Birds and the Bees; How to have the sex talk with kids

Many parents are uncomfortable talking with their kids about the birds and the bees. Here is everything you need to know about having the sex talk with kids.

Introduction to The birds and the bees

Sexual intercourse. Puberty. Masturbation. These are all terms that can cause a parent to recoil in fear when faced with the prospect of explaining these topics to their child. Whilst it might make us uncomfortable, it is so important to talk with children about these concepts so that they can be informed and protected. I’m sure we all have memories of hearing information from peers that might not be completely accurate or believing things about our bodies that were untrue. For me, I grew up thinking that girls pee out of their vagina. I actually had no idea that there were three holes down there and not two. My parents never had ‘the talk’ with me and much of my knowledge came later in primary school when my friends introduced me to ‘Dolly’ magazine! Anyway, so here is some information to help you have these conversations with your child at the right time and in an age-appropriate way so that they can be prepared for puberty, sex and impending adulthood.

At what age is it appropriate to explain the birds and the bees to a child?

Children are curious by nature. They love to learn how things work and pre-schoolers are especially experts when it comes to asking the question “why”? Whilst being inundated with questions all day can be frustrating, it is important to remember that this is how children learn. Answering their questions in an honest and age-appropriate way is important for building a strong relationship that lays a foundation where your child can come to you rather than finding out information elsewhere.

birds and the bees
The information you provide to your child about sex and reproduction should be age-appropriate so they can understand.

At around the age of eight or nine, children start to understand the concept of sex and therefore this is probably a good time to have that important talk. You might find that your child asks questions at a much younger age than this and in those cases, it is best to keep things simple yet factual. You could say something like “Inside a mummy is a tiny egg and inside a daddy is something called sperm which can turn the egg into a baby”. You can also explain that a baby comes out of the mother’s vagina and that sometimes the doctor needs to cut the mum’s tummy to get the baby out.

Around the ages of 3-6, you don’t need to go into all the details of intercourse and children are usually satisfied with a simple explanation to their questions. It is around the age of 8 or 9 that you should start seriously thinking about explaining the mechanics of sex and reproduction in more detail.

How do you have birds and bees talks with children?

When it comes to having ‘that talk’ that so often a parent dreads, it is important to do it in a way that makes your child feel safe and comfortable. You could begin the conversation by reading a picture book that can explain the details in terms that are correct and appropriate. The illustrations are also very important for helping the child understand the concepts that are being explained. You should encourage your child to ask questions as you read the book and don’t be too serious about it. Your child might be shocked, incredulous or even disgusted at the thought of their parents ‘doing that’. This is all perfectly normal and having a sense of humour about it with your child will help ease any awkwardness.

Here is a great list of picture books about puberty and sex:Best children’s books about puberty and sex | TheSchoolRun

My personal favourite book about puberty and sex is this one: The Amazing True Story Of How Babies Are Made by Fiona Katauskas | BIG W.

Personally, I used the opportunity of a long road trip with my son to explain everything about puberty, sex, masturbation, consent, contraception and relationships. I go into more detail about this below.

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“Young people are going to learn about sex and our question has to be where do we want them to learn? From the media? From their friends? Or do we want them to learn from an educated, responsible adult?”

TAMARA KREININ

What basics can we explain to a 5 year old?

At this age, children are often curious about where babies come from. Young children will show an interest in women who are pregnant and have some wonderings about how a baby gets inside a mother’s tummy. You can introduce some concepts about reproduction by explaining that a baby grows in the mother’s uterus and that you need sperm from a man and an egg from a woman to make a baby. It is also likely that a five-year-old would want to know how the baby gets out. Remember to use proper terms when explaining body parts so that your child can clearly understand what you are telling them. Saying something like ‘the baby comes out of a mother’s flower’ is a recipe for confusion. It’s a vagina. If you are uncomfortable with using terms such as this, practice using them on your own so that you can become used to it. Your child needs to learn appropriate terms, including penis, scrotum, labia and anus (among many others).

Here is some great information about why it is so important to use anatomically correct terms with children and how it relates to child protection: Why You Should Teach Your Kids The Real Words For Private Parts | HuffPost Life. You can also take a look at my article on Child Protection here which discusses the importance of using correct names for private parts.

How do you talk to a 10 year old about the birds and the bees?

At ten years old, your child should be ready to learn about the details of sexual intercourse. Even if your child hasn’t yet asked you any questions, it is important to find the time to sit down and have this very important talk. By ten years old, it is perfectly appropriate to explain to a child that sex is where a man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina and that sperm comes out of the penis. If the sperm makes contact with the tiny egg inside the woman, it is possible that a baby will start to grow. As part of the conversation, you should also explain puberty and how the body will change as a child grows into a man or woman.

Through this conversation, you can make it clear to your child that sex is for adults. It is what grown-ups do and it isn’t something that children should do. At this age, you can also explain that there are many different ways to have a baby and that sometimes people get the help of a doctor to go through IVF to make a baby. Isn’t science amazing!

What words are best to use when explaining anatomy and sex to a child?

