Curiosity about others
By age 3 or 4, children often realize that boys and girls have different genitals. As natural curiosity kicks in, you may find your child playing "doctor" or examining another child's sex organs.
Such exploration is far removed from adult sexual activity, and it's harmless when only young children are involved. As a family matter, however, you may want to set limits on such exploration.
Everyday moments are key
Sex education isn't a single tell-all discussion. Instead, take advantage of everyday opportunities to discuss sex.
If there's a pregnancy in the family, for example, tell your child that babies grow in a special place inside the mother. If your child wants more details on how the baby got there or how the baby will be born, provide those details.
Consider these examples:
- How do babies get inside a mommy's tummy? You might say, "A mom and a dad make a baby by holding each other in a special way."
- How are babies born? For some kids, it might be enough to say, "Doctors and nurses help babies who are ready to be born." If your child wants more details, you might say, "Usually a mom pushes the baby out of her vagina."
- Why doesn't everyone have a penis? Try a simple explanation, such as, "Boys' bodies and girls' bodies are made differently."
- Why do you have hair down there? Simplicity often works here, too. You might say, "Our bodies change as we get older." If your child wants more details, add, "Boys grow hair near their penises, and girls grow hair near their vaginas."
As your child matures and asks more-detailed questions, you can provide more-detailed responses. Answer specific questions using correct terminology.
Even if you're uncomfortable, forge ahead. Remember, you're setting the stage for open, honest discussions in the years to come.
July 26, 2016
See more In-depth
- South-Paul JE, et al. Adolescent sexuality. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment in Family Medicine. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed July 9, 2016.
- Levine SB, et al. Facilitating parent-child communication about sexuality. Pediatrics in Review. 2011;32:129.
- Start the conversation. American Sexual Health Association. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/parents/how-to-start-the-conversation/. Accessed July 9, 2016.
- Strachan E, et al. Masturbation. Pediatrics in Review. 2012;33:190.
- Bechtel K, et al. Evaluation of sexual abuse in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 9, 2016.
- Beckett MK, et al. Timing of parent and child communication about sexuality relative to children's sexual behaviors. Pediatrics. 2010;125:33.