Resources to Help Parents Talk to Their Kids About Sex
Topics include consent, orientation, pornography, spirituality, and more.
We know from experience that it can be difficult to talk to kids about sex. That’s why we’ve put together this growing resource, which is based on ancient wisdom and the latest psychological research (in line with our approach).
What the Science Says
We view this resource page as a starting place (not a conclusion), and note that it must be adapted for each individual situation. To help on this front, we’ve split each section into three age ranges: teens, kids, and littles.
An Ongoing Conversation
- “Beyond the Big Talk” (5-min article) Steven Martino, behavioral scientist, Rosalie Corona, clinical psychologist from VCU and others studied the effects of parents discussing a variety of topics about sexuality more frequently. “Adolescents whose sexual communication with their parents involved more repetition felt closer to their parents, felt more able to communicate with their parents in general and about sex specifically, and perceived that discussions with their parents about sex occurred with greater openness than did adolescents whose sexual communication with their parents included less repetition.”
- “Sexual Behavior in Childhood Guide” (10-min guide) published by Sex Positive Families describes typical and concerning sexual behavior by age. They describe teachable moments as well as list resources for each age group. “Talk with the child about the behavior. Create a space that’s safe for them to share their feelings and experience, without fear of judgment or punishment.”
- “Talk With Your Kids” (5-15 min resource) By TalkToYourKids.org provides resources for talking with your kids about sex from birth to 18 years old. Use the drop down menus for resources to support an ongoing conversation. “It’s always the right time to communicate openly and honestly with your kids.”
- Talk More About It (10-min article) Katrina Pariera professor, George Washington University and & Evan Brody professor, University of Wisconsin share their findings as emerging adults share their experience of discussing sexuality with their parents. “Most participants reported that parents should talk about sex frequently, early, and on a wide variety of topics. They also recommended parents to be open, honest, and realistic when talking to their children about sex.”
- “Understanding Sexual Development” (22-min podcast) with Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife by Cultivate a Good Life explores how to talk to your kids about sexuality free from shame and fear. “When it is in the frame of ‘I should do this’ or ‘I shouldn’t do that,’ it feels like you’re being acted upon rather than being the actor.”
- “Talk With Your Kids” (5-15 min article) By Talk To Your Kids.org with suggestions of conversations to have at each age.
Boundaries and Consent
- “Sexual Consent: Talking to Teens” (3-min article) from Raising Children gives practical tips on how to talk about consent. It reads, “It’s always OK for your child to say ‘no.’ And they can say ‘no’ to one activity after saying ‘yes’ to another. They can say ‘yes’ one time but ‘no’ at another time. … It’s also OK for your child to feel uncertain about a sexual activity and to say so.”
- “The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline” (2-min article) explains that this source is for people who have experienced sexual assault and need support in processing the experience. It can be helpful for teens to know that this resource exists even if they haven’t personally experienced assault, as they might be able to share it with a friend who needs it.
- “Consent” (6-min article) from Teaching Sexual Health Canada gives guidelines on consent including, “Consent is freely given. Agreeing to do something is consent only if it’s voluntary. If a person feels forced or bullied, or there’s something to lose by saying ‘no’ (e.g., safety or a relationship), it’s not consent. ‘No’ always means ‘no’ whether given verbally or non-verbally. A lack of affirmative, positive, freely given ‘yes’ is also a ‘no’. A ‘yes’ isn’t consent if someone is coerced.”
- Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect, (42-page book) written by Janeen Sanders and illustrated by Sarah Jennings, gives simple instructions to kids about boundaries and consent while also providing discussion prompts for parents.
- “Consent for Kids” (3-min video) from Blue Seat Studios explains the concept of asking and choosing what to do with our bodies. The narration is by a child, and the audience is primarily kids 3-10. “Everyone is different,” it explains. “Some people love to hug, and some people hate hugs. And each person gets to decide what they’re comfortable with.”
- “C is for Consent” (2-min video) is a read-aloud of the book C Is for Consent by Eleanor Morrison, which teaches the concept of boundaries through real-life situations. One excerpt says, “You don’t have to give hugs if you don’t want to.”
Identity and Orientation
- “Wait, What?” (80-page book) by Heather Corinna and Isabella Rotman, sex educators, is a graphic novel for pre and young teens that covers topics from puberty to sexual and gender identity. “Gender is basically our own internal sense – not what anyone else thinks or says about, but how we feel.”
- The Family Acceptance Project (website) from San Francisco State University provides extensive education and support to families with LGBTQ youth.
