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Talking To Young Children About S-E-X

Talking To Young Children About S-E-X

By Amalah

Sooo, here’s an awkward question for you! And I’m sure there are books out there, but I’m too lazy to Google them. What’s your best advice about dealing with the birds and the bees and medium-aged children?

I’ve got a 4 year old and a 7 year old and I just want to make sure I’m on the right track here. We label body parts appropriately, discuss why some parts are private, and have discussed the basics of baby growing- where babies grow and even how they get out! No one has asked yet how they get IN and while I’m pretty comfortable discussing body parts, I’m a little less comfortable discussing the mechanics of sex. I kind of want to have a good, age-appropriate answer before I’m asked. Any been there, done that advice? I mean, if asked, I’m planning to explain, but I don’t want to scar the poor dears with too much or confuse them with too little.

For the sake of future google-able privacy, please don’t include my name!

Personally, I’ve been a bit surprised at the LACK of questioning/curiosity my children seem to have on this particular topic. Which means as my children become less “medium-aged” (great term btw!) I’ve actually had to force a conversation or two on them, just to make sure they weren’t getting (possibly wildly inaccurate) information from other sources. Those conversations (thus far) have still remained pretty basic and straightforward (body part goes in body part, baby might be eventual result), but even that level of detail seems to be something beyond what is really needed at the 4 and 7 year old level. At those ages, we still talk more in the abstract. What makes a family? People who love each other. Sometimes when people love each other they decide they want a baby together.

Most of the follow-up questions (again, in my own experience, YMMV) tend to be about be more about the different “types” of families they know (two moms, two dads, single parents, couples without kids, etc.) and other things that sort of directly impact/involve themselves. (Which is very normal for this age range.) They like hearing the stories of how and when I found out I was pregnant with them or that they were going to be boys, how we chose their names, and what they looked like when they were born. Like you, the “how a baby gets OUT” conversation happened a lot sooner than the “how baby gets IN” question ever seemed to occur to them, probably because it involves a time/thing that happened before they existed. Thus they seem content keeping it kinda vague and abstract.

It’s really not enough to just view it as having “The Talk” with your kids; it’s more of an ongoing, open conversation.

ALL THAT SAID, we do have two books on the shelf about this topic, and both are books that I’d recommend to continue to the conversation and reinforce all the good stuff you’re already doing (i.e., labeling body parts accurately vs. silly nicknames, discussing private parts and associated boundaries/safety issues), or to just read yourself and have on-hand if/when your children start asking for more details.

The first one is Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts, which is written for the preschool-to-first-grade age range and basically includes everything but the p-in-v specifics, skipping from “when a man and a woman decide they want to have a baby” to the mechanics of sperm meeting egg. It’s mostly intended to teach children basic yet accurate anatomy of both their own reproductive parts and those of the opposite sex, and reinforces good touch/bad touch while ALSO making sure kids know it’s perfectly normal to be curious about their own bodies and other people’s. It does an excellent job of staying both straightforward and body positive, making it clear that while yes, there are rules and boundaries about our private parts, those parts of our bodies are not “bad” or anything to be ashamed of.

(And yes, there are cartoons of an unclothed boy and girl that are very detailed, much to the hilarious surprise of some Amazon reviewers. It also includes a line about it being okay to touch yourself, but to only do that in private, aka your room. This is also a noted point of contention in the Amazon reviews, but uhhhhh….I’m just happy the book reinforced that whole “IN YOUR ROOM PLZ” concept, cuz yeah. I do agree with the reviews that ding the book for not being super inclusive or diverse — most of the illustrations depict a white family and there’s no mention of gay, step- or single parents at all. My kids have the benefit of knowing a LOT of diverse and different family make-ups so we can have those conversations pretty naturally, but this book would certainly benefit from an update/reprint with an eye on diversity and inclusion.)

