How to talk to your child about sex

Mum and daughter talking
Many parents dread the day they have to explain the birds and the bees to their children. Jasmin Qureshi looks at ways to make it easier.

The rate of teenage pregnancy in the UK has been steadily rising for years, and 60% of sexually active teens say that they regret their first time. Many professionals place the blame on lack of accurate information and guidance for children in schools. And many parents don’t talk to young children about sex either due to embarrassment or personal beliefs. But author of Sex Ed. How to Talk to your Kids about Sex, Dr Laura Berman, advocates talking to your kids about the body and basic sex-related facts from a young age – still keeping it age appropriate and reflective of your own values.

Teaching about the body

“It is a good idea to teach your child about the body from a young age,” says Dr Berman in her book. “Using accurate language and being relaxed about the body’s functions will help encourage a healthy body image.” She says that kids from as young as two will be vaguely aware of gender differences, and that this is a good time to start introducing the proper names of body parts, avoiding using "cute" nicknames for genitalia.

For children aged four to six, you can start to teach them about the proper functions of body parts. Keeping the information age-appropriate is key, so talk about body parts in a basic factual way.

How to go about it

For children under four, drop the names in naturally as you talk to you child when changing their nappy or at bath times. Or Dr Berman’s suggests saying, “Let’s name the parts of your body. This is your nose. This is your elbow. This is your ankle. This is your vulva. Do you know what to call all these parts?”

For children aged four to six, Dr Berman recommends using pictures and diagrams to talk about body parts – for both male and female bodies. Ask your child to name the body parts they know. Start by talking about non-sexual parts and their functions to help you feel more comfortable. Then talk about the genitals, giving very basic facts such as, “this is the vaginal opening where the baby comes out”. She says to reiterate that these parts are special, private and are to be kept private.

How to answer sex questions

“Between the ages of five and nine, your child will begin to ask questions about what sex means and how babies are made, and you can give honest information about the basic mechanics of sex,” says Dr Berman, “Remember that until children hit puberty, they don’t conceptualise sex as an erotic act."

Here are her model answers for answering those tricky sex-related questions:

Q: What is sex?
A: Sex is how mums and dads are able to make babies.

Q: Where do babies come from?
A: From inside the mum’s tummy.

Q: How does the baby get there?
A: Mums have eggs in their uterus, and dads have sperm. When a mum and dad want to have a child, their egg and sperm meet and turn into a baby.

Extracts taken from Sex Ed by Dr Laura Berman (Dorling Kindersley, £12.99)


Hi Mobilecrazy - there's this article on the site and also this about PSHE You can also ask the many expert parents on our forum for their ideas and recommendations here - or here

Hi Mobilecrazy, I really think the answers to questions like this depend on your child's age and level of understanding. For example, my 9 year old is quite bright and if she asked that question, I'd explain to her that it is the seed that needs to be mixed with the egg to make a baby, and the liquid helps it travel through the woman's body. In fact, i think that explanation would do for quite a wide age range, and jsut be prepared to add more details if you have an inquisitive child.

Hi Mobilecrazy, I agree with Barefootgirl. My son is 6, and he knows that the man has a seed that has to meet the egg. At the moment he doesn't know that the seed is called sperm, but if he asks I'll tell him. However, I haven't yet explained how exactly the two meet beyond saying that the lady and man have a special cuddle, because I personally feel that that level of detail is too much for a curious 6 year old (I have fears that he might try experimenting in complete innocence!). So I think you know your child and know the level at which to explain things.