Mommabare: How Do I Talk To My Kids About Sex?

illustration by Julia Green

illustration by Julia Green

Welcome to Mommabare, the place you come to talk about the things that should have been in the parenting manual that absolutely did not come with your kids.

Actual message from actual friend: HELP. HELLLLLLP. I looked at the computer history and (we’ll call him) Matt is googling ‘naked tits.’ He’s only 10! I thought I had more time. HELLLLLP.

Actual response from me: Nope. You do not have more time. Now is the time.

And folks, now is the time.

Now may not be the time to describe in graphic detail how penises go inside vaginas (and mouths and anuses), but now IS the time to be talking. All the time is the time to be talking about sex, as well as everything else. And here’s why: because your kids are getting it from everyone else. Give them the benefit of information from a reliable source. (It’s you.)

To further illustrate my point, I share with you the following (click through the photos to see some quality kid questions about sex):


A post shared by The Sex Ed Files (@thesexedfiles) on

This IG account is run by a new friend of mine, lovely lady and sex educator, Mariah Caudillo Garcia. Mariah is doing the important work of teaching our kids the things we aren’t (or haven’t). In the post above, she shares some of the questions kids are asking her. These are 5th graders (so, around ten years old).

Friends, you thought you had time, but you do not.

I hear you saying, "But WHY, JONI? WHY SEX TALKING?"

I mean, I know it looks like Mariah has things covered, and she definitely does. But opening the lines of communication with your kids starts from the first moment they learn they can trust you. When you answer their cries for food with your breast or a bottle, you are communicating that you can be trusted with their care. When you answer their questions about sex frankly and without shame, you are communicating that you can be trusted with their curiosity.

That trust will keep opening doors for you. That trust is how we get them to call us to pick them up instead of getting behind the wheel of a car after a night of high school partying. It’s how we make sure they are open with us about depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. That trust is how we help our kids protect themselves against STIs and unwanted pregnancy.

Fostering trust with our kids is one of the most important parts of being a present parent. 

I’d never congratulate myself for being good at this whole raising children business (because that’s a surefire way to make sure your kid becomes a sociopath), but I’ve gotten three people to adulthood without anyone driving drunk, getting chlamydia, or growing a baby. It might just be luck, but I can tell you we’ve never stopped talking — not from the day my son asked me if “girls get periods what do boys get, exclamation marks?”

Fine. I'll do it. But how?

Honestly and often.

Simple. The conversations that make us most uncomfortable are the ones we most need.

And again:

The conversations that make us most uncomfortable are the ones we most need to be having.

Your kids needs your openness and vulnerability as they navigate the confusing maze that is puberty. So give it to them. Answer their questions honestly, without hesitation or embarrassment. They will take their cues from you.

Here are a few pointers:

1. Have the conversation with yourself or your partner first. Practice in the mirror or whatever. Do it as many times as you need to until you can do it without blushing.

2. Arm yourself with some books. This is a good one for bodies. This is a good age-appropriate series. And this is a great one that doesn’t assume vagina/uterus=girl and penis/testes=boy. For the ultimate reference, I keep this one around.

3. Don’t wait for them to ask you. OFFER yourself to them as well.

4. Set aside time free from other distractions.

5. Use the appropriate language for anatomy and activity. Penis. Vagina. Uterus. Sperm, Semen. Orgasm. Gay. Lesbian. Transgender. Queer. Oral sex. Anal sex.

6. I know you’re freaking out right now because I said anal sex.

7. You don’t have to talk to them about anal sex when they are 10.

8. But they are going to ask if two boys can have sex and the answer is YES THEY CAN. Because sex /= penis in vagina.

9. Remember sex can be lots of different things.

10. Stop freaking out.

Parenting is not easy. Sorry. If you were hoping for something straightforward that won’t keep you awake at night, you should have gotten a goldfish.

It’s not easy being pregnant and giving birth. It’s not easy being up every couple of hours to feed a newborn. It’s not easy teaching your kids not to poop in the yard or eat dirt or pull the dog's tail. It’s not easy to watch them fall off their bikes or fall in love. None of this is easy.

But that’s okay; the hard things are hard because they matter.

Sex is just one of the about 7000 things you are going to have to talk about with your kids. You can do it. You can do it because they need you to, and you know that need is more important than your comfort. 

Keep talking, keep laughing, keep hugging. The manual your kids didn’t come with is inside you.


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