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How Do I Talk to My Kids About Sexuality

By Melissa Ferguson, USU phD Student and Naomi Brower, USU Extension Professor

Woman talking to children

Have you ever felt concerned about how to answer a question like “where do babies come from?” in a developmentally appropriate way? Most people who live or work with young children wonder how to best answer children’s questions about sexuality (Stone, Ingham & Gibbins, 2013). The good news is that there is not one ‘right’ way to answer these questions, however discussing sexuality in a positive, confident, and accurate way can help promote lifelong sexual health (Talmon & Ginzburg, 2018). 

Consider these tips on how to talk about sexuality in a positive and accurate way:

  • Help children understand what is socially appropriate (i.e. toileting alone when able to and allowing others to toilet alone). Teaching social boundaries is a way to promote social well-being in relation to sexuality. 
  • Use anatomical names of external genitalia. This not only helps to prevent sexual abuse, but can teach body ownership without bringing in shame (Mendelson & Letourneau, 2015). 
  • Learn what is expected in childhood sexual development. Knowing what sexual topics a child should be aware of at their age can be a huge help in knowing what and how much to talk about, as well as help identify if abuse may be happening (Wurtele & Kenny, 2011). 
  • Let children explore developmentally appropriate sexuality. For example, playing house can help children explore gender roles and playing dress-up can help children explore gendered expression in a safe and positive way. 

Discussing sexuality with children can be a daunting task. However, addressing developmentally appropriate sexual topics in a positive and accurate manner can set the stage for life-long sexual health. It is totally normal to be uncomfortable in these conversations, but the more you know and the more you practice, the easier and less awkward they become (Christensen, Wright & Dunn, 2017).

Additional Resources:

Information for parents about how and what to talk to young children about regarding sexuality: https://timetotalksexuality.com/

Video from a sexologist about how to talk about sex with children: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ2_dnT5iBo

Children’s books to help with starting and continuing conversations: 

o   Where Do Babies Come From? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doAWDB77k8M

o   Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent & Respect https://sexedrescue.com/lets-talk-about-body-boundaries-consent-and-respect/

o   Amazing You! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB6g1AtMfEE

References:

  • Christensen, M. C., Wright, R., & Dunn, J. (2017). ‘It’s awkward stuff’: Conversations about sexuality with young children. Child & Family Social Work, 22(2), 711–720. https://doi.org/10.1111/cfs.12287
  • Mendelson, T., & Letourneau, E. J. (2015). Parent-focused prevention of child sexual abuse. Prevention Science, 16(6), 844–852. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11121-015-0553-z
  • Stone, N., Ingham, R., & Gibbins, K. (2013). ‘Where do babies come from?’ Barriers to early sexuality communication between parents and young children. Sex Education, 13(2), 228–240. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681811.2012.737776
  • Talmon, A., & Ginzburg, K. (2018). “Body self” in the shadow of childhood sexual abuse: The long-term implications of sexual abuse for male and female adult survivors. Child Abuse & Neglect, 76, 416–425. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.12.004
  • Wurtele, S. K., & Kenny, M. C. (2011). Normative Sexuality Development in Childhood: Implications for Developmental Guidance and Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse. 25.