How to Painlessly Talk to Kids about Sex

Oct 20, 2021

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Boy wondering about how babies are made while dad listens in.

No matter which way you look at it, knowing when and how to talk to kids about sex is really important! I mean, where else do you want them getting this information?

Just think about that question for a minute. You’ll realize really quick that you don’t want your kids getting this information from anyone but you at this age.

I’ve read lots of articles on this topic, and many contain great advice: start early, have many talks over many years, set the stage by teaching the correct names for private parts, don’t wait to be asked, just start the conversation yourself. 

I agree this is all wonderful. But I think it’s pretty critical to see it from a child development perspective. Just as we’ve learned before, it’s not what your child is asking but actually what they’re NOT asking.

They are not asking about sexual intimacy. They are not asking what intercourse feels like. They’re not even asking why people have sex. They’re not asking how people have sex, who has sex, or even what types of things people do when having sex. 

In fact, your daughter’s question, “But Mom, how does a baby get IN there?” is not about sex at all. Which means talking to kids about sex is way easier than most people make it.

But let’s back up for a second. Child development research has given a lot of clues about kids’ brains and what they’re really asking. This helps us know typically when we should talk to our kids about sex.

When to start talking about sex

Four to eight-year-olds ask a predictable series of questions:

  • Where do babies come from?
  • How’d the baby get out?
  • How do babies grow?
  • How do babies get IN there?

Kids think in a literal sense. Black and white, hot and cold, mean or nice. Life is only one or the other. They’re not interested in sexual things, just the factual information about the process itself.

We talked about these first 3 developmentally appropriate questions in my post explaining where babies come from. So when should you talk to your child about sex?

Around age 8 kids are developmentally ready to hear simple and factual information about sex.

You might be thinking that sounds a bit early. But I’ll tell you why this is a great age for this conversation.

Is every 8-year-old ready for this conversation?

This is a great question. And the answer is yes for most kids. You’ll soon see how very simple and story-like this conversation will be. But every kid is different. Of course, you have amazing parental intuition, so listen to it!

If your child has been exposed to sexual materials early in life or if they have experienced sexual trauma, you’ll probably want to get more information about your unique situation and how to move forward.

If you don’t feel like your child is ready to understand this topic then wait. Just don’t put off the conversation entirely.

Why talking about sex is appropriate for this age

Kids are developmentally ready to understand the simple facts of intercourse at this age. They are truly curious about HOW things work. They love factual details and see things in black and white. An 8-year-old has developed the cognitive capacity to understand the process of sex and how it leads to pregnancy.

This is a natural follow up question to the predictable sequence of questions kids ask throughout these early elementary years. These questions follow well researched patterns of cognitive development as kids understand more and more of the world around them, how things work, and their place in it. At this age, sexual questions are rarely sexual in nature. From a kid’s perspective, this is just a simple question!

In fact, kids should be receiving correct and age appropriate sexual information from their parents. The problem is that misinformation, however innocent, is learned from friends, entertainment, and the internet. But if kids already know the facts from you, they are less likely to believe misinformation — and more likely to ask you about it.

If kids learn the factual mechanics of intercourse and pregnancy before puberty, they’re already starting in a better place. Sexually mature bodies start experiencing more complex things — like sexual attraction, emotional ups and downs, and a strong desire to figure out a personal identity. Knowing the simple facts about sex makes it easier for parents and adolescents to talk about sexual values and behaviors. And that is a conversation every family needs.

So we’ve talked about the when. We’ve also talked about the why.

It’s about time we talked about how. How do we talk to our kids about sex?

By answering the following question of course.

How do the sperm and the egg meet?

I’m glad you asked.

You see, sperm are tiny cells that mature, male bodies make. They look an awful lot like a tadpole. A male body keeps millions of sperm in a special place called the testes that is inside the scrotum.

These sperm are pretty amazing because they each have a special language, like a secret code. This code, called genetic chromosomes, turns ordinary cells into extraordinary things — like a human being. 

Female bodies also have tiny cells. These cells are called eggs and are kept in a place called the ovaries. The eggs also are very unique, because they too have the special code that turns just ordinary cells into extraordinary human beings. 

Babies can only be made when both the sperm and the egg work as a team.

But wait. How do two different cells in two different bodies find each other?

That’s a good question.

You see, bodies have to be really close together for the sperm and the egg to meet. Luckily, male and female bodies were designed to fit perfectly together. When the penis is placed inside the vagina, the sperm can swim through the penis into the vagina in search of the egg. 

The egg too is working to meet the sperm. The egg leaves the ovary and starts traveling through the fallopian tube towards the uterus.

One strong, lucky sperm eventually swims all the way to the egg. The sperm and the egg combine and share their secret code with each other. They then travel down to the uterus, which is a perfect place for a baby to form.

Over the next 9 months these two ordinary cells become something extraordinary together — a new human being. 

Keep the conversation simple

As sexually mature adults, we’re quick to think that sexual body parts only have sexually informative answers. But that’s not the case. 

Kids don’t think in sexual terms. Kids think in facts. They want simple, black and white answers.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. In fact, I think it’s key to understanding WHY talking to your kids about sex is just a continuation of a lot of previous conversations.

It’s not so much what kids are asking, it’s what they are NOT asking. They are not asking about sexual intimacy. They are not asking what intercourse feels like. They’re not even asking why people have sex. They’re not asking how people have sex, who has sex, or even what types of things people do when having sex. 

They are asking a simple question about cause and effect and how it all works. Think children’s encyclopedia when explaining, not emotionally complicated romance novel. 

Just keep it simple.