Having the Sex Talk

As a parent, certain conversations with your children may make you anxious. Take for example, the sex talk. While you may want to block out the idea of your child ever having sex, it is important to have open conversations with your son or daughter and give them the necessary sexuality education.

Start Early

There is no “perfect age” to begin talking about sexuality. In fact, you should ease into the conversation when your children are young. Use appropriate names for the body’s anatomy, and if your child asks about a certain part’s function, answer at a level your child will understand. Taking advantage of teachable moments at a young age can allow for more open dialogue as your child grows.

Know the Importance of Sexuality Education

While you should certainly share your values and beliefs with your child, you must also consider the importance and validity of sexuality education. The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages sexuality education over a purely abstinence-based education.

Research conclusively demonstrated that abstinence-only education is ineffective and sexuality education – which covers relationships, anatomy, sexual reproduction, consent, contraception and other important topics – led to better communication with parents and correlated to a delay in sexual debut and increased use of contraception and condoms.

Remember, teaching your child about sex does not mean you are green-lighting the behavior. It simply means that you are giving your child the information he or she needs to make responsible decisions.

Continue the Conversation

As your child reaches puberty and the teenage years, the conversations surrounding sex will naturally become more important and relevant. Keep these tips in mind as your child grows:

  • Be open: If your child is in a relationship, be respectful of romantic feelings. While you may not consider it love, your child might.
  • Lead with “Do” not “Don’t”: By starting a conversation with a “don’t,” it may feel like a reprimand. Instead, give your son or daughter helpful information about what to “do” to be sexually healthy.
  • Utilize the media: Topics discussed in the news or pop culture may make way for teachable chats with your child. Ask your child his or her opinion on things happening, what his or her reaction may be and if you can answer any questions.
  • Be ready for anything: When having an open conversation, be prepared for your child to ask, or tell you, anything on his or her mind. Don’t be too quick to react, as it may shut off the conversation for good. Instead, be ready for your child to tell you anything and answer appropriately.
  • Keep safety in mind: Above all else, keeping your child safe is likely your highest priority. Whether that is safe from a sexually transmitted disease or safe from assault, sexuality education helps to keep your child protected. Make sure your child knows you are always there if something goes wrong.

Parental conversations about sex, along with the education received at school or from a pediatrician, will allow your child to make responsible, informed decisions.

If having the sex talk is a struggle for you, or your child does not want to open up, consider talking with your UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics pediatrician. Our doctors can provide advice to you, or have a confidential conversation with your child. It is important that your child receives information from a reliable, trusted source.