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Sex is not a topic parents like to discuss with their kids. In fact, it's often one of the most awkward, cringey conversations that they can have with their kids.
Part of this is because kids will go "EW!" at almost everything you tell them about sex. The other part of this is because parents do not want to think about their kids actually being old enough to be sexually active.
Cringe aside, not talking to your kids about sex will have consequences — ugly ones — in the form of teen pregnancy, STDs, or even a habit of getting into abusive relationships. As a parent, you can't afford not to have the talk with them.
Experts agree that talking to your kids is crucial when it comes to sexual health. Here's how to talk to your kids about sex in a way that makes them prepared for what's to come later in life.
Experts agree that the sex talk should be explained in stages.
Part of learning how to talk to your kids about sex is learning how to make the material appropriate for their age — and how to make it consumable in stages.
For example, kids who are 3 or 4 should be told that they shouldn't allow others to touch them in their "no no" spots. If kids start asking questions, answer them in a way that they can understand, and answer them in a way that's appropriate.
By 7, kids should probably be aware that there are hetero couples and that same-sex couples can also exist. By 10, you probably should start explaining puberty and sex to them — and use the actual terms.
Studies have shown that kids are reaching puberty earlier and earlier, and that means that the times when you have to talk to your kids about sex will be earlier and earlier.
Avoid telling them what not to do, and above all, don't shame them during this talk.
The biggest, absolute worst mistake parents can do is try to shame kids for being interested about what sex is, or to try to shame them into chastity. More often than not, this backfires or causes long term emotional damage to kids.
If you don't believe it, take a look at online forums talking about how bad sex-shaming was to people who are now adults. This kind of talk can make it difficult for kids to have normal romantic relationships as adults, and may also cause them self-esteem issues.
Rather, tell them that sex is a totally normal part of life and that it's a way that people show that they love each other. Tell them about boundaries, and why they should never feel bad about saying "no" to sex.
It's better to be sex-positive and have a child who trusts you enough to confide in you than to have a child who's afraid to hear you scream at them when they want to talk to someone about advice.
Required reading is not a bad idea.
Handing them a book to give them some reading material that's honest, scientific, and medically-backed is a great idea. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex was a book that was made in the 60s, when learning how to talk to your kids about sex was verboten. It was a trailblazer, and is incredibly informative.
This book gives you the step-by-step guide on everything, and the truth is that it often has more advice than parents can give to their kids right off the bat. It covers contraceptives, STDs, LGBTQ issues, and more. Overall, it's a great read — and should be kept around the house regardless.
Other good choices for required reading include the Planned Parenthood website and LoveIsRespect. These can help make talking about sex a lot easier than you'd expect it to be, and can also help give you good advice.
Do talk about contraceptives and birth control, and offer to get them some.
Experts agree that one of the biggest indicators that a teen will be at risk of pregnancy is a parent who refuses to offer them birth control — or refuses to discuss the topic at all. Even if you do not want to think about your kids going at it with others, you need to be realistic.
People will have sex, regardless of how much others will scream at them not to. It's human nature, it's what our bodies are meant to do, and refusing to acknowledge the reality of that will only hurt you and your child in the long run.
It's a lot better to explain the risk of sex in terms of disease and pregnancy, then give them birth control than it is to just refuse to make sex a safe thing for them to do.
Moreover, it's important to remember that discussing sex doesn't mean condoning them and that emphasizing positive expectations can go a long way in getting them to make the right decisions for themselves.
So, talk to them about condoms, birth control, STDs, and sexual health. Offer to take them to the local Planned Parenthood chapter in your town. It will prevent pregnancy, and also help them understand the risks of sex.
One of the most important things about learning how to talk about sex with your kids is learning the importance of consent. Explain to them what consent is — that it should be an emphatic yes rather than 50 no's and a yes.
Explain to them why consent is important, and what the consequences of non-consensual sex can be for the person who didn't care about consent. Tell them that being pressured into sex is not okay, and that healthy relationships involve enough respect to never have that happen.
Lastly, talk about the importance of respect in romantic relationships.
While this may be an article about how to talk to your kids about sex, love should be part of the discussion, too. Many teenagers find themselves in coercive, controlling relationships — and your child may not even realize it until it's too late.
Tell them what is normal in a relationship, what isn't normal, what to do if they find themselves being hurt by their partner and tell them that you'll always be there for them in the event that someone abuses them.