When it comes to teaching kids the facts of life, many parents get a little squeamish. It’s difficult to know when to start, how much detail to give, and where values fit into the picture. Don't worry: if you’re too uncomfortable talking to your kids about sex, the media and their friends will be happy to fill the void. Not so reassured? Then read on.

We live in a highly sexualized society, and kids are being exposed to sexual content at earlier and earlier ages. While this probably isn’t a good thing, it will prompt questions, and experts say you should answer. “There is no such thing as ‘too young,’” says Charles Shubin, M.D., Director of Pediatrics at Mercy Family Care in Baltimore. “…Children almost always bring this up in one form or another by four or five.”

If your children haven’t asked, Shubin suggests raising the subject yourself, but tie it to tangible experiences the child can relate to on a personal level. For example, the birth of a baby cousin could be the springboard to the obvious question – how do babies get inside the mommy? Tailor the level of detail to your child’s age and curiosity; follow their lead. Young children prefer concrete information, so keep it simple and stop when the child seems satisfied. Older kids will want more detail and need more guidance on your family’s morals and values system. “I believe that all kids at puberty (somewhat of a moving target and specific to each child) need (and want, whether they admit it or not) to have a discussion of the implications of sexual and sexualized behavior,” says Shubin.

Afraid that your child will ask you personal questions you won’t want to answer? Keep it on a need-to-know basis, and remind your child that while sexuality is natural and positive, it’s also private. Remember that your voice and body language say as much as your words; if you giggle or act evasive, you risk making it difficult for your child to talk to you.

Many parents wonder if talking about birth control sends the message that it’s okay for kids to have sex, but Shubin and many experts disagree. “Acting as if not talking about it will keep them from becoming active is, I believe, dangerously naïve.” In our sex-crazed society, your child will learn the facts of life – it’s up to you to decide from whom.

Check out the Parent's Guide for information on talking about sex, in:

First Grade

Second Grade

Third Grade

Fourth Grade

Fifth Grade

Sixth Grade

Seventh Grade

Eighth Grade

Ninth Grade

Tenth Grade

Eleventh Grade

Twelfth Grade