you want the answers to questions about a lot more than just sex, then Sex Ed Quickies is your best option. It has answers to 300+ questions  that kids commonly ask parents,  including how babies are made, sexual intercourse, body parts, puberty, relationships, pregnancy, birth, masturbation, sexual diversity, gender, pornography, STIs, contraception and much more.

About the Author Cath Hakanson

I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. To find a better way to talk about sex, you can join my community of parents and visit my shop for helpful resources.

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