Talking to kids about sex is never easy for parents, but it’s a very important talk to have to keep kids healthy and safe. Use these tips to get the conversation started.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should start talking about sex to children as young as toddlers in an age-appropriate way. A simple way to begin is by using the right names for genitals.

As children get older, keep the conversation going with these tips:

  • Share your values. Your child learns how to act and how they feel about things from other adults, media, pop culture, friends and classmates. Make sure that your voice and views are part of her education. Before you talk to her, take time to think about your own values and beliefs about sex.
  • Talk about sex early and often. Find an event, such as a family pregnancy, ad or movie that gives you a chance to bring up the topic of sex. You can ask questions to get started, but let your child lead the conversation.
  • Be open and honest. If your child has a question and you’re not sure how to answer it, tell him you’ll find out. Make sure you follow through.
  • Listen. Keep your ears open to learn about your child’s friends’ behaviors.
  • Build trust. You want your child to feel comfortable and safe so they will want to talk to you about anything. It’s important for children to know their parents will still love and support them no matter what decisions they make about sex. Leave judgments at the door.
  • Know, and share, the basics. Explain what sex is and what behaviors can lead to pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Talk about condoms and birth control. Make sure teens know that having sexual intercourse isn't the only way they can get an STD. They can still get an STD through oral sex and other sexual behaviors. Abstinence, or not having sex, should also be part of your conversation. 
  • Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume your teen is heterosexual. 

Know that talking about sex is not the same as giving permission to have sex. Having “the talk” helps your child make the right decisions on her own and is better than lecturing about all the “don’ts.”

If you’re really not comfortable talking to your teen about sex, find another adult who is. Your pediatrician or an adolescent specialist can help.

If you would like information or book suggestions on sexuality, sexual development or sexual identity, or more tips on how to have “the talk” sent to you via email or mail, contact the Family Resource Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

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