How to talk to your children about sex

It's never easy talking to your kids about sex so we asked Ann from Parentline to provide some guidance on the best way to approach those tricky matters with children of all ages.

Painting of father talking to son about sex

Facts of Life: painting by Norman Rockwell

My child is learning about sexual health at primary school but I’m worried she’s too young.

You know your child best but consider the benefits. Learning about a natural part of their life, including sexual health, from a young age can help them identify what is right and wrong and reduce the risk of them being taken advantage of. School is a comfortable and safe setting for them to have this conversation and they’re surrounded by friends all in the same boat.

I’m worried my child may have had underage sex.

Communication, especially listening, is key when tackling tricky subjects with your teenager, such as sex. It’s so important to speak to them about sex as part of their relationships and how to keep themselves safe, how they would recognise if they were being taken advantage of and the importance of giving consent. Encourage them to open up to you. Take an interest in your child’s life but acknowledge they are their own person and they may do things differently to you. Difficult conversations lead to stronger relationships.

When’s best to start talking to my kids about their sexual health?

You never know when you could be presented with an opportunity to open up the conversation. From younger children seeing pregnant women at the shops to teenagers watching TV programmes with explicit scenes – you know your child best. If they are being inquisitive encourage it, treat them with the respect they deserve. If you don’t feel comfortable having the conversation yourself, enlist the help of a sibling or family friend who could discuss the topic in a humorous, light-hearted manner.  

My kids get so embarrassed every time I talk about it – how do I get round that?

Acknowledge it is okay for it to be embarrassing but that sometimes we have to live with our embarrassment to keep ourselves safe. If you are relaxed about it, then your children will take your lead. Also using humour can help.

How do I encourage my teenagers to take responsibility for sexual health?

Give them the information they need to make an informed decision. Talk to them and listen to what they need from you as a parent is a good place to start. Ask what they know about sexual health, the risks and how to keep themselves safe. Talk about contraception and STIs, and revisit it when it’s necessary. They might know more than you, but you are better to have the conversation, no matter how awkward, and ensure they have the information they need as opposed to presuming someone else will tell them.

How do I teach my child the importance of respect / saying no?

Respect is something we model as parents, children learn how it should be earned by our actions. Respecting your teenagers and their views even when they are different to our own will help them do the same to others. Have a conversation about consent and what it means in the context of sex. Explain how this can change when alcohol is involved and ask them to think about how clearly we are able to think under the influence of alcohol.


Get in touch 

If all of this still seems a bit overwhelming, why not call Children 1st's Parentline who will listen to any challenges you are facing and help you find the best solutions for you and your family.