How (and when) to talk to kids about sex

Kids need to learn about the birds and the bees, no matter how awkward parents find it. Here’s our age-by-age guide to navigating ‘the talk’.

Sex – it’s a topic that many parents avoid talking to their children about.

But it’s a conversation parents need to have with their kids on an ongoing basis.

So what should you teach your children about sex, and when?

Talking to preschoolers

What to tell preschool-aged children about sex

“This is when you lay foundations for open communication during adolescence,” says Bonnie Lee, manager of the schools team at Family Planning Victoria.

Start by teaching children the correct names for body parts, like penis and vulva.

“Give children language to talk about their body honestly and openly,” says Bonnie.

“It’s a protective mechanism and it also takes away stigma and taboo in talking about sex and sexuality.”

Introduce the idea of public and private body parts and teach children they have ownership over their body, for example: “Nobody can touch my private parts without my permission.”

Top tips:

  • Teach children correct names for body parts
  • Introduce the idea of public and private body parts
  • Teach children they are in charge of their bodies

Talking to kids

How to talk to primary school-aged children about sex

Children may show interest in how they were conceived, so explain why girls and boys have different body parts and how these body parts function.

Look for teachable moments, such as characters on TV becoming pregnant.

“If people you know are having a baby, use that example to talk to your child about how babies are made,” says Bonnie.

“More families are using assisted reproductive techniques to become pregnant so it’s important to talk about that too.”

Answer questions honestly and get straight to the point.

Don’t fall into the trap of giving long answers with more information than is needed.

It’s enough to say that a baby is made when a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman join together, and that this happens when a man and woman have consensual sex – when the man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina.

“Check where their question has come from and what they know already because you might need to dispel misconceptions behind their question,” says Bonnie.

Importantly, talk about body changes that happen with puberty before they happen, for example before girls start developing breasts or pubic hair grows.

Top tips:

  • Explain why boys and girls and have different body parts
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about IVF
  • Answer questions honestly and succinctly
  • Explain in simple, honest terms how babies are made

Talking to teenagers

How to talk to teenagers about sex

“Young people want to know about how to make and maintain relationships, and how to end those relationships in a healthy way,” says Bonnie.

“Talk to them about what feels right in a relationship, what warning signs to look for in an unhealthy relationship and discuss limits and boundaries.

“Help them recognise that healthy relationships involve respect, consent, communication and mutuality.”

Talk to teenagers about their beliefs about relationships and realise that during adolescence young people form values that may be different to their parents.

Discuss sex in a positive way without “fear mongering”, says Bonnie.

Family planning and health organisations can offer support with information on contraception and safer sex practices.

“The media and pornography are having an impact on a young person’s formation of their sexual identity and understanding of relationships,” Bonnie says.

“So help young people unpack and challenge the messages they see in the media about body image and sex.”

Top tips:

  • Emphasise the importance of healthy relationships and consent
  • Help teens understand warning signs of unhealthy relationships
  • Discuss sex in a positive way without using scare tactics
  • Be open-minded and prepared to hear views different to yours

The team at House of Wellness TV asked a group of parents and their children to sit down and talk through some of life’s biggest topics.

Here’s what they had to say about sex: 

See what else kids had to say about some of life’s other difficult topics, including body image, bullyingdeath and peer pressure.