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Talking to children about sex – an age-appropriate guide

Talking to young children about sex - a list of age-appropriate topicsSex education is one of those things we know we need to do but we aren’t quite sure what we are supposed to talk about.

What exactly are we supposed to talk about and when?

Here is a quick guide to help you talk to your young children about sex

Babies & toddlers (Birth to 2 years)

For very young children, it starts off with talking about our bodies. It is all about helping your child to feel comfortable with their whole body, inclusive of their genitals.

For babies and toddlers it is about:

  • Naming their private body parts – ‘Yes, that is your penis and this part of your body is called your testicles’ (for girls it is vulva and vagina).
  • Letting them touch all of their body – let them grab their vulva or penis at bath time or during nappy changes.
  • Introducing differences between boys and girls – ‘Yes, Tommy is a boy and he has a penis’.
  • Talking about what the different parts of our body does – ‘Yes, that is wee (or urine) and it comes out through your penis/vulva’.
  • Introducing boundaries with nudity – ‘Yes, it feels nice to take off your clothes but we keep our clothes on when we are at the shops’.

Preschoolers (3-5 years)

For young children who aren’t quite a toddler but aren’t school age, there is lots of curiosity about the world around them. One of the greatest mysteries to solve is ‘where babies come from’. This age is the easiest age to teach as they are interested in learning and want to hear what you have to say. But you will need to repeat your answers as they easily forget what you have said or it may not make sense to them yet.

For preschoolers it is about:

Our bodies

  • Naming their private body parts – ‘Yes, that is your penis and this part of your body is called your testicles’ (for girls it is vulva and vagina).
  • Pointing out gender differences – this matters at this age so it is about letting them know that boys and girls are different but also very similar.
  • We have many different feelings and we feel them in our body – ‘Yes, you are feeling scared. Where do you feel that in your body?’


  • Some of our body parts are private (penis/vulva) – private means just for you!
  • Private and public places and times – ‘It is OK to take your clothes off at home but not when the plumber is here’. It takes kids a while to work this one out as the rules changes depending on the circumstances.
  • Respecting other people’s privacy – ‘If the bathroom door is closed, it is because someone wants to be private. You need to knock and ask if you can come in’.
  • Understanding that they can be private too – ‘You can dressed in your bedroom if you don’t want us to see you naked’.

Touching ourselves

  • At this age, it isn’t really masturbation it is more about playing with their genitals with no real intent. Kids touch their genitals because they are curious about them and it can feel nice.
  • That it is OK to touch your private parts but there is a time and a place for doing it.
  • Introduce limits about where they can touch themselves – ‘Yes, it can feel nice to touch yourself down there but that is a private activity, like going to the toilet. That means that it should happen in a private place, like your bedroom’.
  • It is common for children to grab their genitals in social situations when they are feeling insecure – they just need a gentle reminder to take their hands out of their pants. They will outgrow it (eventually).
  • It is common for kids to be curious about their playmates genitals. If you find this happening – take a deep breath, calmly interrupt them, ask them to get dressed and distract them with another toy or game. Later on, you can discuss privacy and rules about touching.


  • All living things reproduce – flowers drop seeds, dogs have puppies and we have babies. You can start pointing out examples of reproduction when you see it – ‘Look at that bird in the nest. She has new babies’ or ‘Look at the new plants growing in our garden. That plant must have dropped some seeds and they have grown into a new plant’.
  • ‘Where do I come from’ is usually the first question kids ask! Keep it super simple – they only want basic concepts. The details come much later.
  • All they want to know is that babies grow inside a special place in a woman – uterus or ‘baby bag’ or even tummy (yes, technically it isn’t but sometimes kids aren’t quite ready to understand that there are many parts inside of our bodies – you can correct them later on).
  • Eventually you will add in that you need a part from a man (cell or sperm) and a part from a woman (cell or egg) to make a baby.
  • A baby then grows inside the woman.
  • If they want to know how the baby comes out, just explain that it comes out through her vagina or can sometimes be cut out through the stomach.
  • Making babies is for adults and not for kids to do. Get into the habit of reminding them of this, every time you talk about it.

Body ownership and touching

  • Kids are the boss of their own body and can say who can touch their body (you included).
  • It is not OK to hug or touch someone if they don’t want you to (and vice versa).
  • That we are all different and that is OK – we have different colour hair, eyes, skin, etc.

