5 Tips For Having "The Sex Talk" With Your Kids

In our world of scanty fashion and raunchy songs, talking intelligently to children about "the birds and the bees" should be an ongoing process. "Rather than having one single conversation with your child, it's better to use different opportunities to talk about sex," says New York-based child psychology Dr. Karen Caraballo. Here are some expert pointers: 

MORE: 10 Things You Never Knew About Pregnancy

1. Sex Talk: Terms

Use anatomically correct terms: Rather than relying on euphemisms like "wee-wee" and "florecita" with our toddlers, experts recommend using mature terms like penis and vagina. "First, we want them to understand that the human body is not dirty or wrong," says Atlanta-based parenting coach and former sexual-education teacher Elaine Taylor-Klaus.

2. Sex Talk: Private Parts

Explain the concept of private parts: The next stage involves teaching what is off limits to strangers. "You want to emphasize, 'These are your private parts, and you don't share them with anyone else,'" says Taylor-Klaus. This is also a good time to explain to kids that they shouldn't touch their genitals in public. Instead of scolding a child for exploring his body, she says, "You can say it's not a polite thing to do around other people. The more matter-of-fact you are, the better."

3. Sex Talk: Tailor Lessons

Tailor lessons to your child's age: "When your 5-year-old asks, 'Where do babies come from?', you can say, 'Mommy has a uterus inside her belly, and you lived there until you were big enough to be born," says Dr. Caraballo. By age 7, "You can say something like, 'The penis and the vagina were created to fit together like a puzzle.'" By age 12, kids should be equipped with a solid understanding of the mechanics of sex and safe-sex methods. 

4. Sex Talk: Prepare Them

Prepare them for puberty: Taylor-Klaus recommends talking about body changes as early as age 7 or 8, giving specific examples about breast development, menstruation, hair growth on the armpits and genitals, and so forth. Taylor-Klaus says starting these conversations early helps to calm the fear of the unknown, though kids may respond with a resounding "Eww!"

5. Sex Talk: Shame

Eliminate shame from all conversations: If kids detect that their parents are uncomfortable talking about sex, they'll likely internalize these emotions and refrain from coming to them with questions and concerns about issues like masturbation, sexual orientation, or gender identity. "Kids only have shame and anxiety around these issues if we give it to them," says Taylor-Klaus.