Talking to your Child or Teen about Sex

Sex education is not the easiest conversation to have with your kids but it’s important for your child to learn it from you. It’s never too young to begin the conversation. This podcast will offer suggestions on age-appropriate topics and information.

Topic Breakdown

1:01 – Having “The Talk” — Let’s Get Real
4:50 – Explain Things at Your Child’s Level
8:41 – Empower Your Child
14:01 – Gender Sensitivity in Having the Talk


Gina Melton: Does the idea of having “talk” — you know, the sex talk — with your kids make you anxious? I know it does me. Well, it’s not an easy conversation to have but that’s why luckily we have an expert here from Children’s to help navigate this conversation. There was a report recently that said that teens consider their parents the greatest influence over their decisions about sex. So, no pressure at all.

It’s Gina Melton with the Just Kids Health podcast from Children’s Nebraska. Join me each week as I talk with the region’s pediatric experts about everything related to kids. All to keep your kids healthy, safe, and strong. Now today, I’d like to welcome Dr. Tina Scott to talk about healthy and age appropriate sex education for our kids. This is a lot!

Dr. Tina Scott: It is a lot.

Having “The Talk” – Let’s Get Real

Gina: It is a lot. I get — I’m starting to sweat just thinking about it. Because I have one that I’ve had the talk with which went okay. And then I’ve had one kid that I haven’t had the talk with yet. And I feel like it’s just one of those things that I’m glad you’re here. Because we can get the real information.

Dr. Scott: You can get the real information. I’m gonna tell you what. I’m gonna take that stress off.

Gina: Okay.

Dr. Scott: Because to some degree, what we need to do is just kind of demystify “the talk.” The talk should not be one big talk, right? It should be talks and conversations peppered throughout our child’s lives — our children’s lives. They are curious at all stages of their lives. So that old birds and bees talk that we’re giving to our kids when they’re entering adolescence and puberty — it shouldn’t be anything more than a conversation while out shopping for school clothes or whatever.

Because you should’ve already laid the groundwork for all of those talks. I like to remind parents because there is a lot of pressure on parents right around that adolescent age that, quite frankly, the only bad conversation to have about sex is no conversation. So, start early and start often. You have to make it age appropriate, obviously.

Gina: Right.

Dr. Scott: But you wanna have a lot of conversations about sex, and sexuality, and their bodies over the course of their lives.

Gina: Do you think as parents we’re putting way more pressure on ourselves to have these talks or this kind of talk, and maybe we’re making our kids nervous? Because that’s how I feel.

Dr. Scott: Absolutely, absolutely. Because kids already — you know, television, movies, they all kind of — any kind of angsty adolescence movie has some goofy parent trying to have a conversation with the teen that doesn’t want to have that conversation. And we all kind of try and pretend like we’re gonna have to play that out in our lives. So, we put more pressure on us, we put a little bit more pressure on our kids. Our kids try and indulge us where — as if we’ve had those conversations kind of before, like natural conversations.

Gina: Sure.

Dr. Scott: It doesn’t feel like such a big deal. Also, I would argue that they’ve already heard things from their friends before we all feel like they’re of the age to have the talk. So, we’re better off to kind of circumvent that by having these conversations as we go.

And quite frankly, it’s as simple as if you are sitting down as a family and watching a movie and something comes up. It’s okay to say to your kid, “Hey, what do you know about that? What have you heard about that?” Ask them questions. That’s the other piece of the talk that is so — I think puts much pressure on parents. It’s because we feel like we have to do some PowerPoint lecture to our children. Right?

Gina: So, a dog and pony show and —

Dr. Scott: Right, right.

Gina: Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Scott: “Everybody sit down now on the edge of the bed because, I don’t know, we saw Eugene Levy do it once.”

So, what we really need to do is take — what their information, meet them where they’re at, at any given time or moment. And then we need to listen to where they’re at, listen to their questions and then give them information without being goofy about it, without being condescending about it.

You know, a five or six year old may ask where babies come from. You can, in a very generic way, explain to an elementary school child where a baby comes from. Now, if your eight- or nine- year-old asks you that same question, you may have to give a few more details. But you have to meet them where they’re at.

Explain Things at Your Child’s Level

Gina: When should we start these conversations? Because you’re saying at five or six they might ask about where babies come from and then a little bit older, but when should we have these — start the general conversations about sex?

