The sex talk: here's how to do it


Many parents feel anxious and uncertain about educating their children about sex.

When is the right time? How should you go about it?

Experts recommend you consider buying a children's book on sexuality to guide you through the tougher topics and, when possible, broach a sex-related subject in terms of a TV show or movie you and your child have seen, or a book he or she has read.

The goal is to inform and protect your children while making them feel good — not ashamed — of their bodies.

Teach young kids about topics like:

1. Privacy

Children need to understand from the time they're very young that no one is allowed to touch their private parts unless mommy or daddy says it's okay (for example: at the doctor's) and the child should tell a trusted adult about any such touching.

Kids sometimes play "doctor", or "I'll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours" – that's common because children are naturally curious about each other's bodies.

But let them know, in a gentle way, directs sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, that other forms of play are better because they respect everyone's privacy.

2. Safe surfing

Kids have to know that when they surf the Internet, they shouldn't "talk" to someone unknown to them any more than they would if a stranger approached them on the street.

Beyond talking the talk, you can take action to limit your young child's exposure to inappropriate sexual messages.

Take these steps for starters:

  • Monitor the TV shows and movies your kids watch, so they don't become overstimulated and desensitised to sexual acts.
  • Keep any erotic media – magazines, books, videos, etc – out of little ones' reach.
  • Use parental controls on your TV sets, thereby locking channels unsuitable for youngsters.
  • Go to or for information and filtering software to help block children's exposure to inappropriate Internet materials.

Also read: Forget stranger danger: teach your kids about tricky people instead

Beyond the Birds-and-Bees basics:

Though schools often include sex education in the curricula – they might impart some information about Aids and pregnancy, for example – parents, too, should be involved with educating their children about these issues of physical health, and about the moral aspects of sexual behaviour.

Prepare your pre-teen kids for puberty, so they're not caught with their proverbial pants down. Offer your children the information in small doses, experts recommend, rather than in one "big talk".

Your pre-teen son should know:

  • His penis and testicles will start to increase in size and his scrotum will change colour.
  • His erections will become more frequent during puberty, and he may have nocturnal emissions, or "wet dreams".
  • He may experience a growth spurt and his voice will begin to change.

Your pre-teen daughter should know:

  • She will get her period at some point – a change meaning she can become pregnant.
  • Her body, including her breasts, will be developing and could change at a slower or quicker pace than her friends' bodies.

Whether your child is a boy or girl, both mom and dad should be involved in talking with them about sex, to provide both a man's and woman's perspective.

If you have teenagers with whom you have not been talking and who aren't receptive, ask an older brother, sister, close friend or other person who shares your values to help, recommends sex educationalists Pepper Schwartz and Dominic Cappello.

They may do it anyway:

Teach your kids that not having sex is the only way to guard 100% against pregnancy, as well as Aids and other sexually transmitted infections.

Get across to your kids that they should come to you or another trusted adult if they are considering intercourse. But know that not all kids will inform their parents of their sexual intentions, and the average age at first intercourse in the United States is 16 years old for American males and 17 years old for females.

In South Africa, the age is at 12 years old.

"Sex will be attractive to them sometime and you want to be ahead of the curve," stresses Schwartz.

Worried that teaching your kids about condoms for safer sex will give them the message you condone premarital intercourse? Your morals matter, but be sure not to bury your head in the sand.

After all, Schwartz points out, "talking to me about snowboarding doesn't make me want to snowboard. But if I am going to take up something new – snowboarding, or say inline skating – someone should tell me about helmets and knee-pads to protect me, so I don't kill myself."

Resources to get you started:

Here are some resources to help you begin the conversation about sex with your kids:

Have you spoken to your kids about the birds and the bees? How did you go about it? How did you and your kids feel about the chat? Share the details of your experience with us by emailing, and we may publish your story. You may remain anonymous if you choose – kindly inform us.

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