Many parents struggle with this question. When do we bring it up, what age is appropriate, how do I not damage my child by giving them this intimate information?

Learning about the body and then sex, is a normal part of learning. It is usually the parent that has the issue with this, not the child. How then do we address this to ensure our child is correctly informed; how old is old enough?

Preschool Age

When our children are young, under 4 years, they explore their bodies and would normally see there is different between the male and female gender. They often will play mummy and daddy’s and even ask their opposite gender friend to ‘show them theirs’. This is not sexual; it is curiosity. They recognise the male has an external penis. They see it on animals. They do not yet understand what adults do with this appendage; they only know there is a difference.

Sometimes our child may start to touch themselves in their ‘private parts’ and parents can become quite concerned. All they are doing is making themselves feel nice. They have control over their body and choose to make themselves feel good. The way we guide them away from this is to inform them we do not, in fact, do this all the time, especially in public, we may do it privately in our bedroom only. Then guide the child to another activity, so they leave themselves alone.

Infant School Age

When our children reach school, they are mixing with children of all ages, up to about 12 years. Infants are often segregated in larger schools but not in smaller schools. They are beginning to notice relationships. How a man and a woman, male and female, interact. At this age, they do not understand anything sexual. They may see affection, kindness, love, connection, but all this is superficial to a young child, not sexual.

When we are speaking to them about their body parts, please use the appropriate wording, so they know the correct name for each part. It’s not a willy it is a penis, it is a vagina, they aren’t boobies, they are breasts. Just like a finger isn’t a ‘pointy thing,’ it is a finger. Call them by their correct names. This way the confusion is removed; they are a body part, that is all they are, and everyone has them, or some of them.

Primary School Age

This is often when older children will begin to discuss the unknown. They may have early sex lessons at school talking about procreation. They may see movies and individuals acting more sexual and may wonder where and how babies are made. This is usually the time they begin to ask the questions.

When your child does ask ‘where do babies come from’ it is wise to answer in an age appropriate way. Remember they may have either seen sexual behaviour in pictures from a magazine, movie or a story shared at school.

It is fine to explain to a young child that babies are made when a ‘mummy and daddy love each other they sometimes make a baby’. Parents need to discuss with their child, around 10 or 11 years, about how their body is preparing to change (earlier if puberty started young). Both girls and boys need to understand about how they and their classmates will change, so they understand.

Explaining about the changes in the body, development of breast, menstruation, testis dropping, pubic hair, underarm hair, facial hair, all the parts that change during adolescents.

It is also a good idea to pre-empt their behaviour by telling them they may think they are grown up when their body changes, they want to do more things, think you as the parents know nothing. This is when you reinforce your job as parents by advising them your role is to guide them, keep them safe, prepare them for an independent life. They may not always like the boundaries you set, yet they will be set for good reason.

Once you begin to speak to your child on a more gown-up level, and they can understand this, they are ready to hear about reproduction and sex.

Remember; no young child has sexual desire until around puberty.

High School Age

When speaking to your older child at a deeper level regarding sex, the first thing that should be discussed is the respect sex should include. Sex is not a right, it is an invitation and only when received, not pressured.

They have likely heard about attacks, rape, domestic violence and hopefully have been raised in a calm home, without aggression or control. Discussions on consent, intercourse, speaking to a person you like, touch, respect all comes into this conversation. It is not only about the act of sex.

Once the child is about 13 years, (this can vary with child knowledge and personality) you can then ask them questions about what they may know about sex, sexual orientation, oral sex, etc. These conversations do not pre-empt a child to go forward to have sex. Sex is all around them, in every advertisement, in magazines, in movies, everywhere. They are curious, perhaps even more than you were. Their friends speak about it, bring pictures to school, download x rated porn on their phones, it is there.

As a parent we need to ensure our child understands sex is not just about sex, there is so much more regarding intimacy, love, affection, time, and of course protection. While high schools do teach the children some of this, often they become embarrassed to ask questions of their parents. When you know the sex topic is going on at school, this is your key to open the discussion door.

When They Start Having Sex

Hopefully, your child will wait to have sex until they are a little older yet now days we do not always get our wish. Speak to your child in a non-judgmental manner. Make sure you provide a safe place for them to disclose. You want to know if they are sexually active. Even if shocked when you discover they are, please do not show it. Do not be angry, do not tell them to stop because they won’t.

We need to enquire how it was for them, do they have any questions, are they ensuring they are safe?

I am not saying to allow your 15 years old child to have intimate sleep overs at your home with their current bow, not at all, but ensuring the communication is open and judgement free is vital.

Surely every parent wants to have open, honest discussions with their child about how they feel, what they experienced, what they need to learn or know, how it all works and if what they are feeling is normal.

Then of course, we may need the discussion on Love which is a whole new conversation to have once they fall emotionally into another person. That’s another topic entirely.

If your teen is aloof, then you ask the question or pre-empt their confusion with answers. Sure they may say they already know it all, and perhaps they do know a lot. However no young person understands fully the concept of affection, respect, love; even many adults have yet to learn this. Sex is certainly not just about the act of penetration, it encompasses so much more emotionally as well as physically.


We want to avoid our child learning about sex from the internet. Although many will. We must ensure we also speak to them about what they do know, ask them to explain to you what they understand.

STD’s are an important part of learning about sex. Many kids miss that lesson with results being catastrophic for them.

Pregnancy is another know result yet know one believes it will happen to them. Teaching about condoms is an essential part of the sex discussion. An older boy must practice placing a condom. If dad can help great, otherwise purchase a pack, have your son practice until he manages it correctly and privately. He may be embarrassed talking to mum about it so just provide the condoms, suggest he use them and just leave it there. Kids are smart, they also google everything, he will learn.

Enable the child to seek the answers they need if you do not feel equip to provide the answers. Get a website you trust and refer them there for those questions you don’t feel you can appropriately answer.

This is not a bad site to go to if you feel you need some direction on how to speak to your young child about Sex.


Dr Karen Phillip Blog

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