Dr. Scott: You know, I would argue that we start having those conversations even as early as when they’re toddlers, right? So, when your child’s 18 months, 2 years old and you’re playing the game. “Where’s your eyes? Where’s your nose?” You know, we should not leave out genitalia. “Where’s your penis? You know, where’s your vagina?”

And, you know, people get uncomfortable with those words, fine. They have nicknames, fine. But we’re still gonna identify those. And they want to learn those body parts. They want to learn all their body parts. And then we teach them how to respect their bodies as they go through all of their childhood through early elementary.

You know, we begin with our kids. We all do it. We talk about good touch and bad touch. And we talk about it in our offices when we’re seeing our patients. And, you know, at visits where they’re starting to become aware of their body. I have a number of conversations with parents of toddlers, two-year-olds, three-year-olds, because they’re concerned that their baby’s — not baby — toddler, early elementary school, whatever, is masturbating. Some of that is completely normal. If you feel like it’s outside the realm of normal, go talk to your pediatrician. That’s why we have our healthcare visits so that we can touch base with each other. But, you know, three-year-old, four-year-old, five-year-old — some of that is normal.

Gina: Right.

Dr. Scott: And so we have to have a conversation, you know. If you see your four-year-old and he’s got his hands down his pants, you have to explain to him. “You know what? That’s your body, no one else should touch it, but here’s the appropriate place. Go to your bedroom, go to your bathroom — don’t do it in the middle of the grocery store.”

Gina: Yeah, right.

Dr. Scott: So, yeah. We start having these conversations from the time they’re very little. I also would bet most of us are having those conversations and don’t even realize that we’re doing it. And that is part of the conversation that we have around sex and sexuality with our kids.

Gina: Well and speaking of that, what should be included in the conversation, in general?

Dr. Scott: Well, I think — again, ask them what they know. Make corrections where corrections need to be made and again, do it without judgment, recognizing that sex and sexuality for kids is different for every child.

And I also would encourage people to listen, because there are some kids that are struggling with their sexuality. And so you have to know who it is they are interested in so that you can give them appropriate information, as well. You know, the conversation needs to be around — again, it goes back to good touch bad touch when they’re little, right.

When you’re talking to your adolescent, you still kind of sort of want to have that conversation. Their body is their body. They have the right to say no. They have the right to be with whomever they choose to be. And then you have to give them — I would argue they probably have the details, so if you listen to them and make corrections, you probably have a much easier conversation than, again, the old birds and the bees.

Empower Your Child

Gina: Now, I have a 16 year and what I’m thinking about right now is just how do I have this conversation with him and not encourage him —

Dr. Scott: Right.

Gina: To have sex, but yet have an honest conversation, like, “Let’s talk about this.” What would you suggest?

Dr. Scott: Well, and you hit the nail on the head. So many parents are so fearful that if they have a conversation about sex — real sex — with their children, they are encouraging sexual activity. In fact, the opposite is true. The more open we are about having those conversations with our kids and the more honest we are about that, the more they put off having sex. Their sexual encounters get delayed. So first of all, we’re gonna get rid of that idea.

Secondly, it’s very important to properly explain what goes where and how things work, just functionally, so they understand pregnancy, so they understand why it’s important to use condoms when they do become sexually active. Why that’s important not just for intercourse that we all know, you know, vaginal intercourse, but it’s important for all sexual activity.

So, it is really important when you’re sitting down, again, I always — I do believe, it’s important to ask them what they know and what they think and then provide the adaptations that actually get them to the right place.

Gina: Because I know when I was a kid and bless my parent’s heart, you know, they gave me a book and that was pretty much the —

Dr. Scott: Yup.

Gina: That was the conversation there. “Here’s the book, read the book, figure out what the deal is.” And so I’m trying to do, you know — I mean my parents are wonderful. Don’t get me wrong.

Dr. Scott: Oh, yeah.

Gina: I’m just trying to do things differently with my kids and be really honest with them, but it’s hard sometimes.

Dr. Scott: It is. And if you actually want, there are great books out there, there are great resources out there. AP has really good resources if you get on their site. The CDC has great resources, if you get on their site. So, you know, sometimes, if you want to have a visual or they feel like they need a visual, sit down with them and pull it up on a computer and show them the visuals. I’m with you. I got a book that said something about a foot in a sock. What in the heck does that even mean?