- Gender and Young People: FAQs (6-min article) by genderspectrum.org answers teens’ most commonly asked question about gender and identity.
- “What Are STDs And How Are They Transmitted” (2-min video) by Planned Parenthood gives a brief overview of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). It says, “STDs are super common, and they usually don’t show any symptoms, so lots of people don’t even know they have them … The best way to prevent STDs is to have safe sex.”
- “Give Your Teens the Facts” (1-min brochure) from Talk With Your Kids gives quick tips for teens about sexual health including abstinence, relationships, sexuality, birth control, STDs, and health services.
- Sex Is a Funny Word (160-page illustrated book) by Cory Silverburg covers a range of questions kids might have about sex: “Sex Is a Funny Word opens up conversations between young people and their caregivers in a way that allows adults to convey their values and beliefs while providing information about boundaries, safety, and joy.” If you want to get a sense of the book before deciding whether to buy it, check out this read aloud from the author.
- “Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop Up Book” a colorful pop up book written by Christian Hoeger and Kristen Lilla sex educators and therapists. “The book uses pop-ups and colorful graphics to normalize anatomy aesthetics and menstruation. It also describes various menstrual product options beyond just tampons and pads. We want all young people to feel comfortable in their bodies throughout puberty and into adulthood!”
- Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts (32-page book) by Gail Saltz introduces kids to the concept of private parts and what they’re for.
- “How To Talk To Preschoolers About Anatomy & Body Safety” (3-min video) by Planned Parenthood describes ways to talk to kids about anatomy. It says, “When answering questions the simplest answer is best at this age. If they want more information they’ll ask for it.”
- “Having the Porn Talks” (5-min article) from Sex Positive Families covers when to start the conversation, what to say, and what to do if you find out your child has seen pornography. It reads, “When young people are made aware of what porn is, who creates it, why it’s concerning for kids to watch, and what to do when they come across it, they’re better prepared to make informed decisions.”
- “How porn changes the way teens think about sex” (15-min video) by Emily Rothman, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University, explains the link between pornography and dating violence. She says, “By the time they’re 18 years old, 93% of first year college males and 62% of females have seen pornography at least once.” Rothman advocates for supporting teens in thinking critically about online sexual content, saying they remain engaged in these conversations when they’re allowed to grapple with the complexities and view the science honestly.
- “The #AskableParent Guide to Porn” (4-min video) from AMAZE advocates for parents having conversations with their kids about sexually explicit media. These talks are a golden opportunity to educate kids when they’re still open to listening. Young people consistently cite their parents at their primary source for information and guidance about sex, but 80% of adults assume they seek out friends or media first. She says, “We want them to be clear that porn is made for [adult] entertainment, not education. And watching it at a young age can negatively affect their understanding of what real life experiences might be like.”
- “How To Talk About Porn” (50-min podcast) by AMAZE discusses how to talk to your kids about pornography with Sex Positive Families founder Melissa Pintor Carnagey.
- “How To Talk To Your Kids About Porn” (3-min article) offers ways to talk about pornography to kids of any age. The article includes this script from sex educator Robin Wallace-Wright, helping you know what to say to children as young as five years old: “If you ever come across naked bodies doing sexual things like touching each other’s private parts, rubbing against each other ― this is called pornography or porn. I know it seems weird that I’m bringing this up with you ― I feel awkward talking about it. I bring it up because you might accidentally see porn and I want you to know these images and videos are for adults and don’t show what real, loving relationships and sex are. If you see these, please know that you are not in trouble. I’d like you to close the computer or turn off the phone and come talk with me so I can help explain what you have seen.”
- “Human Reproduction: A Seafarer’s Guide” (8-min article) by Heather Corinna with Isabella Rotman from the scarleteen website provides depth and detail to reproductive questions. “All in all, the process from the moment ejaculate enters the vagina to implantation, what is medically recognized as a pregnancy, tends to take anywhere between around five days to two weeks.”
- “Talking About Where Babies Come From is Not the Same as Talking About Sex” (3-min article) by Amber Leventry from Parents.com shares research about how to answer kid’s questions about reproduction. “Dr. Fechter-Leggett says a kid who has the appropriate language for their body parts is an empowered kid. It teaches them to respect their body and others’.”
- “Making a Baby” (32-page book) By Rachel Greener describes the process from conception to birth in a variety of circumstances. “To make a baby you need one sperm, one egg and one womb. But every family starts in its own special way.”
