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Talking About Sex

Talking About the Birds and Bees

What do you do when your youngster asks, "Where do babies come from?" Whether your child's in preschool or elementary school, we've got sound advice on how to talk about sex. Just click on your child's age group:

For Ages: 4 to 7

The Scene

You and your five-year-old son are grabbing a quick bite for dinner at the local eatery. Suddenly, he asks -- in a clear, loud voice -- "How did I get inside you, Mommy? Did you swallow a seed?" You start choking on your tuna sandwich.

We can't plan when and where children choose to ask difficult questions. Most parents will attest to the fact that they usually ask when we're incredibly busy, distracted, or tired. Questions about sex can be especially complicated because each of us carries our own issues and concerns about this fascinating topic. And we live in a society that persistently uses sex and sexuality for advertising even though many people frown on sex education in schools.

Because children are repeatedly exposed to sexual messages through the media at early ages, it's imperative that we talk with them honestly about sex and sexuality.

The Words You'll Need

What you tell your kids will depend in part on your own values. How much you tell them each time they ask will depend on their questions and their level of understanding. So be prepared to talk about sexuality over and over again and in different ways as your children mature.

    The Words: You know, that's a really good question. I'm glad you asked. The Reason: Let kids know from the beginning that you welcome questions about sex or any other topic.

    The Words: I'm wondering how you think babies get inside of their moms.
    The Reason: Try to get a sense of how much your child already knows about sex and reproduction. This is a good way to get a sense of any misconceptions, concerns, or fears he may have.

    The Words: Daddy and I decided that we wanted a baby a whole lot.
    The Reason: It's always important for children to hear that they are wanted. In this context, you are also setting up the notion of sexual intercourse being an act of love. You can still assure children that they are wanted, even if the circumstances of your child's conception are not neat or straightforward--if you are a single parent, for instance; if you had trouble conceiving; or if you used an artificial means to become pregnant.

    The Words: It takes a man and a woman to make a baby.
    The Reason: Help even young children understand that a baby comes from both a male and a female.

    The Words: Men have something inside them called sperm. Women have eggs inside them and a special place, called a uterus or womb, where a baby can grow. The man's sperm and the woman's egg combine together to make an embryo, which is the beginning of a baby.
    The Reason: It's important to give children the correct vocabulary to help them understand and talk about the process of making babies.

Children will respond in different ways to this kind of simple explanation. Some children may find that it's enough information for a while. Others may plunge right in and ask questions such as, "How does the sperm get to the egg?" or "Do I have sperm?" It's best to answer qestions in an unembarrassed, straightforward way. It's also best not to overwhelm children with lots of details that they're likely to forget.

    The Words: Always let me know if you ever have questions about this, or anything else.
    The Reason: Reassure your kids. All kids wonder about where babies come from. Remember that sex should be an ongoing conversation you have with your child. If your child is growing up in an atmosphere of openness and support, he or she will naturally feel comfortable coming to you with questions.

Conversation Tips

Your local bookstore or library should have several good books on talking to young children about where babies come from. Use teachers or librarians as resources for appropriate books or videos on reproduction. One good book is: It's So Amazing! A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families, by Robi H. Harris (Candlewick Press, 1999).

It's easier to talk with children about sex if you are comfortable with your body and understand how it works. If children are already comfortable with words such as "penis," "vagina," and "uterus," you have the building blocks for talking with them about how these parts function.

Beyond the Rap

Exactly how you answer children's questions about sex depends on your own values. It may be easier to read books about sex together, or to use humor.

You may want to talk about sex in the context of marriage, or you may be comfortable talking with them about sex in the context of a caring adult relationship. You should make very clear their right to say "no" to any kind of physical overtures that make them uncomfortable.

Communicate in ways that enable children to preserve their dignity, that feel in line with your values, and most importantly, that provide them with accurate information. Helping kids feel good about their bodies, and validating their curiosity, will help children make responsible decisions.

Remember, just try to get a sense from your children about how much they're ready to hear about sex. You'll get lots of other chances to talk with them about sex and other important issues as they grow. Good luck!


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