Gina: What does that mean?

Dr. Scott: And if I put my socks on, am I gonna get pregnant?

Gina: Exactly, exactly.

Dr. Scott: So, I mean, I’m there too. So, it’s very important that when you’re sitting down with them, if they are not understanding, you don’t feel they’re understanding or you feel like you need some visuals to help, there are very good resources online. Don’t rely on the things that they’re finding for sure.

Gina: Yeah.

Dr. Scott: And if they are — you know, if the school is offering some type of sex ed class, those teachers can give you some resources as well that you can have conversations around your kid or with your kids around.

Gina: And they often, I remember when they took the sex education in school — and one of them hasn’t yet but — took sex education, they would come home and talk about it.

Dr. Scott: Yup.

Gina: And they really wanted to talk about it.

Dr. Scott: They wanna talk about it.

Gina: And that’s kind of what you know made my mind go, “Okay. You know, maybe I should’ve been having these conversations with them.”

Dr. Scott: Well and they get conflicted sometimes too because they get the information at school. I mean what do they do when they come home from school? They talk. That’s — I mean, that’s the best time to be home with your kids, right? Or that bit of time when you first get home or they get home and they’re telling you about their day. So, they get a little conflicted because they don’t — I mean a lot of times, they’ll walk in and wanna approach the subject, but they don’t know how far to go with it, right? So then that’s where we go back to listening and pulling some of the information out. And being on the same page with whatever is happening with school, I think it’s really important to ask them questions if they’re not big talkers.

Say, “Hey, you know, I know you’re taking a sex ed class. What’d you guys talk about today?” They talk about intercourse but they also talk about how to protect yourself. Not even just from STIs and pregnancy, but how to protect yourself when you’re out with friends. And they talk about STIs, probably the most impactful conversation — sex ed class that both my kids had when they were in high school, and they were 4 years apart, revolved around genital warts. Both were mortified and we had — we have, dinner conversations.

Again, I have two boys, too. So, there’s not a whole lot that is literally off the table. We talk about everything, and we talk about it anywhere. And I go back to that’s the way to do it. We have to normalize it in our conversation and then they are comfortable coming home and saying, “Oh my God, Mom. Do you wanna see what I saw today?” And I am like a physician so I’m like, “Sure. Let me see it.”

Gina: Right, right.

Dr. Scott: My husband’s like ugh, no, no —

Gina: No, thank you.

Dr. Scott: I can’t. No.

Gender Sensitivity in Having the Talk

Gina: No, thank you. And this is my last question for you, Dr. Scott. When you have a conversation with your kids in the ongoing conversations that you’re suggesting, should the dad talk to the boys and the mom talk to the girls? Should it be both parents? I mean, what do you think about that?

Dr. Scott: I don’t think — I think every family is different. I think every family is different. In our house, of course, because I am a pediatrician, it kind of was on me. But my husband’s okay talking with them as well. I just happen to be — I talk a lot and I do talk about things. I think it just depends on who the parent is that maybe the child’s more comfortable with. But quite frankly, I think everybody should talk about it.

You know, it’s — I don’t think there’s a — I think it’s kind of a very gender neutral conversation if we make it such. I find often when I walk into a room to — in an exam room — to talk with an adolescent about, you know, do the sex, drugs and rock & roll talk — I’ll say to them, “Are you comfortable with this conversation with your mom here? Do you want her to leave?” Boys are as comfortable with their moms in the room as girls are.

Gina: That’s good to know.

Dr. Scott: As a matter of fact, my younger — or I should say, maybe, less mature, because everybody is developing differently. Kids tend to want their mothers there during that conversation for comfort and that’s cool.

Gina: Yeah.

Dr. Scott: Again, we have to meet kids where they’re at. There’s not a cookie cutter way to do this.

Gina: Well this has just been an enlightening conversation.

Dr. Scott: Yes, it has.

Gina: I’m ready to go home and have many conversations with my boys. They’re gonna be so excited. Dr Scott, thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you today.

Dr. Scott: Thank you.

Gina: And thanks so much for listening to the Just Kids Health podcast and please remember to rate, review and subscribe. And for more info on how we can help your child, visit and follow us on social media.

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