The second one is What’s the Big Secret? Talking About Sex With Boys and Girls. This is another one aimed at preschoolers to early elementary aged kids — so not enough detail for a child nearing puberty, but will again cover pretty much all the anatomy/sex basics and mechanics in an upbeat, non-overwhelming way. It’s just a frank, straightforward, “just the facts, ma’am” sort of book. This one actually discusses intercourse and touches on the fact that there’s pleasure involved as well, rather than it just being strictly a baby-making/reproduction thing. We bought this book AFTER Amazing You! (which honestly satisfied most of my kids’ initial questions and curiosity without providing ALL of the details) once we decided to have more of a guided, parent-led conversation with our oldest. Again, I appreciate that it presents all the information as a perfectly normal part of being a human without shame or judgement or religious overtones. It also tackles gender stereotypes just a few pages in to differentiate gender from biological sex (girls and boys can like whatever games and toys they want! boys can cry and girls are allowed to get mad!).

Again, it’s not the most inclusive resource if your family isn’t of the straight mom/dad variety, or if you’re looking for something that will cover stuff like IVF or adoption. This (slightly old) article includes a few recommendations that either explicitly depict different types of families or do a better job at being diverse and inclusive for “every kind of family and every kind of kid.” Those include What Makes a Baby?, It’s NOT the Stork, It’s So Amazing! and It’s Perfectly Normal. I plan to check all of these out myself, then hopefully include them going forward as my kids continue to ask questions. Because it’s really not enough to just view it as having “The Talk” with your kids. It’s more of an ongoing, open conversation, and it definitely helps to have solid resources around that remind both kids and parents that it is, indeed, a perfectly normal, natural thing to talk and ask questions about.

Photo source: Depositphotos/Tuja51


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • My mom gave me “How Babies Are Made” 43 years ago when I was four, and I gave it to my son 10 years ago when he was four. It’s very weird in a 70’s way, but accurate without being toooooo informative (although it does show how dogs and chickens physically do the deed)

    Most of my friends were given “Where Did I Come From” but I think that may be for older kids.

  • Blythe

    I’m like a one woman advertising campaign when it comes to the “It’s Perfectly Normal” series. Love, love, love. Used with the kids when I was a nanny, and it was GREAT. (I used the book with a 10 yr old, and her 7yr old younger brother got some of it too.) The same book series for younger kids is pretty fantastic too.

  • Lauren N

    I recommend this book series. It is r really good clear info with age appropriate answers ( the next book is armed at 7-10 range) and clear drawings that aren’t too graphic.

    • kate f

      FYI for anyone who finds this later, this is from “It’s not the stork,” which Amy referenced above. I cannot recommend it strongly enough–it’s a PERFECT (funny, frank, inclusive, well-written) option for the 4-7 crowd. “It’s So Amazing” and “It’s So Normal” are the books for tweens and teens, respectively–I haven’t personally read those since I have younger kids, but I’ve only heard raves.

      In addition to the funny little narrating bird & bee, the great accurate-yet-cartoony illustrations, etc., I love that they include all shapes and sizes of families; address adoption and IVF; show same-sex families, parents in wheelchairs, etc. I live in Cambridge, where these were published, and they perfectly reflect our diverse community!

  • Naomi

    Just for point of reference, my daughter (at age 5) did have questions about the mechanics of intercourse. I had told her the part about sperm and eggs, but she wanted to know just how the sperm got to the egg. She’d clearly been thinking and wondering for a while before she asked me, and I seem to recall her wondering about belly buttons maybe? I wish I’d thought to prepare more for that moment before she asked (in the car one day out of the blue) but I ended up telling her that I had to think about the best way to explain it and then ran home and did some reading. 🙂 My main reference was this book: which explains the science of babies and has extra Q&A material at the end.

  • Cheryl S.

    I didn’t have to answer the “how do babies get IN there?” question until my daughter was about nine. (She was then thoroughly disgusted). I like the it’s so Amazing book and for a girl, American girl publishes “The Care and Keeping of You” There are 2 books one for younger kids and one for older. It covers all the birds/bees stuff as well as personal hygiene, good touch/bad touch, privacy, etc. The second book covers all sorts of topics including homosexuality, masturbation, etc.

  • IrishCream

    My six-year-old never asked about specifics, but her then-three-year-old sister did not miss a beat. She went right from “how does the baby get out?” to its logical follow-up. So I called up my best poker face and answered very straightforwardly. She was really only looking for a one-sentence answer, fortunately, so I did not have fumble through anything beyond “the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina.” The look of shock and disgust on my older daughter’s face was priceless; that memory will be a joy forever!