- “How do I talk with my elementary school aged child about pregnancy and reproduction?” (7-min article) from Planned Parenthood provides ideas on how parents can frame conversations and answer kids’ questions about reproduction. “Keep it simple and direct at first — the older they grow, the more detail you can provide. One thing that can make these conversations easier is remembering that you don’t have to provide every detail about reproduction in one conversation — in fact, simple is better at younger ages.”
- “What Makes A Baby Storytime” (6-min video) by Cory Silverburg is for kids 3 to 7 years old. It “teaches curious kids about conception, gestation, and birth in a way that works regardless of whether or not the child in question was adopted, conceived using reproductive technologies at home or in a clinic, through surrogacy, or the old fashioned way, and regardless of how many people were involved, their orientation, gender and other identity, or family composition.”
- “What We Don’t Teach Kids About Sex (TED talk)” (7-min video) by award-winning documentary filmmaker Sue Jaye Johnson advocates for sense education, or teaching children to stay with sensation without shutting down or numbing out. She says, “Let’s teach our children to stay open and curious about their experiences like a traveler in a foreign land.”
- “How to Talk to Your Kids About Masturbation in a Healthy Way” (8-min article) features expert-backed tips for how to talk to kids about self-touch. It says, “We should also be talking about pleasure in nonsexual ways ― ‘I like how the wind feels on my face,’ ‘The color purple makes me feel happy’ ― so children develop both language and the knowledge that feeling good isn’t something to be ashamed of.”
- “008: Lydia M. Bowers | Pleasure in the Early Years” (30-min podcast) by sex and early childhood educator Lydia M. Bowers discusses pleasure in early childhood, even before it is about sex. She says, “Somehow we automatically equate the word pleasure with sex. Which is fine, that certainly can be one aspect of it as an adult. But when we’re talking about young children, young children experience pleasure. Pleasure is this feeling of joy, of happiness, of excitement, of feeling good and those are wonderful very non-sexual things.”
- Sex Made Simple Parenting Course from Licensed Clinical Social Worker and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist Kristin Hodson gives parents the basics they need to teach their kids about sex.
- Sex Positive Families (resource list) is an extensive database of sex positive information for all ages and stages. For example, the article “Sexual Behavior in Childhood Guide” (10 min article) gives a brief overview of common sexual behaviors at different ages.
- “Girls and Sex” (336-page book) and “Boys and Sex” (304-page book), both by Peggy Orenstein, are informed by extensive and honest interviews with young women and men about their perspectives and experiences with intimacy, pleasure, and sexuality.
- “Holistic Sexuality Education: Why It’s Important” (3-min article) from sexologist and AASECT member Cheryl Fagan outlines the core principles of holistic sex education and why it matters. She says sexual health is not merely the absence of disease. “Sexuality education is holistic (mind, body, spirit) and empowers people to protect their health and well-being,” she writes.
What the Wisdom Says
Ancient texts contain plenty of passages that are misogynistic and shame-based. To the degree they do, we would say they aren’t wise. And yet, these texts are also full of passages that convey the timeless truth that craving can lead to suffering.
This is the heart of wisdom: To live a life fully aligned with your inner compass, free from suffering.
An Inner Wrestle
“No pleasure is itself a bad thing, but the things that produce some kinds of pleasure, bring along with them unpleasantness that is much greater than the pleasure itself.”
— Epicurus (ancient Greek philosophy)
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
— from the Letter to the Romans (Christianity)
“I know what is good
but I am not inclined to do it;
I know also what is bad,
but I do not refrain from doing it;
I just do as I am prompted to do
by some divine spirit
standing in my heart.”
— from the Mahabharata (Hinduism)
“What harm a foe may do to a foe, or a hater to a hater, an ill-directed mind can do one far greater harm.”
— from the Dhammapada (Buddhism)
“The real enticement is the insatiable appetite of the mind.”
— Allama Prabhu (Hinduism)
“There are three gates to self-destructive hell: lust, anger, and greed.”
— from the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism)
“Refrain tonight; / And that shall lend a kind of easiness / To the next abstinence: the next more easy; For use almost can change the stamp of nature, And master ev’n the devil or throw him out / With wondrous potency.”
— from Hamlet, Shakespeare
“Desire never rests by enjoyment of lusts, as fire surely increases the more butter is offered to it.”
— Laws of Manu (Hinduism)
“The ignorant one craves for a life of luxury and repeatedly hankers after pleasures. Haunted by their own desires, they get benumbed and are rewarded only with suffering.” — from the Acaranga Sutra (Jainism)
“To be overcome by pleasure is ignorance in the the highest degree.”
— Plato (ancient Greek philosophy)