Talking to your child about sexual health

You may be worried about talking to your child about sex in case you make them feel uncomfortable. But talking about sexual health with children and young people allows them to ask questions and make safe decisions.

Why you should talk to your child about sexual health

Good sexual health is an important aspect of overall physical and emotional health and wellbeing. Children learn about sex from a young age, even if parents don't talk to their child about it. Often children hear things in the playground and through the media which can give mixed messages and be confusing. Giving children and young people honest, accurate information means they are less vulnerable to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), peer pressure, unintended pregnancy and sexual exploitation by helping them set boundaries they are comfortable with.

When and how to start the conversation

There is not a set age to start talking to your child about sexual health because every child is different. The conversation does not have to start in a sit down setting, though this is sometimes helpful. You can use everyday opportunities to start the conversation, such as seeing a pregnant woman or a TV advert. After you have started the conversation, keep it going when the opportunity arises.

How to talk about it

  • Have an answer ready for awkward situations (such as in the supermarket)
  • Stay calm and relaxed
  • Listen to your child's questions
  • Answer honestly
  • Keep it simple and accurate
  • Encourage their questions
  • Make sure you avoid saying "don't" too much (don't get pregnant, don't catch an STI)
  • Use resources to help you and your child (books or websites)
  • Be approachable by telling them they can ask questions
  • Don't make assumptions about what your child knows or how they feel

What to do if you don't know the answer or what to say

If you don't know the answer to your child's question, or don't know how to answer it, be honest. Tell them that you don't know but that you will do your best to find out. Then research the answer and get back to them.

Different topics to talk about

  • Puberty and changing bodies, your child needs to know about puberty before they go through it, otherwise they could be scared by the changes
  • Intercourse, you should start by finding out what your child already knows about sexual intercourse and correct any misunderstanding they have
  • Boundaries, children need to understand what a healthy relationship is, including the importance of giving consent to sex
  • Contraception, young people need to know the different types of contraception available and where they can access information or advice about the best type for them
  • Pregnancy, it is important your child understands that intercourse can lead to pregnancy and how they can prevent unwanted pregnancy
  • Safe sex, your child needs to know about topics such as peer pressure to have sex, preventing STIs, contraception, sexuality and rape
  • Sexual orientation, children may have questions about different types of relationships, including homosexual, heterosexual and bisexual relationships
  • STIs and Diseases, young people need to understand how they could get an STI or disease, how to prevent them and how they could get treatment
  • Religious beliefs, children should understand that people have different opinions on sex, for example some don't believe in having sex before marriage

Resources available to help

Using resources (websites and books) are a great way to help you prepare for talking to your child about sexual health. They can also be useful to show your child during or after a conversation. Below are some sources of information which may be helpful:

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