Sex education for children: Why parents should talk to their kids about sex

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If parents do not teach their children about sex and sexuality, then they will learn about it from somewhere else, and an opportunity to instill family values may be missed.

Key points

  • A good strategy is to start talking to your child about sex when they are young and continue that conversation as they get older.​
  • A child is exposed to information about sex from sources such as school, friends and the media at a much earlier age than many parents expect.
  • Parents should not rely on the school system to teach sex education. If your child is taught sex education at school, ask them what they learned and review it with them.
  • Sex education does not lead to promiscuity.

Starting early with developmentally appropriate information about sex is a good idea

Curiosity about sex is a natural step from learning about the body. Sex education helps kids understand about the body and helps them feel positive about their own bodies. Younger kids are interested in pregnancy and babies, rather than the mechanics of sex.​

Discussing sex is also part of starting open communication with your child. Early, honest and open communication between parents and kids is very important, especially when your child becomes an adolescent. If open communication is normal, kids are more likely to speak with parents about all the other trials of adolescence, such as anxietydepression, relationships, and the use of drugs and alcohol, as well as sexual issues.

Beginning a conversation about sex early and continuing that conversation as the child grows is the best sex education strategy. It lets parents avoid giving one big, and likely uncomfortable talk when the child reaches adolescence (and will have already gotten information and misinformation from their friends). These conversations are easiest when they come out of a life experience, like seeing a pregnant woman or a baby.

When parents talk with their children about sex, they can make sure that they are getting the right information. Parents should be a child’s first source of information about sex. Understanding correct information can protect children from risky behaviour as they grow up.

Instilling your family values

Sex education also provides an opportunity to instill your family values in your kids. For example, if you come from a family that believes intercourse should be saved for marriage, this can be part of the discussions about sexuality. If the subject has never come up before, there is significant risk that your child, now a teenager, will not be receptive to this message.

Read our tips for parents about sex education and our guide to developmentally appropriate sex education.

If parents do not teach their children about sex, they will learn about it from somewhere else

A child’s exposure to information about sex begins much earlier than many parents imagine. Not speaking with children about sex means parents will have little control over what and how they learn about sex.

School, schoolyard and the media

Parents should not rely on the school system to teach sex education. Depending on where you live, sex education may not even be available. If your child is taught sex education at school, review it with your child. Ask them what they learned.

What a child learns in the schoolyard, from friends and from social media will be incomplete and may be incorrect. It may also be demeaning or even dangerous.

Although the media is full of sex and sexuality, it is often depicted in the most sensational and superficial sense. Realistic portrayals of relationships and sexuality are rare. More often, issues around sex and sexuality appear either without any context or without any emotional or relationship component. Moreover, the risks of sexual activity are often downplayed in the media.

Sex education is safer than no sex education

Studies show the more children are exposed to sexual images in the media, the more likely it is they will engage in sexual behaviours at a younger age. However, actual sex education does NOT lead to promiscuity. Children who receive sex education at home are actually less likely to engage in risky sexual activity.

Having open communications with children about sex and other matters is healthy and safer in the long run. This does not necessarily mean it will be easy or without awkward moments. Teens are still very private people. However, speaking about sex early increases the chance that teens will approach parents when difficult or dangerous things come up.

Last updated: June 6th 2019