Inside: So what is the right age to talk about the birds and bees with kids? Find out if your child is ready to learn about sex with this short Parent Quiz.
Have you ever wondered if your child is the right age to talk about the birds and bees?
You're not alone if you've wondered!
I know that I have! And I'm supposed to be the expert!
This is a question that many parents have asked me, whether their child is the right age to talk about the birds and bees.
So keep on reading to find out whether your child is old enough for sex education (or not).
You’ll also find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
The Parent Quiz will help you to quickly work out if your child is ready to hear about sex or not.
You'll find 7 short questions that will help you to work if your child is ready to hear about sex (or not).
By now, you should have completed the quiz, and watched the video with your answer.
Which means that by now, you've hopefully realised that child probably is the right age to talk about the birds and bees.
Don't be surprised though, if you still have some fears and doubts about sex education.
We've all had them. And we'll all keep on getting them. Myself included.
I've had some doubts myself lately, in regards to talking to my 10 year old son about pornography. He is one of these super-inquisitive kids who turns to google to find the answers to his questions. So I have had some fears about whether the chats we were having, would initiate curiosity to go and have a look at what I'm talking about. Luckily I caught myself doing this, and a quick bit of research alleviated any doubts or fears that I had.
So here's some common fears that you might have about whether your child is old enough (or not).
Yes and no.
There is actually a lot more to sex education than just sex.
We also talk about many other things, like bodies, relationships, feelings, diversity, consent, attitudes & values, keeping safe and looking after yourself.
So even if your child is too young to hear about sex, they aren't too young for you to start talking about other things, like their body or feelings.
You can read more in this articel about how to start explaining sex education to kids.
You can read this article for an easy overview of healthy child sexual development.
They might understand, and then again they may not.
If they don't understand, they'll just forget what you've said, as it won't make sense to them. Or they might ask for more information.
Try giving your child a really complicated answer to one of their many questions (an answer that you know they won't understand). Like instead of saying how milk comes from cows, start explaining the many steps that are taken to get the milk to the table.
For example, the cow eats some grass, it's makes milk inside it's udders, the farmer milks the cow, the milk goes into a big vat, a truck arrives and it collects the milk, the milk is then delivered to the bottling place, they homogenize and pasteurize the milk... are you yawning yet, in boredom?
There is a very good chance that with a long-winded answer like that (especially if you throw in a few technical terms), that your child will eventually get bored and stop listening.
Make sure you check in with them to see what they recall the next day. I can guarantee that they won't remember much (if anything) at all.
Possibly but remember, kids usually forget the things that they don't understand.
And research tells us that talking to kids about sex does NOT make them go out and do it.
You can read more in this article about the advantages of sex education, and how it actually helps our kids to make smart sexual decisions.
You could, but you might find that you never find the right age to talk about birds and bees.
And remember, sex education isn't just about sex. It is about talking with your child about all the things that will help them to make smart decisions about love, sex and relationships.
There is no hard and fast rule about when it is safe to start talking about sex with kids.
It depends on a whole wide range of factors: whether your kids mix with older kids, do they go to school, do they listen to music on the radio or watch tv, the neighbourhood that you live in….
I live in the inner city and we have quite a few ‘sex shops’, brothels and sex workers on the street. My kids have known about prostitution and sex toys well before they would normally become interested in this sort of thing. But because they see it, they ask questions about it. The challenge then, for me as a parent is to provide them with age-appropriate information about a topic that is not age-appropriate.
If you are lucky, you will have a kid who will start to ask questions. When kids become curious about things, like where babies come from, they will usually start to ask questions.
If they are asking a question about something, it means that it is something that they want to know more about. It is a clear sign that it is time to start talking to kids about sex. It may be something that they are naturally curious about, like where do babies come from. Or it may be something that they aren’t naturally curious about, but have heard something that they don’t understand, like oral sex or pornography.
Research and anecdotal evidence tells us about healthy child sexual development. And as a child develops sexually, they start to display certain sexual behaviour and to be curious about certain topics eg a 4 year old is usually very interested in where babies come from.
