What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When)

A straight-talking guide for parents

A Parent’s First Mention of “Doing It”? Sometime Between Ages Five and Eight

It's never too early but it could be too late

First of all, five years of age is not too early. Understand one very important fact: you can never be too early but it is possible that you could be too late! If you're one of those parents who's twelve year old has already "done it" you're too late (almost 7% of kids have intercourse in the U.S. BEFORE age thirteen...in various locations it's as much as 15%). So when you tell your five year old that an egg cell from a woman and a sperm cell from a man join together to create a baby, you can also tell her that, this USUALLY happens when a man puts his penis into a woman's vagina. This is called having sexual intercourse, you tell her. She'll be fairly grossed out at that point and will likely have had enough. That's okay sweetheart, you reply, these are private talks between you and me and we'll have more as you grow older. I just want you to know you can talk to me about anything. Okay mom, she says, as she can't wait to get out of there. But you take comfort with the understanding that you have moved one step closer to being an approachable parent on all sexual matters for your daughter or son.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Notice you now have a neat opening to talk about having a baby through adoption, surrogacy, and through In Vitro means. And of course you can segue' into talks about how gay men and lesbian women have babies, how two men or two women can love each other like a woman and man can, and before you know it you're building tolerance and respect for various sexualities. Once you've done this you can now get into your discussion of the three biggest and most important sex words ever created: love, respect, and trust. You will want to focus many talks with your child as grows older on these big three, what they are, how you know you have them in a relationship, why they are so important, and how they help to reduce sexual risk (more on this in future posts).

But back to the five year old. Do you HAVE to tell your five year old about sexual intercourse? Not necessarily, but you know you're going to get the question, How did I get into your tummy Mommy? Of course you will correct him first and say, You weren't in Mommy's tummy, you grew and developed in my uterus (remember the possible variations mentioned above). This will likely be your first real opportunity to jump right in with your first "doing it" talk. At the very least you'll have to mention the sperm and egg duo, and when you do it is most likely your five year old will respond in typically boring fashion and be done with it. Occasionally they'll want to know exactly how the sperm meets the egg but I have found that very few five year olds take their questioning to that next step. But make no mistake about it, this is your opening...don't do it now and you're only delaying the inevitable.

Just remember that a five year old nowadays is only four or five years away from the start of puberty, six years at most (and some kids start at age seven or eight!). And once middle school starts your kid won't be as easy to talk with and there's a 25% chance he'll become sexually active during that time, so exactly when do you expect to bring the subject up? You have to figure that you're going to need sufficient time over several years preparing your child to be sexually responsible, and you'll have to do it BEFORE she or he is sitting on that park bench with that most gorgeously hot girl or boy she or he has ever seen, who makes your kid's heart jump through her or his mouth, and makes other body parts stir and awaken.

However, should you choose not to give the "doing it" talk at five, or six, or even seven years of age, you really should give it by the time your child is eight. Oh I know there are those of you reading this now that are saying to yourself, Well, I didn't talk to my kid about intercourse until...well, I never did and he turned out just fine. I suppose anyone of us can get lucky, and that's just what happened to you if that's your story. But the stakes are just too high: sexual risk behaviors are one of six major health risk behaviors today that account for the overwhelming majority of morbidity and mortality in the U.S. A child that is eight years of age has the cognitive capacity to understand the act of sexual intercourse and its possible consequences, and also has the ability to begin to comprehend some of the emotional consequences as well. Plus, it's more likely than not your eight year old has already gotten some insight into what the sexual act is anyway. My visits to third grade classes through the years have convinced me of this. I mean, if they've seen hamsters and guinea pigs do it, it's not a huge stretch to humans is it? And with all the sexualized messages out there in society today? Understand that having discussions of when to have sex, with whom, under what conditions and in what context are conversations that if started by age eight leave you more than enough time to position yourself as an approachable parent on all sexual matters.

So, the next time you're watching T.V. with your eight year old daughter or son and the show has two people who meet each other for the first time at a party or a club, and three hours later they end up in one of their apartments, making out, hands all over each other, with clothes starting to come off, and then the scene fades to commercial, you can have the following discussion:

Did you just see what I saw, you say to your kid?
Ah, yeah.
Well what do you think they're going to do, you continue.
Ah, I don't know.
Well, I think they're going to have sex. And I think they're crazy.
That's gross, Dad!
No really, they're crazy. They don't know each other and yet they're going to have sex. One of them could have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV, one of them could force the other to do something the other doesn't want to do, one of them could get violent and hurt the other. I mean two people should not have sex unless they love, respect, and trust each other.

You're eight year old is looking at you like she can't wait to get out of there. But you continue.

So having sex, having sexual intercourse, do you know what that is?
That's gross and disgusting Dad,
your child replies.
Well, when two adults love, respect, and trust each other it's not gross or disgusting. It's actually pretty good, you say.

Your child is ready to flip.

Well, sexual intercourse is when a penis goes into a vagina, or a penis goes into the rectum, or when a mouth goes on a penis or vulva.
Okay dad, I got to go!!
Great talking with you honey, I love you.

So there you have it. Whether your child is five years of age, eight years of age, or anywhere in between. Feel free to have the "doing it" talk. Become approachable and start early and amazing results will follow!

 

 

Fred Kaeser, Ed.D., is the former director of health for the NYC Department of Education. He is the author of What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When).

more...

Subscribe to What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When)

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?