when to start sex education

When to start sex education? Am I too early?

A lot of parents wonder about when to start sex education. Sex education isn’t one of those things, that you just decide to do, on the spur of the moment.

Parents usually start thinking about sex education for a reason. It could be for any number of reasons:

  • you find your sweet angelic daughter ‘playing doctors’ with the naughty little boy from next door! (ie inspecting each others genitals)
  • your 5 year old, who asks a ‘why’ question every 5 minutes, wants to know ‘where babies come from’
  • you hear about a child at your kid’s school, who has been sexually abused and you realise that it could easily have been your child
  • your daughters best friend has just started her period and you realise that you have yet to talk to your own daughter about puberty

Usually, parents start thinking about sex education because their child is either doing something, they start asking questions, or they hear about something in the community. We don’t just wake up in the morning, and think ‘Today, I’m going to start talking to the kids about sex’.

So if you are thinking about when to start sex education, now is probably a good time!

When to start sex education answered… but what if?

Most  parents question whether they are doing the right thing by talking to their child about sex. Sometimes it can feel as if there are more ‘what ifs’ than reasons to start talking about sex. I hear you, and I’ve been there myself!

Common concerns or doubts that you may have about sex education may include:

  • am I giving them permission to be sexual?
  • will I take away their innocence?
  • what if they repeat what I tell them at school?
  • what if I say too much?

You aren’t alone if you are questioning when to start sex education. You can find out more about the common barriers to sex education (and why they are inaccurate) here

And if you are starting to wonder about why we have to do this ‘sex education’ thing, I have 13 compelling reasons as to why you should be talking to your kids about sex and relationships over here. I am pretty sure that you will find some pretty good reasons as to why you should be talking sooner rather than later.

So when to start sex education?

It is never too early to start talking to your kids about sex, sexuality & relationships.

Knowing when to start sex education is a hard one!

As parents, we instinctively start to think of sex education as just talking about sex (sexual intercourse) to our kids. And what’s the rush for them to know about that? Hopefully they won’t be ‘doing it’ until they are adults and have left home! 

But it is actually about more than that – it is about talking to our kids about sexuality and relationships. By this, I mean talking to them about all the things that they need to one day be able to have healthy, loving relationships.

So, in answer to that question – When do I start sex education?

Sexuality and relationships education, indirectly starts from birth ie the moment we are handed that brand new baby and we look to see if it is a boy or a girl. (If you’re not quite sure what sexuality and relationships education is about, read this article over here to gain a better understanding).

If we are talking about sex (ie sexual intercourse), that is a different thing. We usually start talking to our kids about sexual intercourse between the age of 4 – 7, at the time that they first start becoming curious about  how babies are made.

Why do we start so early?

There is a very good reason as to why we start talking to kids about sex from such a young age.

The reason is based on a child’s healthy sexual development and their predictable curiosity about the world around them eg we can predict that most children will become curious about where babies come from between the ages of 4-6 years. Just as children develop physically, and emotionally, they also develop sexually. By sexual development, I am referring to all the aspects of a child’s growth and development that may shaper their sexuality as adolescents and adults.

Sexual development includes a range of behaviours and most importantly curiosity about the world around them.

We generally do not think of these things as sexually related but these important achievements in early child development lay the foundation for how our sexuality will develop and evolve as children become teenagers and teenagers become adults.

Have I left it too late?

It is never too late to start talking to your kids about sex, sexuality & relationships.

It is better to be late than to never talk to your child about sex.

Ideally, you should start answering questions about sex as your child asks them.  For example, preschoolers are usually very interested in the anatomical differences between boys and girls and about where babies comes form. This is the prefect opportunity to start answering their questions in an age appropriate way, and to provide them with the correct information, before they hear about if from another child.

By talking to your child from a young age, you are also setting yourself up as being approachable, which means that your child will come to you with their questions, and not their friends. It also helps to make it much easier, before you get to the tricky stuff, like sexual intercourse.

If your child is older, you can start by talking to them about sex or puberty. There is always some stage in their sexual development that you can use as an opportunity to talk.

By being honest about your own discomfort, you put both yourself and your child at ease, making it less awkward to talk about sensitive issues. Tell them that you have realised that you haven’t spoken to them about sexuality before, but that you are now ready to start talking.

What should I talk about?

What you talk about depends on a few things:

  • the age of your child
  • your child’s level of maturity
  • what your child already knows
  • your own values and comfort

So, you answer their questions. If they are curious about where babies come from, it means that they want to know that it takes a part from a man and a part from a woman to make a baby. We don’t talk to them about sex until they want to know about how the baby actually gets inside the woman.

If they don’t ask questions, you can start the conversation with books, by finding everyday opportunities from which you can start a conversation.

You can work out what your child is interested in by knowing what stage of sexual development they are in. This way, you can talk to them about what you know they are interested in. You can find a great age by age guide to what kids needs to know about sex and what to do over here.

So hopefully, you are now a little bit clearer on when to start sex education? And you now know that it is never too early (or too late) to get started!

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