When explaining anatomy and discussing sex with a child, Laura Palumbo is a child abuse prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre and she has stated that using correct terms rather than euphemisms “promotes positive body language, self-confidence, and parent-child communication; discourages perpetrators; and in the event of abuse, helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process”.

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Laura has also explained that using euphemisms for our private body parts can teach children that those parts are something to be ashamed of. So please, avoid using terms like ‘doodle’, ‘winkie’, or ‘wee wee’ – it’s called a penis, people!

Here you can find some additional information about the importance of using correct words to explain anatomy and sex to children: Teaching Kids About Their Bodies (for Parents) – Nemours KidsHealth.

Personally, I have always used the correct names for private body parts with my son as well as in a childcare setting. Young children in my care have often gone home saying the words ‘penis’, ‘testicles’ or ‘vagina’ after we have had a child protection conversation as part of our school readiness program, or after simply assisting them with toileting, taking advantage of teachable moments, only for parents to come back to me and ask me why I have been saying these words to their child. In some of these households, the only words used have been those such as ‘fanny’, ‘cookie’ ‘diddle’ or ‘wee’ and parents have asked me why it’s necessary to use the correct names, seemingly shocked and disgusted that their child should be exposed to those words.

In these cases, I have clearly explained to them my reasoning, as described above, and most parents seem to understand and accept this reasoning, so it’s just about education sometimes. Many parents may not realise the importance of using these words and communicating to children that these words and these body parts are nothing to be ashamed of.  

At what age do you explain puberty (including periods) to a child?

You want your children to be prepared for puberty before it actually happens. This will help prevent fear and worry about not being ‘normal’ as their body begins to grow and change in ways that might be scary for them. For girls, puberty can begin as young as 8 years old and some boys enter puberty as young as 9 – so you might need to start having these conversations earlier if you are noticing some changes.

birds and the bees
Andy had seen my sanitary products many times and asked questions so he knew about the concept of periods from a young age.
Pads and tampons are not taboo or anything to be ashamed of. They are a normal hygiene product and girls shouldn’t feel embarrassed talking about them or discussing their need for them.

When explaining puberty, you should talk about both the physical and emotional changes that your child will be going through. Most girls begin their period between the ages of 12 and 14 – approximately two years after first entering puberty. For boys, puberty usually starts somewhere between the ages of 9 and 15. While most schools now offer sex education programs that cover a lot of what kids need to know about puberty, it is important that these conversations happen at home as well so that your child can feel confident to ask questions whenever they need to.

Is it important for boys to learn about periods?

In order to understand sex and reproduction properly, children will need to know what is happening for the opposite sex as they enter puberty. Teaching boys about periods and the menstrual cycle will help them to have better understandings of how the female body works which can become very important for safe sex and contraception as they get older. Knowing about periods will also help boys be better equipped to respond with understanding to girls who are experiencing period-related challenges – such as cramps. Plus, you never know when a young lady might need a hero to rush out and get some period products for her in an emergency. Raising boys who understand periods means raising boys who can be caring, empathetic and helpful.

birds and the bees
Yes, boys should learn all about periods, just as girls should learn all about erections and wet dreams

Here is a great video of some boys learning about periods: Kids Learn About Periods | Parents Explain | Cut – YouTube

“Mum, today in class, the teacher showed everyone that she had some period pads in her cupboard for any girls that needed it, and all the boys started laughing and staring at the girls, and some girls looked really embarrassed, but I didn’t laugh mum.

Periods are normal and the girls can’t help it. And I didn’t want them to be embarrassed or see me laughing because it’s just a normal body thing and we all have bodies.”

My son, Andy, age 11

Should we talk to children about masturbation?

Masturbation is a topic that can make many people feel uncomfortable. After a long-held stigma around masturbation as being ‘bad’ or ‘dirty’, many adults are left feeling entirely unprepared to talk with their children about this very normal thing. For very young children, masturbation is entirely not sexual and is about a child exploring their body. Children should be taught that this is completely fine and nothing to feel ashamed about.

Talking with your child about masturbation might begin early or it might begin as your child enters puberty. Whatever time you begin talking about this, there are a few key things to remember.

1.   Emphasize privacy – without making your child feel ashamed, ensure that they know that masturbation is completely normal but that it should be done in private.

2.   Make it natural – there is no need to make a big deal about this issue. Just let your child know that it is normal and fine as long as it is done privately.

3.   Use it as an opportunity for emphasising safety – make sure your child knows that they can touch their own body but that no one else should be touching them in this way.

If you follow these basic rules when talking about masturbation, you can’t go wrong!

If my child doesn’t ask questions, should I still explain sex to my child?

If your child is getting older and has yet to ask any questions about sex or puberty, you might need to take a proactive approach. Try to consider why your child isn’t asking questions, are they embarrassed? Have they already been given this information at school? Is your child not feeling safe to bring this up with you? All of these things should be considered so that you can approach the conversation sensitively and ensure that your child has the information they need about this very important subject.

birds and the bees
If your child is approaching the age of puberty and has not asked any questions about sex and reproduction, you might need to be proactive and start those important conversations.

