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If you are a parent you may feel like you do not know how to talk to your children about sex, sexuality, and relationships. When it comes to conversations surrounding these topics, parents can be a safe and effective source of information, especially if they are equipped with accurate information and resources. Parents often feel overwhelmed with the idea of talking to their children about the “birds and the bees” but luckily there are ways to make this an ongoing discussion, not just a one-time talk.

Parents immediately jump to the thought of having to discuss the physical act of having sex, although there are many conversations that can occur before this one, in order to normalize vocabulary and build on concepts. There are many appropriate conversations that do not even mention the word sex, but instead focus on how to foster health relationships, responsibility, and love. For example, children between the ages of 6 and 8 understand gender role stereotypes and have started to create a stronger sense of their own gender and body image which makes it a perfect time to address these topics.

Another important lesson that can begin early is the concept of consent. Parents can start teaching children about boundaries regarding their bodies early on. This can be as simple as teaching them that if they do not want a hug they can say no, and that their response should be respected without question. Parents can also normalize words associated with anatomy such as penis and vagina/vulva by using them confidently and regularly. Providing children with the correct words about their body will enable them to more clearly express themselves, their wishes, and their boundaries.

Here are 7 tips for talking with young people about sexuality-

  1. Be prepared. Research factual information on topics related to sexuality such as intimacy, boundaries, sexual orientation, reproduction, and sexual intercourse.
  2. Become comfortable using the correct terms for body parts and functions.
  3. Reflect on your own view points, biases, and feelings about relationships and sex. It is important to be aware of these before initiating a conversation.
  4. Talk with your child. Allow space for your child to ask questions and listen closely to what they are asking and saying.
  5. If they are old enough to formulate the question, they are old enough to hear a correct response in a timely manner.
  6. It is perfectly acceptable and at times necessary to create boundaries. You do not have to feel obligated to answer every question your child poses, especially if it is personal. Also, remind your child that not everyone is as open and comfortable with certain topics and to be considerate to others’ values.
  7. Every interaction will not be perfect. We all say the wrong things sometimes, we all get embarrassed, and we don’t know all the answers. It’s ok.

For more information on how to be an askable parent and other helpful sexuality education resources, visit:

 – Erica Freese, MPH student intern