If parents are not teaching their kids about sex, someone or something else is. And it’s likely that they’re getting it wrong.

To prevent this from happening, it is best to tackle the sensitive issue head-on as early as possible. Talking about the birds and bees is not a one-time discussion; it needs to be taken up at certain points in time throughout their early years. Beginning age-appropriate discussions about sex and sexual values when kids are young makes it easier to have open, honest discussions when they are teenagers.

Astroglide’s resident sexologist, Dr Jess suggests a five-pronged response when your child asks you about sex:

  1. Respond by validating their inquiry and asking how much they already know. “That’s a good question. What have you heard about sex?”
  2. After they reply (for instance, they say “I’ve heard that you have to lie on top of each other”), ask them how they feel about that. This will help you to gauge their understanding and learning level with regard to the topic.
  3. Give them accurate information (“That’s true. Sometimes you do lie on top of one another, but adults often do it when they love one another. And it can feel good.”)
  4. Ask them if they have any other questions.
  5. Remind them that they can always come to you with questions and if you don’t have the answers, you’ll help them find more information.

Educational and behavioral therapist, Cara Day says a topic like sex should be discussed when indicators are present, not because a child reaches a specific age. What one child may be dealing with at 10, another child may not encounter until the age of 17. You don’t want to introduce topics that are not relevant to your child.

Dr Jess lists out a few guidelines to help you figure out what your children can and should learn about sex:

  • Under 2 years of age: Talk about correct names for body parts, including genitals.
  • 2-6 years of age: Emphasize choice and control of their body and physical touch (ie No one can touch you unless they have permission); at this age, they may understand that the baby grows in the uterus (under the stomach) and that a man and a woman are required to make a baby.
  • 6-9 years of age: They’ll likely ask about sex during this period and some will hit puberty early on; in the later years, they can understand the basics of intercourse and reproduction and if they have questions, do your best to answer with accurate information, as Google may be their next source if you avoid their questions.
  • 10-12 years of age: This is the age at which they’ll have many questions about sex and relationships. Broadly based comprehensive sexual health education (which has been shown not to result in early onset of sexual activity and in some cases delay it), covers communication, safer sex, discussing of sexual desire and feelings, body image, delaying sex and healthy relationships.

While these guidelines can be followed loosely, Day warns that no two kids are the same. “Some kids don’t want to know about this until they are 14, so proceed with caution. Other children may want to know at the age 6 because, perhaps, their mother or their friend’s mother is pregnant, so it comes up for them,” she says.

She adds that when you answer questions in a direct way, you eliminate shame. “Use a matter-of-fact voice when explaining the birds and the bees, and say, ‘What else would you like to know?’ By doing this, you create an open discussion that will help you become and remain your child’s compass through the teenage years.”

Be your child’s go-to person by keeping your finger on the pulse and initiating conversations with your child when you hear about or sense things. Don’t assume the internet or some other person is going to teach your child. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, it’s wonderful to have conversations about some of the most important things you will ever teach your child.

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