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How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex at Every Age

How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex Tip #2: Our kids are getting mixed messages.

It should come as no surprise that the mix of messages about sex on the school playgrounds, internet, Netflix and other easily-accessible sources is going to leave kids confused (like our son felt on that terrible bus ride on the first day of 8th grade). This means we as parents need to be starting these age-appropriate conversations early and keep the dialogue going consistently through every season of their development. We need to develop the trust with them from an early age that makes us (the parents) the safest place on earth for them to talk about sex (and everything else for that matter).

How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex Tip #3: They want to be able to talk about anything with you (but they’re afraid you’re going to freak out).

Don’t freak out. Don’t’ hide from touchy subjects. You don’t need to have the “perfect” thing to say. Kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for your availability and authenticity.

When you get started, remember that the strategy isn’t about having “The Talk” but, rather, “talks.” When my dad had “The Talk” with me, it lasted around 30 seconds and he summed it up with the wise maxim, “Just keep your weanie in your pants.” Not bad advice, but our kids today need a lot more information than that.

If you’re looking for a good starting point, this breakdown can help you connect with your kids in age-appropriate ways. My new book dives into these conversations in much more detail, but here’s a place to start:

How to talk to your kids about sex when they’re ages 7-9: Introduce the subject. Ask what they’ve heard. Listen. Don’t freak out if they already know more than you think they know. Reassure them that you’re always a safe place for them to ask questions and talk about anything anytime.

How to talk to your kids about sex when they’re ages 9-11: Begin to talk about the biological and moral aspects of sex in an age-appropriate way. Prepare for them for the physical and emotional changes puberty will soon bring. Their own bodies are changing in this phase, so talk about how they’re feeling and prepare them for the physical and mental developments they’re already experiencing and will continue to experience in the years to come. Talk about the beauty of sex within a monogamous marriage and the dangers of sex when it’s used improperly. Clearly outline the boundaries for healthy relationships and sex, but in the process of creating boundaries, don’t demonize sex. Remember to talk about it as a beautiful, God-given gift that can be a lifelong source of connection with their future spouse when sex is used in the right way.

How to talk to your kids about sex when they’re ages 11-13: Address the realities of sex with delicacy, but also with bluntness. By this age, they will undoubtedly have some friends who are already experimenting sexually. Most likely, your child will have been exposed to porn by this point (whether accidentally or on purpose). Share with them your hopes for their sex life and your family’s moral standards regarding sexuality. Encourage them to ask questions, even questions about your own past, and answer those questions with transparency.

How to talk to your kids about sex when they’re ages 13+: Keep you thumb on the pulse of what’s happening with their peer group, recognizing that with each passing year, more of their friends will become sexually active. Have the courage to share some of your own past choices related to sex (even the mistakes) and what you learned from your good choices and your poor choices. Reaffirm your values often, but also bring up the subject without a judgmental tone to keep the dialogue open and transparent. The more honest you are with them, the more honest they will be with you.

So, back to my seven-year-old son’s question about S-E-X, here’s what I said… 

“Buddy, I’m so glad you feel comfortable talking to me about this. I always want you to be able to talk with me about anything. You’re going to be hearing a lot about sex from your friends and maybe on TV, and most of what you’ll hear won’t be true. As you get older, I will explain more about this, but for right now, the main things you need to know are that sex is a beautiful gift God made for a Mommy and a Daddy who are married and it’s part of His perfect plan for making babies. It’s beautiful, but it’s also private, so just like you don’t talk about your private parts or other people’s private parts on the playground, you shouldn’t be talking about sex either. If you ever have any questions about sex, or about anything, else, I want you to always feel comfortable asking me, okay? Ask me anything, anytime. We’ll talk a lot more about this as you get older. I love you, buddy.”

That was just one simple talk, but it was building trust and connection with him that will hopefully create a lifetime of talks even as the questions grow more complex and life gets more complicated. Teaching our kids about sex might sound scary, but it really doesn’t have to be. When done right, it can be a subject where you and your kids can develop new bonds of trust and mutual understanding. For more research, tips and tools to help you navigate the road ahead, check out my new book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls.

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Dave Willis is a bestselling author, podcaster and one of the most widely-read relationship bloggers on the internet. He and his wife, Ashley, work together to create marriage and family resources as part of the ministry of MarriageToday. They have four sons ranging in age from preschool to high school, and their family lives near Dallas, TX. Dave’s new book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls, is available everywhere books are sold on November 12, 2019.