Opening the Doors to Communication About Sex

As parents, we wonder when we should begin discussing sex with our children, how we can start out, and what we will say (EEK!) This can be very difficult for those who never have had a positive role model in this area. In a PBS broadcast, "Sex, Teens and Public Schools", Jane Pauley confessed something that strikes a chord with many of us:

"I must have been in my 20's...possibly still in college and having a discussion at home with my sister and my mother. And my mother, arguing that sex education belongs in the home. And my sister and I looking at each other and howling with laughter because it had never come up in our house."

Isn't it about time to begin changing these patterns? You can begin today:

  • Be approachable. If you are busy at the time your child asks a question or needs to talk set a time to talk with your child, and stick to it.
  • Encourage your child's questions. Look for the teachable moments that are present in everyday life.
  • Listen carefully to your children. What are they really asking you? Take everything your child says seriously. Observe his body language as well as listening to his words. Maintain eye contact.
  • Know your child's level of understanding and answer at their level.


  • Talk until your child understands.
  • Be clear about your own values.
  • Children around four or five years old are becoming more curious about sex. Your pre-schooler may want to know where babies come from. He is asking lots of questions about everything as he is busily exploring the world around him. Sexuality is just one facet.
  • Your child's questions about sex (as with any other topic) should be met, right from the start, with the correct answer. Make your answers short, but concise. Your child doesn't need or want technical information. He will take one bit of information, think about it for a while, and then come back to you with another question. Tell your child that home is the proper place to discuss sex.
  • If your child is five and still hasn't started asking any questions about sex, it's a good time to open the door to communication. Bring up the topic yourself.
  • Your child needs to continue hearing the proper names used for body parts, including the sexual and reproductive organs.
  • It is very important for your child to learn early on that he is in control of his body. He has your permission to refuse any unwanted touch. If anyone does touch him, and it makes him feel uneasy or uncomfortable, he needs to tell that person, even if it's an adult he might know, to stop. Then, he must tell you.
  • Teach your child to show respect for others. Model respectful behavior. Respect for himself and for others forms the basis of a healthy relationship.
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