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Talking With Your Child About Sex

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All children have sexual feelings. They're a normal part of growth and development. Talking about sex with your child can be awkward, but it's important. And the earlier you start the discussion, the better. It can help prepare your child to make safer decisions and deal with peer pressure and media influences as your child gets older.

If you are unsure of how to begin such a talk, try using everyday situations, such as examples on TV or a teen's pregnancy. You could practice talking about sex with your partner, a friend, or another parent. Ask a school counselor or your child's doctor to recommend books, videos, or classes to help you talk to your child about sex and family life issues. And check out the website for more helpful content.

Things such as movies, music lyrics, websites, and social media can affect how your child thinks and behaves. Children have easy access to many sites with sexual or pornographic content. Talk to your child about the impact that media can have. It's a good idea to set limits on where and when your child has access to a computer and other devices. Find out about parental controls you can use for devices with internet access.

Before middle school

The best time to begin the discussion is when your child is in elementary school. Talking about sex does not encourage sexual activity in children. In fact, it does the opposite. Talking about sex early helps kids make healthy, responsible choices.

Discussing sex and sexuality with your child is not a one-time conversation. As your child grows and matures, they will naturally have questions about sexuality. Having open, honest talks with your child from a young age helps build trust and communication. This makes it more likely that your child will come to you with their questions.

In middle school and high school

As children enter their teen years, they begin to have more interest in dating, and many become sexually intimate with a partner. A little over half of high school students report having sexual intercourse by the time they're in 12th grade.1 Teens face a lot of peer pressure to have sex. If your teen doesn't want to have sex, giving them the facts about sex can help them feel more confident in their choice to wait.

Keep talking to your child about healthy relationships and safer sex. Help your child understand the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other possible effects from engaging in sexual activity. For example, some teens may not realize how having sex could affect them emotionally. Help your child think about what makes a relationship strong. Talk about what it means to truly care for another person.

Defining sex

It's important not to make assumptions about what your child already knows. Your child may know something or nothing about sex. For example:

Talking about STIs and pregnancy

STIs can affect anyone who is sexually active. And any time sex involves a penis and a vagina, there can be a pregnancy. Talking about condoms and birth control is often based on family values and beliefs. But it's important to make sure your child understands how to avoid STIs, how pregnancy occurs, and how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

STIs are especially common in teens and young adults. Consider talking with your child about why teens have a high risk of getting an STI and how to reduce the risk. Using condoms can reduce the risk of STIs.

The risk of pregnancy can be reduced by using condoms or other birth control methods. Consider talking with your child about how the types of birth control are used.

Both STIs and pregnancy can be prevented by not having sexual contact. (This is called abstinence.)

Talking about sexual abuse and date rape

Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against a person's will. It can be nonviolent abuse (such as being forced to look at sexual pictures), unwanted or forced sexual touching, or violent sexual assault (such as attempted rape or rape.) The attacker may be a stranger or someone you do not know well, or it may be a close friend or a family member.

Giving your child information about date rape and abuse is important. Many teens have been physically hurt by a dating partner. It's also very important to help your child understand that date rape or abuse is never the victim's fault.

Share the following advice, which may help your child stay safer.



  1. Zoe, L et al. (2020) Assessing State Level Variations in High School Students Sexual and Contraceptive Behavior: The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The Guttmacher Institute. Accessed May 10, 2023.

Credits for Talking With Your Child About Sex

Current as of: October 24, 2023

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