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How to explain sex to kids (without dying of embarrassment)


Okay, before I even start talking about how to explain sex to kids, I want to share something with you. I have professionally (and personally!) been talking about sex with people for nearly 25 years. I am extremely comfortable with talking about sex and I rarely feel uncomfortable. But… my kids still ask me questions today, that can make me squirm (even with all my training and comfort with talking). So, it doesn’t matter who you are and how comfy you think you might be around sex, you need to be prepared for squirming. It is just a fact of life. But the more you talk about sex with your kids, the more comfortable you will feel. (And if anyone ever tries to tell you that they never get embarrassed talking about sex with their kids – they are lying!)

When it comes to parenting, there are some jobs that we don’t welcome. Things like super smelly, extra large pooey nappies where the poo ends up everywhere. Or changing a wet bed at 2am in the morning in the middle of winter. Or how to explain sex to your kids.

As parents, we all know that at some time – either now or in the not so far future – we’ll need to talk to our kids about sex. And for most of us, it is a scary thought.

What if I say too much?

Won’t they lose their innocence?

What if they ask me a question?

Well, I’m sorry to break the bad news, but your child is already learning about sex. As soon as kids start watching the television, listening to the radio, hopping on the internet and start mixing with other kids, your child will start to see and hear different messages about sex. And often the messages that they receive messages about sex are usually inaccurate, misleading and confusing. The sorts of things that you don’t want your child remembering.

So, whether you like it or not, you are going to have to start talking to your kids about sex, whether you like it or not! So the sooner that you learn how to explain sex to kids, the better!

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

Before you get started

Before you get started, there are a few things that you need to remember.

  1. Embarrassment is normal. The more you talk, the sooner that you will feel more comfortable with the whole thing.
  2. You can’t give them too much information. Well, technically you can give them too much information, but it doesn’t matter if you do. Kids promptly forget anything they don’t understand or aren’t ready to hear. As long as you explain things at the same level of understanding as you usually do, you’ll be fine!
  3. KISS – Keep It Super Simple. Try to explain sex in the same way that you would explain how milk is made.
  4. Small, frequent, repeated chats. We no longer have just the one talk about sex, it is about many chats over the whole of childhood.
  5. Say ‘I don’t know’ if you don’t know the answer to their question. If you don’t know the answer to their question, tell your child that you’ll get back to them later with an answer. And make sure that you do!
  6. Share your values and beliefs about sex. Start letting your child know what sexual behaviours and attitudes are okay and not okay in your family. And make sure that you also explain why you feel this way.

How to explain sex to kids

Now, when looking at how to explain sex to kids, it is important to remember that it is a conversation that happens very slowly and gradually over a number of years. How many times do you have to tell your kids to not leave their towel lying on the bathroom floor?  Many times! So we need to have lots of small little conversations for a long time!

So, how do you start to explain sex to kids?

Ideally, you should start to explain sex to kids in the preschool years. But relax, it isn’t really sex that we are explaining. We are just answering their questions about where babies come from, how they are made and how they get in.

At this age, our kids are just trying to work out how the world works. And they are trying to understand where they were, before they were born.

So the first question that they usually ask is ‘Where do I come from?’. Try to keep the answer basic and just tell them that they came from inside your tummy (or uterus) if they are ready for more technical terms). The details come much later!

Once they understand that, they will then move onto wanting to know how babies are made. Again you can keep it simple and just tell them that you need a part from a man (cell or sperm) and a part from a woman (cell or egg) to make a baby. That is all that they need to know.

You can find more detailed information about how to explain where babies come from in this blogpost.

And then, kids want to know how the egg and the sperm meet. So you can tell them that the sperm leaves the man through his penis and goes into the woman’s vagina. The sperm finds the egg, they join together and a baby is made.

If you are looking for more specific information on how to explain sex to kids, you may find The Sex Education Answer Book helpful. Itwill provide you with age by age, simple, suitable explanations for children about sex.

When talking to your kids about sex, don’t forget to let them know that this is something that is just for adults and not for kids.

Don’t feel that you need to be an expert on reproduction to talk to your kids about this stuff. There are some fantastic books out there, that will help how to explain sex to kids. You can find over 80 sex education books for children, that have been reviewed, here. Books also mean that you don’t have to remember the facts, as they are already written down for you!

The more you talk, the easier it gets

As parents, how to explain sex to kids, can initially be a bit tricky. We all feel awkward and uncomfortable when we first start.

Can you remember what it was like when you brought your first baby home. How awkward you felt when changing their nappies, and how the first nappies leaked or fell off all the time? And then a few months later, you could put a nappy on that would contain all discharges and always stay on!

Talking to kids about sex is a bit the same. You feel really awkward at the beginning, but eventually, you get accustomed to it. You may still feel uncomfortable, but the level of discomfort will decrease over time. So how to explain sex to kids does get easier over time.

The important thing to remember though, that it isn’t just about what you teach your child. It is the fact that you are talking about  the tricky stuff that matters.

If you can talk to your child about sex, they will know that they can talk to you about anything. It will open the doors for ongoing conversation about anything – the things that parents want to know about. So learning how to talk to kids about sex, is one of the most important things that a parent can do!

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 to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.

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