    I did also tell them both that moms and dads should be the ones to talk about it with their kids, so don’t run off and blab to your entire preschool class, please!

  • bookworm81

    We have the “It’s so amazing” book and that was more than enough to satisfy my 7 year old. I did have to find a bunch of videos online because my then 4 year old really wanted to see exactly how the baby comes out. Luckily there are some great animations out there so you can see what’s going on inside. Like Amy’s kids my (almost) 8 year old and my 5 year old haven’t asked about the mechanics of sex either so we’ve just talked about it taking a part from the mommy and a part from the daddy to grow a baby.

  • guesssst

    I have searched for books to use in my family. While I like the content in these books I don’t like that they only show circumcised boys, as per reviews and ?s in amazon. I want my kids to know what normal looks like, and know that he is normal. Do you have recommendations for books like that?

  • dlsl

    I don’t have any specific books to recommend, but a great idea that I’ll use once my daughter starts asking (idea borrowed from my cousin, who borrowed from a family therapist): keep a notebook for each of your children to write down questions for you that they may feel too shy/embarrassed to ask you in person. They leave it in your room when they have a question, you write down the answer, and return it to their room. This isn’t intended to be a replacement for the in-person conversations, but rather a way to open up the lines of communication for follow-up talks – especially during the tween/teen years when they are exposed to SO. MANY. outside influences and need help differentiating between fact and fiction. While I had a pretty open dialogue with my mom about a lot of things, I feel like I would have asked her even more if I’d had the chance to do so without (initially) having to say it out loud.

  • LibrarianEVE

    Books are great because you can leave them lying around until the kids are ready, whenever I see my kids reading one about these topics I’m careful to casually mention “you know if you have any questions about what you’re reading I’m happy to answer them” They will usually have something new that they’ve been wondering about…Amy is right, it’s not one talk but many over time. I love the it’s so amazing/ it’s perfectly normal books. They are great resources! “Sex is a funny word” by Silverberg is the most inclusive book I’ve seen so far as a children’s librarian, and my kids like it. Ages 7 and 9. I will also second another commentator that the American girl “the care and keeping of you” books are really great for girls. For yourself, and any parent of girls (and boys) I would also recommend Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, reading that helped me think about what I want my kids to know about sex before they start having it, and what kind of conversations that means I have to have with them.

  • Watashi Zenaku

    Since we are big science nerds in our family, we have my Anatomy and Physiology texts as well as my human anatomy atlases out and available for the kids to look through. My husband (as well as my son’s father) feel that if we don’t make a big deal of our anatomy, sex, or the fact that we are sexual beings from a young age that it just becomes a non-issue. The sky is blue, the grass is green, I have a vagina, you have a penis, end of story. I’ve also found that talking about sex as a parent isn’t embarrassing when you get absolutely clinical about it – ie. these are ovaries, this is what they do, this is how they help you change from a girl into a young woman through hormones. It’s like describing how a toaster works, really. 😉

    We also normalize sexuality in terms of reinforcing the idea that it’s ok for girls to like boys and/or girls, and for boys to like girls and/or boys, and that the only thing that can’t do when they get married is marry a marshmallow (Thanks Unikitty! We talk about different types of families – ie. mom and dad, single parent, parent and step-parents, two moms, two dads, aunts/uncles/grandparents raising kids, foster families, fictive kin, and an extended tribe – and that no one type of family is better than another, and what is important is having adults that love and care for us.

    We also have talked about issues of gender in that some people may not be comfortable in their bodies by using the idea of items being labeled incorrectly – ie. The label on our can of peaches says that what’s inside should be peaches, but it’s really canned pears, and the pears really want their label to says pears instead of peaches – and that all trans people really want is to have their label match what is inside.

    We also talk a lot about consent, bodily autonomy, and the privacy of private parts. Consent and bodily autonomy are important, and we always make sure that when we tickle our kids, we respect their wishes of stop or no, and talk about the importance of respecting STOP, NO, etc. as they play and work with each other and other children.