How I explained the Birds and the bees to my son

My son Andy started asking questions about reproduction and how babies are made, from a very young age. From 3 years old he was curious about this and so I approached it openly but in an age appropriate way.

At 3 years old, he was asking how babies get inside the tummies. I simply explained that a little seed grows in there and gets bigger and bigger.

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At 4 years old, he was saying to me, “I know there’s like a seed that grows in there, but how does the seed get IN there?” Haha, yes, like I said, VERY curious at 4 years old. It took me a moment to figure out the most age appropriate way of explaining this, before I said to him that a man needs to help with getting the seed inside the mum, but that I would explain more when he’s a bit older.

At 6 years old, Andy was asking me how the baby gets out of the tummy and I clearly explained that it comes out of the lady’s vagina, to which he replied, “Ew, so when I came out of your body, I touched your vagina!! That’s yuck!” Oh yes, at each age, there is a challenge with the right way to explain things.

At 8 years old, Andy was asking more questions, and wanted more answers. He asked me about why there has to be a man and a woman to make the baby and what does the man do, if the baby grows inside the woman? I started to explain that the man helps because usually, a man and a woman who love each other, share that love and he helps by making the little egg grow. To be honest, at this age, I think it was the hardest. I didn’t feel he was quite ready for the entire truth and all the facts but he also wasn’t quite satisfied with my answers. I told him he needed to wait until he was a little older, where I would explain everything to him and it wouldn’t be so complicated. At one point, after realising I was a single woman, and after asking me for another sibling for several years, he started pointing out men in Aldi to me, that could be potential suitors!!

At 10 years old, it was time. There were many questions, often, and he was straight asking me when I was going to explain to him what sex was and that he thought he was old enough for the truth.

I took the opportunity of a long road trip to explain everything. I started with the anatomy of each gender, I talked about eggs and I talked about sperm. I discussed periods and female ovulation as well as erections and ejaculation. I talked about human sexuality and about homosexuality as well. We talked about the changes he will expect in his own body as he goes through puberty and about erections and wet dreams. We also talked about the bodily changes that girls go through including getting their periods and growing breasts.

Nothing was off limits in this conversation and he had many questions which I answered truthfully and factually.

I explained the mechanics of sex and how when the man ejaculates into the vagina, the sperm travels through and fertilises the egg. I explained that this is also what many animals do to reproduce.

birds and the bees
It’s so important, when the time comes for the talk, to be open, truthful and to encourage the questions!

I talked about masturbation and how normal it is, I talked about relationships and consent. I also used this opportunity to remind him of the child protection concepts I had been teaching for years, and said that sex is something that needs to be agreed to, by both the man and the woman and that if people don’t agree to it, that that means it is sexual abuse.

We talked about periods and the body and hormone changes that happen during puberty, as well as gender issues such as those people that may have bigenderism and gender dysphoria. I kept this simple, but factual, by explaining that some people have a brain that doesn’t match their private body parts. He seemed to understand this as we had discussed it before.

I also talked about homosexuality, though we have also openly talked about this before, and helped him to understand that two women or two men can’t have a baby together naturally, unless they get help from the opposite sex.

Andy took all of this information very well! He was mature about it, he was curious and VERY interested! I was proud of him for wanting the information, being comfortable enough to ask me directly and for listening and showing understanding. He still asks questions here and there which I’m more than happy to answer.

Summary – The birds and the bees

One of the biggest parenting tips I have is to have open communication with your child about all topics – make them feel that no topic is off-limits. This will increase the chances of them coming to you about problems, issues, worries, fears, body changes, relationships or anything, so that you remain informed and involved in your child’s life and what is going on in their world as they grow and mature.

Whether you’re raising girls or raising boys, discussing puberty and sex might not be something that you are particularly comfortable with but it is so important to ensure that children have healthy understandings that will set them up to be ready for this new phase of life. Ultimately, you can use these conversations as a way to strengthen your relationship with your child and develop a sense of trust and open communication that will be extremely beneficial for navigating those tricky teenage years. 

2 thoughts on “Birds and the Bees; How to have the sex talk with kids

  1. The extent of the period talk for me was ‘here are some pads and this is where you place them.’ I was very lucky to be 15/16 when I got my first one.
    The sex talk was even better….. “just because you’re now on the pill doesn’t mean you can have sex with ‘BF’s name’ “ oops, was a bit late for that.
    Was very lucky I matured early but developed late.

    1. Oh wow! So it was more self-education for you! Thanks for sharing this because I think there’s so many stories out there that are similar. As I said, I learned mostly everything from Dolly or Girlfriend magazine, or from my friends who had older siblings. I’m just not sure why there are so many parents out there who are so uncomfortable to have these basic educational chats with their kids?? That’s my parents included, and parents I’ve met at child care who seem so embarrassed to even use the words penis or vagina when toilet training.
      I guess in your case it WAS lucky you matured early but developed later. Phew!

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