Many people feel that pre-school children are way too young to be given sex education but teaching children about sex from a young age is very, very important.  Not only does it give them vital information to try and help protect themselves from sexual abuse, but sex is a human need and to assume that children are not sexual beings is false.  A young child’s curiosity about his own body, sex organs and the act of sex is natural and innocent and to ignore it or to label it as bad or dirty can lead to sexual problems later in the child’s life.

So what now?  How do you talk to a 5 or 6 year old child about sex?  The rule of thumb is to simply answer exactly what they ask.  (Parents often get such a big fright when their children ask questions about sex that they either give way too much information or give absolutely no information at all).  Here are some examples of how to do this:  If your child asks “Mom, what is sex?” you simply answer “Sex is how married people (or adults that love each other – depending on your personal view on this) show their partner how much they love each other”. If your child asks: “Where do babies come from” answer: “A daddy plants a seed in a mommy’s tummy and then the baby grows inside  the tummy until it’s big enough to survive in the world outside like us”.  Emphasise that sex is a very special experience and that it is important to wait until you are old enough to be entirely sure that you are ready for sex.

To soften the words sex / penis / vagina gives children the impression that it is dirty and a subject not to be spoken about.   In the past these alternative names have rendered the statements of children who had been sexually abused unusable as the courts have felt that these names made their statements vague and prevented the children from describing in detail exactly what had been done to them – and the suspects came off scot free!

Parents often worry that giving young children information about sex might lead to early sexualisation or experimental behaviour.  But is actually has the opposite effect – correct, age-appropriate information about sex often prevents experimental behaviour.  Children who are given the wrong information (usually by their peers or older friends) and children who are given no sex education at all often experiment with sexual behaviour because they are curious but are too scared to ask their parents open and honest questions about sex.

By talking openly to children, they can be warned about the danger of sexual abuse without making sex sound like a negative experience.   A simple way to do this is to teach them that we often refer to the sex organs (say penis / vagina) as “private parts” because they are very special and very private – and belong only to your child.  Explain that these “private parts” include everything that would be covered by a bathing suit and that no person other than themselves are allowed to touch these parts.  Teach your children to wash their own “private parts” during bath time and remind them that they have  to tell you immediately if someone else wants to touch these “private parts” or even just wants to talk to them about these parts.

Up until what age is it appropriate for children of different ages to see each other naked? That is difficult to answer as children all differ in their own perspective of nudity.  Some children will begin to feel uncomfortable at a very early age when nude in the presence of a person of the opposite sex and other children will be all to happy to go gallivanting in public wearing nothing but their birthday suit.  Round about the age of 5 or 6, children become very aware of the anatomical differences between the sexes  and will often cover up when mom or dad come into the bathroom.  Personally, I feel that children of opposite sexes should have stopped bathing together or sharing a bedroom by the time they are ready to start formal schooling.

What do you do when your child witnesses something very sexual on Television or walks in on you and your partner!?! Stay calm and talk, talk, talk about it.  Explain again that sex is a way for adults / married people to show that they love each other and that it is VERY special and VERY private and that your child should rather come directly to you if he has any questions in this regard.  Then rush out and buy the biggest lock you can find to fit on your bedroom door 🙂

And when you find your child masturbating?  Or catch your child and a friend experimenting?  Once again, it is super important that you remain calm. Explain again that one’s sexual organs (say penis / vagina) is private and that your child is the only person who is allowed to touch these parts on his body.  Explain that you know it sometimes feels good to touch these parts, but that it is something that your child may only do when he or she is alone in the bedroom or bathroom.  And then stick to this rule!  If you walk in on your child masturbating in his room with the door closed it would be wrong of you to scold him for this.

Try to create opportunities to talk to your child about sex.  Do this when they are still young, during bath time or when getting dressed.  Answer all their questions openly and honestly and don’t ever say that you will tell them “when they are older”.  Children talk to their friends about sex long before parents have even scraped together enough bravery to tackle this issue in the teenage years.  I can still remember hearing my first dirty joke – and understanding it – years before my parents or the school started with sex education.

It is simply not enough to only ever have the “big talk” once with your children.  Try to bring up the subject whenever appropriate and when it feels right – in other words when you are both relaxed and in a happy mood.  But never insist on talking about sex when you can see that your child feels uncomfortable with the subject or that you don’t have your child’s full attention.  Older children will also benefit from reading well written books on the subject or from visiting good quality, age-appropriate websites that offer sex education.