School age (6-8)

This is the age where you start to fill in the gaps with more detailed information. Your child will still see you as their main source for information, so this is the perfect opportunity to set yourself as a reliable source for information about sex and relationships. If you don’t they will just get it from somewhere else (friends and the media). Plus the ‘ick factor’ has yet to kick in – it is so much easier to talk to kids about this stuff when they actually want to hear it (instead of going ‘Not again … this is so embarrassing’)

There is a big difference between what a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old needs to know. So as your child gets older, you can just fill in the gaps with more details!

For school age kids it is about:

Our bodies

  • Knowing the names of the private body parts – penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, vulva, labia, vagina, clitoris, uterus and ovaries.
  • Knowing the names of the internal reproductive organs – uterus, ovary, fallopian tubes, urethra, bladder, bowel.
  • Bodies come in all different shapes, sizes and colours.
  • Both boys and girls have body parts that feel good when touched.
  • Old enough to look after their own body i.e. private parts, hair, teeth, skin, etc.
  • Knowing that they are the boss of their own body and can say – ‘Stop, I don’t like that’.

Sexual intercourse

  • A baby can happen when a man’s sperm joins a woman’s ovum and that it usually happens by sexual intercourse.
  • A baby is made when sperm leave the man through his penis and go into the woman’s vagina. They then find their way to the place where the egg is. The egg and the sperm then join together, and grow into a baby.
  • Adults have sex and it’s a natural, normal and healthy part of being a grown up.
  • Adults often kiss, hug, touch and engage in other sexual behaviours with one another to show caring for each other and to feel good.
  • Sex is an adult activity and is not for kids.
  • Adults can choose whether or not to have a baby.
  • Remember to talk about your personal values and beliefs too ie what sexual attitudes and behaviours are OK and not OK.

Sexual behaviour

  • Some kids will masturbate (touch their genitals with intent) – but some don’t (both is normal).
  • All sexual behaviour is private i.e. masturbation, sexual intercourse.
  • Our bodies can feel good when touched.
  • Pornography – sometimes people look at pictures of naked people or people having sex on the internet and this is not for kids. You’ll also need to discuss with your child what they should do when (not if) they come across these images.
  • Explain that some grown-ups may fall in love with a man and/or a woman.


  • There are different types of love.
  • People express love in different ways to their parents, families and friends.
  • Love means having deep and warm feelings for yourself and others.
  • Dating is when two people really like each other and spend their free time together.
  • Dating starts when you are a teenager (or whatever age you deem as appropriate).


  • Some kids have lots of friend or just a few.
  • You can have different types of friends.
  • Friends can be older or younger, male or female.
  • Friends can be angry with each other and still be friends.
  • Friends spend time together and get to know each other.
  • Friends can hurt each other’s feelings.
  • Friendships depend on honesty.


  • There are many different types of families.
  • Families can change over time – divorce, death, new baby, cousin moving in.
  • Every member has something unique to contribute.
  • Family members take care of each other.
  • Families have rules to help them live together.
  • Members of a family can live in different places and still be a family.

Personal skills

  • Everyone has rights, kids too.
  • We communicate in many different ways.
  • It is OK to ask for help.
  • Start practicing decision making around the home.
  • All decisions have consequences – positive and negative.
  • Practice assertiveness.
  • Practice negotiation skills to resolve a problem or conflict.


  • Your body will change as you get older – around 10 or 11.
  • We call these changes puberty
  • Puberty is when your body changes from being a child to an adult.

Adding in direction

As well as giving your child the facts about sexuality, you also need to provide them with some direction as to what behaviours and attitudes are OK and not OK in your family.

So what does this mean?

You don’t just tell your child what sex is but you also include when it is OK for them to have sex (it could be when they are married, or when they are in a loving committed relationship).

By providing this guidance, you are providing your child with the guard rails that will guide them through their sexual decision making. Without these guard rails, they will be making decisions based on what they believe their peers and the media tells them what to do – scary stuff!


And on that note, there is one thing to remember!

Don’t stress about having to talk to your child about everything and about getting it right all the time. The fact you are talking about sex and relationships is more important than the information that you share. By talking, you are sending your child a clear message that they can talk to you about anything! That in itself is priceless!

About Cath Hakanson

Cath Hakanson is a mother, nurse, sex educator and founder of Sex Ed Rescue. Bringing her 20+ years clinical knowledge, a practical down-to-earth approach, and passion for helping families, Cath inspires parents to ...

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