So, what age is appropriate to teach sex education? It all depends…
Theoretically, sex education starts from birth ie from the moment the midwife holds up the baby and calls out ‘It’s a boy/girl’.
When you look at the bigger picture though, when trying to work out what age is appropriate to teach sex education, it is all about sexuality (and sex is really only a tiny part of it). Which means talking to kids about all the things that they need to be able to form strong friendships and eventually loving relationships.
So this answer is about sexuality and relationships education and NOT about sexual intercourse.
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
We don’t just wake up one morning and say, ” Hmmm, what age is appropriate to start sex education?” or “Today I’m going to start sex education”.
We tend to only think of it when we have a reason ie something happens. The trigger (or reason) could be a question from your child, like ‘Where do babies come from?’.
Or it could be a behaviour that you aren’t comfortable with, like ‘masturbating on the lounge whilst the in-laws are visiting. Or they may just be really curious about body parts, and why does Daddy have a penis and Mummy has a vulva? Or you may have noticed that your child’s friends are starting to show signs of puberty, and you realise that you haven’t started to talk with your child yet.
So we usually always have a reason to start thinking about sex education.
Before we start to think about what age is appropriate to teach sex education, it helps to think about the purpose of sex education. The reason that we want to talk to our kids about sex is because we want them, as teens, to be able to make the right decisions when it comes to sex.
Which means that we need to start talking to them from a very young age about all the things that they need to know, to be able to make the right decisions. And the earlier we start, the sooner we can start sharing our family values ie the type of sexual behaviour that is and isn’t acceptable. If we don’t tell our kids what our sexual values and beliefs are, how can we expect them to share them? At the end of the day, kids make their own decisions based on what they believe. But as parents, we have an opportunity to get in first and to ensure that they know what our values are before they start being influenced by the media and peers.
So what age is appropriate to start sex education and what do we talk about?
With the under 5’s, it is about naming the body parts, talking about the differences between boys and girls, a little bit about where babies come from, pregnancy, babies and starting to introduce boundaries in regards to public and private places and behaviour.
Between 5 – 8 years, it is more about pregnancy, babies and where they come from. As well as talking about the differences between gender, diversity, boundaries, public and private and much more.
For over 8’s, it is about getting ready for puberty and putting together what they know about friendships and relationships. They aren’t as interested in sex as they were before.
And once they hit their teens, the conversation becomes a lot more sexual. Once puberty arrives, our kids start to develop sexual feelings and desires, which means that they start to see their peers as potential mates! And this is when sex education becomes a lot trickier, as we are having to talk to our kids more as adults than as children ie on an equal basis. We don’t have to worry so much about being age-appropriate with our content, as teens have a much better understanding of what we are talking about.
So what age is appropriate to teach sex education? Basically, now is the right age.
It is never too early to start talking and it is never too late. And the earlier you start, the easier it gets! it is much better to get over the ‘squirm factor’ when your kids are younger, and are asking easier questions. As kids get older, their questions can become trickier to answer.
And the more we talk about sex with our kids, the more desensitised (or used to) we become with talking about sex with our kids.
Trust me, it does get easier!
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.