So, why are you lucky if you have a kid that asks questions?? Because, you can just answer their questions and talk about the stuff that they are interested in. You don’t need to remember to talk about where babies come from because your child has started the conversation for you!
Plus, you can control the information that they are receiving and make sure that it is age-appropriate! And they see you as a reliable source for information! Pretty important if you want to control the information that they receive.
It also means that your child knows that you are open to talking about stuff – if they can talk to you about sex, most kids know that they can then talk to you about anything!
Some children don’t ask a lot of questions about sex and relationships, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested.
They may have picked up the message that this isn’t an okay subject to ask about.
When this happens, you need to take the initiative and raise the subject yourself. By doing this, you are giving your child the clear message that this is a subject that you are happy and willing to discuss.
In this sexualised world that we live in, kids are hearing about sex related stuff much earlier than they probably should be hearing about it.
Once they start mixing with other children, going to school, accessing the internet, listening to mainstream music and watching tv/movies/cartoons, your child will be exposed to messages about sex.
Which means that they may be coming to you with their questions about what they hear. Now, kids are naturally curious about sexuality at different ages and stages. They start off wanting to know about where babies come from and as they understand, they then progress onto how babies are made, eventually progressing onto sexual intercourse.
The problem though, is that they may have heard about stuff (eg oral sex) before they are interested in the different ways that we can express sexual attraction. Kids hear about sex stuff , that they are not ready for, every day! And it is natural for them to be curious about stuff that they don’t understand.
Your job as a parent, is to provide your child with an age-appropriate answer based on a topic that is clearly not age-appropriate.
It is important that you do give them an answer, as your child needs to know that you are a reliable source for information.
And if they come to you with their questions, you can give them age-appropriate information that will help them to process the sexualised messages that they are hearing everyday!
Let me share a story with you that provides a perfect example of why we shouldn't get too worried about whether our kids are the right age to talk about birds and bees.
My 8 year old son and I recently found a condom just outside our back shed. We live in the inner city, with a sex shop near the corner, and a brothel a few streets away. So it isn't uncommon for prostitution to happen in the back laneway, that our shed opens onto. So because it was sitting right there in front of the garage door, my son spotted it.
'What's that, mom?' he asks. Thankfully he didn't pick it up, as it was used and tied off with a knot.
I stooped down and had a look at it. 'It's a condom, mate. Let's go find a dog poo bag and pick it up and throw it away.'
'What's a condom?' he asks.
'A condom? It's like a special balloon that men put on the end of their penis to cover it up', I said.
He, of course, giggles loudly.
'Pretty weird huh? The things that grown ups can do!' I replied. And he nods in agreement.
'Why do they put it on their penis?' he then asks.
'They put it on their penis when they're having sex.' I replied
'Why?' he asks.
'To stop there penis from catching germs that might make them sick. Or it was a female that they had sex with, then to make sure that they didn't make a baby.' I replied.
'Why? he asks (again).
'Because sometimes you can catch germs that can make you sick when you have sex. And people don't always have sex to just make babies. They have sex for fun too.' I explained.
'Can we get something from the bakery? he asks.
Anyway, a few weeks later, we were driving home from swimming lessons. We had stopped at the traffic lights and my son, who likes to spell out new words from the signs that he sees, spells out a word to me.
'C...O...N...D...O...M. What word is that mum?' he asks.
I turn around to look at him and see the sex toy shop just outside his car window. 'What d you think it spells, mate?' I replied.
'Condom? What's a condom?' he asks.
I turn around again and look at him in surprise? 'A condom? Don't you remember that weird balloon thing we found outside the shed door, a few weeks ago? We chatted about it then.'
He looks at me blankly and says 'No'.
At the end of the day, you can’t stop your child from hearing about sex related stuff that they are just not ready for. But you can help your child to process sexualised messages by answering their questions about what they hear.
And you can answer their questions when they ask them – whether they are age-appropriate or not. Have a look at this article to learn more about what topics you can talk about with your child.
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, Let's Talk 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 Let's Talk 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 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.
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.