The Basics: Overview
Talking honestly and openly with your kids about sex and relationships is important — and it’s never too early to start. Your support can help them make healthy choices and avoid risks as they grow up.
It may be hard to know where to start, especially if your parents didn’t talk to you about sex when you were growing up. The following tips and strategies can help.
What do I say?
Kids have different questions and concerns about sex at different ages. As your children get older, the things you talk about will change. Remember to:
- Talk early and often — you don’t have to fit everything into 1 conversation!
- Be ready to answer questions — children’s questions can tell you a lot about what they already know
- Listen carefully to your kids’ opinions, even if you don’t agree
- Try using things that come up on TV, in music, or on social media to start a conversation
- Be honest about how you’re feeling — for example, if you’re embarrassed or uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so
Will talking to my kids really make a difference?
Parents are the most important influence on a young person’s decisions about relationships and sex — even more important than friends, siblings, or the media. Most young people say that it would be easier to make decisions about sex if they could talk openly and honestly with their parents.
Young people who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to put off having sex until they’re older. They’re also more likely to make healthy choices, like using condoms to prevent pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections), if they do choose to have sex. STIs are also called STDs (sexually transmitted diseases).
The Basics: Bodies and Puberty
When is the right time to start talking?
It’s never too early to start talking to children about their bodies. Be sure to use the medical names for all body parts and explain what they do. These resources can help:
- Reproductive systems with a vagina, uterus, and ovaries (often called female reproductive systems)
- Reproductive systems with a penis and testicles (often called male reproductive systems)
What do I tell my kids about puberty?
Puberty is when your child’s body starts to develop and change into an adult body. Puberty is different for each child.
- For girls, puberty usually starts between ages 8 and 15 years. Get more information about what puberty is like for girls.
- For boys, it usually begins between ages 9 and 16 years. Get more information about what puberty is like for boys.
Puberty can be a confusing and overwhelming time for many young people. You can help your kids by:
- Telling them that puberty is a normal part of growing up
- Sharing facts to help them understand their changing bodies and feelings
- Talking about your own puberty experiences when you were growing up
As your kids get older, they may be less likely to ask you questions. So it’s a good idea for you to start conversations with them.
The Basics: Gender
What if my child has questions about being a boy or girl?
The important thing is to believe what your child tells you about their gender. Let them know you love them, and thank them for sharing this part of their life with you.
Some kids act or feel like they’re a different gender than the sex that’s listed on their birth certificate. For example, a child who was assigned male at birth may feel like a girl, not a boy. And some kids don’t feel like a boy or a girl.
When kids act or feel like they’re a different gender than their sex assigned at birth, it’s sometimes called being “gender-diverse.” Some kids may feel this way from very early on, while others may start to feel this way during puberty or as they get older.
The Basics: Healthy, Respectful Relationships
How can I help my kids build healthy, respectful relationships?
Start conversations about what healthy and respectful relationships look like. Talk with your child about what they should expect for themselves and others in their relationships with friends, as well as in romantic or sexual relationships.
Talk about the importance of respect in all relationships, including giving and receiving consent in sexual relationships. And try to model healthy and respectful relationships for your child as much as possible.
Families have different expectations about when and how kids can start dating or having romantic relationships. Talk about your family expectations for healthy, respectful relationships before your child starts dating — and keep checking in with them often.
Talk about different kinds of relationships, including relationships with opposite-sex and same-sex partners.
When you talk about relationships and sex, don’t assume your child is only interested in opposite-sex relationships. Some young people may be interested in same-sex relationships or identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. And some may not be interested in sexual relationships at all — they may identify as asexual, for example.
It’s important to let your child know that you love them and that you appreciate them sharing this part of their life with you. Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual are less likely to be depressed if their parents are supportive. They’re also more likely to make healthy choices about sex and relationships. Find out how you can support a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender child.
The Basics: Pregnancy and STIs
What do I tell my child about preventing pregnancy and STIs?
Make sure your kids have the facts they need to make healthy and informed decisions about their sexual health. This includes information about pregnancy and STIs like HIV and chlamydia.
Even if you don’t think your child is having sex or in a dating or romantic relationship, talk with them about ways to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
Tell your child about different kinds of birth control. It’s also important to make sure your child knows how to access and use condoms to prevent STIs — even if they’re also using another method to prevent pregnancy.
Check out these resources to learn more:
- Talk with Your Teen About Preventing STIs
- Choose the Right Birth Control
- Questions and Answers About Sex
- About Birth Control: What Parents Need to Know
Ask your kids where they get information about relationships, sex, pregnancy, and STIs.
Make sure you know where your child is getting health information. Some sources of information may be more medically accurate than others.
Encourage your child to talk with their doctor about sexual health.
Doctors can be a trustworthy source of information about relationships, sex, pregnancy, and STIs. Next time you bring your child for a doctor visit, ask if they’d like to spend a few minutes alone with the doctor to ask questions.
Take Action: Start Talking
Kids need information from adults they trust. Use these tips to start a conversation today.
Talk early and often.
Start having conversations about your values and expectations when your kids are young. That way, they’ll get used to sharing information and opinions with you. This will make it easier for you to keep talking as they get older.
There are lots of ways to talk to kids about relationships and sex. Try having lots of little conversations instead of 1 big talk. And remember, if you’ve been putting it off, it’s never too late to start a conversation about sexual health.
Get tips on how to:
Try not to give your kids too much information at once. Give them time between conversations to think. They may come back later and ask questions.
Practice active listening.
Active listening is a way to show your kids that you’re paying attention and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. Try these tips:
- Nod your head and make eye contact to show that you’re interested in what they have to say.
- Repeat back what your child says in your own words. For example: “What I’m hearing is that you’re feeling frustrated with our rules. You feel that you’re old enough to make your own decisions.”
Take Action: Ask and Answer Questions
Give your kids time and space to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Ask for their opinions. Be sure to listen, even if you don’t agree.
Try asking questions like:
- Have you talked about puberty, sex, or relationships in health class? With friends? Do you have any questions?
- When do you think it’s okay to start dating or having romantic relationships?
- When do you think a person is ready to have sex?
Always take your kids’ values and opinions seriously. This shows that you respect what they have to say — and it can help them feel more comfortable talking to you.
Be ready to answer questions.
When your kids ask you questions, ask them what they think first. Their answers will tell you more about what they’re asking and why. This also gives you time to think about your answer.
Do your best to answer questions honestly and correctly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s okay! You can say, “I’m not sure. Let’s look that up together.”
Keep in mind that kids get information about sex from lots of different sources, like friends, the internet, social media, and TV. They may get conflicting and inaccurate information, which can be confusing. That’s another reason why it’s important for you to answer questions as clearly and accurately as you can.
Take Action: Conversation Tips
Use media to start a conversation.
Kids see and hear messages about relationships and sex every day in the media — like on TV, in music, and online. When something comes up in a TV show or song, use it as an opportunity to start a conversation with your kids.
Talk in the car or in the kitchen.
It can sometimes be easier to talk about sex if you’re doing something else at the same time. Try asking a question when you’re driving or cooking dinner.
You can still show that you’re listening by nodding your head or repeating what your child says to you.
It’s okay to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Be honest about how you’re feeling. Remember, when you’re honest with your kids, they’re more likely to be honest with you.
Talk with other parents.
Keep in mind that you’re not the only parent thinking about how to talk to kids about relationships and sex. Ask other parents how conversations with their kids are going. You may be able to get useful tips and ideas.
Talking to other parents is also a great way to learn more about the messages other kids are getting about relationships and sex.