Age Appropriate "Sex Talks:" When to Have "Those" Conversations

Written by Katie Mitchell, M.A., NCC, CST-Candidate

Many parents dread the age that their child is old enough that they “need” to have a talk about sex.  A lot of parents are completely confused about what information is age appropriate and when exactly these conversations should even start.  I am here to help with the confusion!  With many kids starting a new year of school this week, the need to begin or continue talking about sexuality is even more important! Starting by sharing information regarding what topics are age appropriate and resources (books and websites) that will be helpful in initiating and having these sex positive conversations.  Most importantly, remember that children and teens want a safe place to ask questions and get legitimate information.  If they are not able to get the correct information from a parent, often times they will seek out information from peers, which often lacks in validity.  Remember it is up to you to bring up the subject.  If left up to them, they may never ask!

The following is courtesy of

Zero – 3 years: Name It, Claim, and Explain

Use anatomically correct names for ALL body parts with your children.  Yes, this includes even the correct names for their genitals, such as penis, vulva, vagina, testicles. Just as it is important for them to know what their elbow is, it is important for them to develop the correct language regarding their genitals.  This is also the time that you begin talking about the anatomical differences between female and male, and discuss pregnancy and birth very simply.  Encourage your child(ren) to take claim over their own body (doing this lays the ground work for discussing consent at a later time).  Many young children will openly touch themselves/masturbate (self-soothing versus sexual stimulation) because most young children do not have a sense of privacy.  This is the time that you can help them to understand that what they are doing is natural, but should be done privately (with cleans hands)!

Book: It's Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie H. Harris

3 – 5 years: Time for Ask and Tell

Continue the discussion that flows from “Name It, Claim, and Explain.”  Also, begin to encourage discussions about sexuality and privacy.  Develop an Ask-and-Tell dialogue with children, especially to encourage talking about the things that feel good and do not feel good about their bodies.  This discussion does not just have to relate to sexuality, but can be a discussion about their emotional relationship to their bodies. 

Book: It’s so Amazing by Robie H. Harris

5 – 8 years old: Puberty Politeness

As you have probably guessed, this discussion continues to build on its self, so continue the discussion of “Name It, Claim, and Explain” and “Ask-and-Tell.”  Begin explaining the anatomy of sexual intercourse.  This does not have to be an awkward conversation, especially when explained in biological terms.  Some children can begin puberty as young as 9, so plan to have the conversation ahead of time so you both are prepared.  You can also begin the conversation regarding sexuality variations, such as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and transsexual.  Just as you have been talking about in prior conversations, continue the idea that respect is a part of any sexual experience.  Also, continue building on the conversation of what feels good and does not feel good in their body.

Book: I Said No! A Kid-to-kid Guide to Keeping Private Parts Private By Kimberly King

8 – 10 years: Less Questions, More Curiosity

Continue to build on all discussion points prior.  Most children at this age can understand and emotionally handle a basic explanation of many different topics.  Understand that children will have questions, but also they may present as more curious than anything.  Be prepared to give information regarding sexuality, puberty, rape, abuse, marriage, abortion, etc.  Be sure to begin talking about pleasure – regardless of sexuality or gender molds – everyone can experience pleasure, which is wonderful!  It is very important at this age, to continue the conversation about and reinforce healthy boundaries with others and self-esteem (from self, not others).  Continue to talk about the different effects that puberty can have on their body (pubic hair, menstruation, growth spurts, breast, acne, body odor, etc.)

Book: It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris

*When initiating conversations from here on out, the car is a great place to hold the conversation!  Especially, since the two of you do not have to make eye contact during the conversation.

9 – 12 years: What Makes a Good Relationship

There is some overlap of ages, between this information and the last group.  Again, continue to build on everything that you have been discussing with your children over the years.  At this age, initiation of conversation on your child’s part may dwindle, but continue to encourage and initiate those conversations yourself.  Be sure to reinforce the conversations you have been having.  Make sure to cover topics like safer sex options, including contraception (and how those work).  Continue to reinforce what constitutes a healthy relationship and what does not.  Talk about how to begin, continue, and end a relationship in a healthy way.

Book: Let’s Talk about S-E-X by Same Gitchel

13 – 18 years: The Pleasure Talk

You guessed it – Continue to discuss all topics leading up to this point in their life!  Reinforce the idea that regardless of gender molds or sexuality, pleasure is definitely an aspect of sexuality.   Be sure to talk about different aspects of relationships: ways to communicate with one another, being vulnerable, being assertive, etc.  Talk about hormone differences and how hormones contribute to body changes and sexuality.  Be sure to also discuss the difference between loving someone and lusting someone, both of which are normal.  Talk about sexual and reproductive healthcare and what that should look like for them in the future. 

Book: S.E.X., second edition: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties by Heather Corinna

18+ years: Open Up

Continue to make yourself available to them.  Allow them independence and privacy to explore themselves, but also continue to offer them emotional support.  Be sure to also help facilitate access to sexual and reproductive healthcare. 

I have also found that the Planned Parenthood website has a ton of helpful and educational information on their website!

After reading this information, if you, a parent, are still uncomfortable having these discussions with your children, reach out to us at Heights Family Counseling!  We can help you to feel more comfortable and capable of discussing sexual education with your child(ren)!  We can also provide psychoeducation sessions for your kids, too!