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How to Stop Your Kids From Having Sex Too Early*

By Mir Kamin

For some reason, “keeping my kid from having sex” seems to top the list of parental priorities for a lot of people I know. Now, don’t get me wrong—I am all for healthy sexuality, but neither do I want children making rash decisions and/or making choices they’re not ready to handle. To me, it’s less about “making sure there’s no sex” and more about “making sure they’re educated and thoughtful about their choices.” I know my point of view is not everyone’s, but that’s my approach. If you can relate, I’ve made you a handy guide.

Ages 0-5:

Use and teach the proper names for body parts, even if you sometimes use funny nicknames. (It’s adorable if your little girl sometimes calls it her hoo-ha. It’s less adorable if she doesn’t know it’s actually called a vagina.) Talk about taking good care of your body to keep it strong and healthy, and how everyone’s body is theirs and up to them.  Don’t force kids to hug or kiss relatives if they don’t want to. Encourage them to speak up about their needs and wants, while you model respectful behavior. (If they want to be tickled, that’s great. If they ask you to stop, stop.) And repeat after me: “We don’t keep secrets in our family.” No secrets. (Talk about the difference between a surprise and a secret, and also the difference between sharing everything and just knowing that nothing is taboo if you want to share it.) Start this notion early and your child is much less likely to fall prey to a predator (obviously a good goal, but also know that sexual abuse will make them more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age [source]).

Ages 6-10:

Always answer questions honestly. If there’s a culture of open dialogue in your house, chances are excellent that somewhere in here, your kid is going to ask how babies get made. Tell the truth. Don’t over-answer—I like the advice to follow your child’s lead, answering only what they ask and no more, at this age—but don’t hedge, either. Buy some age-appropriate books and don’t make a big deal about incorporating them into your home library, but also let your child know that if they have any questions after reading them, they can always come talk to you. Here’s a few of my favorites for this age group: The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls, It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends, and It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families.

Introduce any expectations/rules you plan to have about them dating as teenagers now so that it’s not a new topic once their interest awakens. Be willing to negotiate, too. What you think is “right” for a teen when your child is 8 may not line up with reality when they’re older.

Ages 11-15:

By now, frank discussion should be the norm. Your kids should feel comfortable coming to you with questions or issues, and discussing things like consent, rape culture, peer pressure, etc., shouldn’t be awkward. If you haven’t already, this is the age at which you need to be very clear with your child about your stance on underage sexual activity while also emphasizing that you don’t get to make those decisions for your child and you trust them to make good ones. To wit: I, personally, don’t happen to believe that premarital sex is a sin. (Maybe you do, and that’s fine. I’m just telling you what I think.) I do believe, however, that sexual activity is a very big deal, and that few, if any, children under the age of 18 are in a place where they are ready to undertake it. That said, there’s nothing magical about the age of 18, either—my stance with my own kids has always been to emphasize that there is nothing more intimate and vulnerable than sharing yourself in this way with a partner, and it is not something to undertake lightly. Talk about pregnancy and disease prevention, but also talk about the emotional impact of choosing to forge an intimate physical relationship with another human being.

In this age span (really, the upper end of this span), my children are allowed to date, but supervision is pretty tight. Your love interest is welcome to hang out at our home when a parent is home, or you can go to their house if I confirm a parent is home there. This is not because I don’t trust you, but because infatuation is a heady drug, particularly for an adolescent. Consider this your training wheels. I’m not going to sit between the two of you on the couch, but neither am I going to wave my hand and let you disappear into your bedroom. Sorry.

Buy some condoms and/or dental dams. Buy them well ahead of when you think your kid might even think about needing them so that by the time they might, it’s just part of the landscape. (But do remember to swap them out if/when they expire!) Put some in the bathroom, maybe under the sink, with a very brief “There are condoms available to you and/or your friends who need them, no questions asked,” or give them directly to your children and let them know that you hope they won’t be using them any time soon, but if they do decide to become sexually active, you expect them to be smart about it and protect both themselves and their partner. If you have a daughter, once she starts menstruating let her know that you will take her to the doctor for birth control at any time if she asks, but remind her that a pill, IUD, or implant will only protect her from pregnancy, not disease. Make this offer early—again, well ahead of when she might want to take you up on it—and it will make it easier, later, if she chooses to ask. Even if you are categorically opposed to premarital sex, you can still provide information and preventive health care while being clear about your position. Saying “don’t have sex” and refusing to provide information or access to appropriate sexual health care is directly correlated with higher teen pregnancy rates [source]. I encourage every parent to be clear with your child about your own morals and point of view, but I also encourage you to couple that with the understanding that your child may not agree, and you still have a duty to try to keep them safe.

Books I like for this age group: The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls, What’s Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask, and It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health.

Ages 16-18:

If you’ve done everything I’ve outlined here so far, chances are excellent that your young adult will be comfortable discussing all manner of difficult topics with you, and there’s an excellent chance they won’t be sexually active. Where’s the thrill, the intrigue, the forbidden fruit when appropriate regard for sexuality has been a part of their entire upbringing?

By the time your child is 18 and/or a senior in high school, my philosophy is to pull back on supervision. (Let’s face it; we all knew that one kid in college—heck, some of us were that one kid in college—whose first taste of freedom led to an orgy of very poor decisions that first semester away from home.) Again, this is not turning down the bed and strewing rose petals around for your child and their main squeeze before you leave the house, but saying “a parent must be home” is to be in denial about the fact that your child will soon be on their own and in need of internal regulation rather than mom and dad’s rules. Set reasonable expectations, yes. Hover, no. Treat your child as a thoughtful, trustworthy individual, capable of making smart decisions about their own body, and chances are… they will be.

*Nothing can guarantee your child will 100% share your views or never misstep, but this will stack the odds in their favor, at least.

The Sex Talk: a parental guide for kids at different ages

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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