How to Explain Sex to Your Kid Without Anybody Feeling Mortified

If you’re anything like us, you learned about the birds and the bees through pop culture. (Thank you, Madonna and George Michael!) But our kids live in a very different world, and the last place you’d ever want them to learn about sex is the Internet (shudder). Here are five tips for embracing the awkwardness.

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Use scientific language
Pediatricians and parenting experts alike advise teaching kids to call their body parts by their actual names (so ixnay on cutesy monikers like “pee pee” and “fanny”). Set a clear, straightforward, body-positive tone; after all, this stuff is totally normal and natural! There’s zero need for tiptoeing, shame or embarrassment—on their part or yours.

Wait until they’re old enough—but not too old
Around age six or seven, kids can grasp a broad understanding of intercourse. If asked about it, you needn’t get too graphic (you might explain how mommy’s and daddy’s body parts fit together like puzzle pieces). But remember this is your chance to present sex as a loving interaction, as well as the way babies are made. If you squeamishly avoid the topic until they’re eight or nine, the media and their friends will have probably done your job for you. And maybe Madison from your daughter’s gymnastics class isn’t the best source of info…

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Let them guide the conversation
If When your children ask about sex, responding with "That’s a great question” not only buys you time to come up with a thoughtful answer, it also reinforces to them that they can talk to you about anything. The experts at Planned Parenthood advise lobbing the ball back into their court by asking, “Can you tell me what you already know about that?” You can then proceed to fill in the gaps in their knowledge without going into TMI territory.

Have the talk early and often
Just talking about sex once and then running (mortified) for the hills is not going to teach your kids to avoid STDs, unintended pregnancy and assault. Like everything else in parenting, consistency and repetition are essential. As they get older (lord help us all in middle school), your openness and willingness to listen without judgment will make all the difference: Kids ages 12 to 14 cite parents as primary influences when it comes to sexual decision making.

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Remember to talk about feelings, too
Kids too often get the impression that sex has nothing to do with emotions (exhibit A: the system of getting to “first,” “second” and “third” base). It’s on parents to empower them to take ownership of their bodies and their sexuality—not to disassociate from or devalue them.

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