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Talking to your kids about sex – how to get started

By Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H.

Talking with your children about sex and sexuality can be uncomfortable, but it is extremely important for their healthy sexual development. Here are some guidelines to get you started:

Start early:

Children are naturally curious about sex from an early age. When they are young, their questions are often easier to answer than when they get older. Getting comfortable talking to your children when they are young will help you feel comfortable talking with them as they get older and their questions become more difficult. Starting early will also lay the groundwork so that your children will be more likely to approach you with questions and problems that might occur as they get older.

Prepare yourself:

Children are likely to catch us off guard with their questions. Have a plan in place for how you will handle the topic of sex. Discuss the messages you want to give your child about sex with your parenting partner. If necessary, educate yourself about sex education so you can answer your children’s questions accurately and honestly.

Discuss sex at an appropriate level:

When answering questions, take the child’s age, experiences, and knowledge into account before responding. Ask open-ended questions such as “What have you heard about that?” to tease out what they are looking for and guide your response. Do not feel you need to give all the information at once, but do try to satisfy their curiosity.

Look for teachable moments:

Use teachable moments in everyday life to initiate conversations about sex rather than waiting for your child to ask you about sex. During baths or diaper changing are good times to teach the names of genitalia. If you have a friend who is pregnant, this can be an opportunity to talk about how babies grow and are born. The media will provide plenty of teachable moments. Be sure to watch with your children so you don’t miss opportunities to discuss what is seen.

Be an ask-able parent:

Let your child know that you are available to answer any questions they have. Be direct and honest when answering questions, as children know when their questions are being avoided. Children who are told untruths will feel that their parents are not trustworthy, and may be led to believe that sex is something mysterious and scary. They may turn to other sources for information. If you feel uncomfortable answering your children’s questions about sex, let them know that you feel uncomfortable but are glad they asked and that these are important questions.

Repeat explanations:

Children need to hear information about sex more than once. They will need to hear this information many times and at different ages. There should not be one big talk, but rather an ongoing conversation throughout their lives.

Resource: Talking with your Children about Sexuality (Purdue Extension)



Kerri Kreh Reda, M.P.H., is a Human Development Specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 ext. 330 or at


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