How to Answer Just About Every Sex Question Your Child Could Ever Ask

Jul 20, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. ET
You Asian girl with her hand over her mouth, surrounded by question marks
Image: Image Source/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

It’s only a matter of time until your kids start asking about the birds and the bees. It starts out innocently enough. “So-and-so at the bus stop told me how babies are made.” *Gulp* I’m guessing you know how this goes…

Today, kids pick up a lot of their sex education from their peers and on the internet. There’s a huge amount of misinformation and not a lot of safe spaces for them to ask questions, much less have a positive, productive dialogue. The first step to telling them what they need to know is to listen to them.

“A really good way to determine what to tell your kid is by paying attention to what they talk about as well as answering their sex/gender/relationship questions when they ask them,” Dr. Carol Queen, a sexologist, tells SheKnows. “You can also ask the kid if/how they're hearing their friends talk about something so you can address any misinformation in your response.” 

More: Yes, People With Disabilities Have Sex & Deserve Sex Ed

But with so much information out, it can be challenging to tell your kids what they need to know in a way that's age appropriate. In order to do this, Queen suggests rather than looking for specific topics to cover at each age, respond to the child's curiosity and need to understand what they hear. 

“Don't tell the kid every single thing you know about a topic; keep it pretty simple and let them ask you for more detail if they need it,” she says. 

Queen reminds us that some caregivers won't be able to safely discuss sex with their kids. “Being ‘too open’ might be an issue in a custody battle, for instance,” she says. But instead of being the type of parent that won't answer any questions at all (or in much detail), Queen suggests letting the child know that they asked a good question, and that it's not a problem that they are curious. 

"You can insert at least a little sex-positivity that way," she adds. "It's never OK to shame or berate a kid for sexual curiosity.”

For your reference, here are some of the most common questions kids ask their parents (or other adult guardians), complete with answers from OB-GYNs, sexologists, sexual health experts and educators. 

Where do babies come from? 

"Depending on the age, maturity and readiness of the child asking this particular question, it’s always important to be ready to respond in a calm and honest manner. In the simplest of terms to a young child, the answer may be 'Babies come from mommy’s tummy,' or to an older child, it may be 'Babies come from mommy uterus.'

"Hopefully, as a mom, you are promoting body confidence with your child from an early age. Teaching your daughter/son about her/his body using the correct words when talking about body changes that happen with puberty makes these types of questions easier to address as children age."

Dr. Sherry A. Ross, OB-GYN and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. 

Can teenagers have babies?

"Yes, teenagers can have babies. If a girl has her period, is releasing eggs and has sex, she can conceive a baby. You can leave it at that or add your family’s values and beliefs onto having sex at this age, keeping a baby at this age, etc…. depending on what the child is wanting to know, age appropriateness and agreement between parents if more than one are raising the child.” 

Dr. Juliana Morris, a licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor and sex educator

How can people have babies if they’re not married?

"What I would say in general (and this depends on age appropriateness and that the child already knows the basics of sex and doesn’t need to be taught what sexual intercourse is) is: 

"'People have babies in lots of different ways. It is so neat to hear how someone came into the world and into a family. Some people conceive a baby through having sex with each other. Sometimes the two people are married, but sometimes two people aren’t married but love each other or are in a relationship. Sometimes someone gets pregnant and didn’t plan on having a baby, but then are so happy they get to be a parent. 

"'Sometimes a couple or one person decides they want to have a baby and go to the doctor and he/she helps conceive a baby in a fertility clinic. A person also may have a baby because they decide they want to adopt a baby. This happens when a biological mother and father decide it is best for someone else to raise their baby and a person or couple agree to raise the baby in their family.'" 

— Dr. Juliana Morris

More: How to Tell Your Partner You'd Like an Open Relationship

Do all boys have penises & all girls have vaginas? 

"No! Most do, but you can feel like a boy or a girl (or maybe neither one!) regardless of the anatomy between your legs. How you feel about this is called your gender identity, and because it affects how you feel about yourself and how you want people to treat you, it's pretty important. 

"Bonus info: Most girls and women do have vaginas, but that may not be the sexual part they feel is most important. They also have a clitoris, and that's also where a lot of their sexual pleasure comes from."

— Carol Queen, sexologist

Do you have to be married to have sex?

"No, people have sex for many reasons and within many kinds of adult relationships. If people love each other and want to have sex but not get married, they can, and they are often called 'lovers' or 'partners' then." 

— Carol Queen, sexologist

How do two moms/dads have sex?

"People of any genders can do similar things when they have sex because sex in relationships is a way to care about each other and make each other feel pleasure. Things that everybody can do include kissing, cuddling, holding, stroking, licking and playing with sex toys. 

"If you already know about sex being about penises and vaginas, that's a good start, but all these other things are very important too — sometimes the most important things. So, if a couple both have vaginas, there may be stroking, licking or putting fingers or sex toys inside. If a couple both have penises, they might like to stroke and lick too. 

"Some people get pleasurable feelings from their anus too. Some like touch on the outside, and some like sex toys or fingers or penises inside. People who like this will use lubricant to make it more comfortable and safer, because with no lubricant, it can hurt and cause damage." 

— Carol Queen, sexologist

What is a blow job?

"A 'blow job' is classically understood to mean a person putting [another person's] penis in their mouth. The receiver is usually a cis man — but of course [this] includes all penis-owning people of any gender or identity. A blow job consists of licking, sucking or any other form of mouth-to-penis activity. This can also include putting a mouth on a dildo as well — not all blow jobs are for necessarily a penis attached to a person’s body all the time."

Gigi Engle, sex educator

What does "eat me" mean?

“'Eat me' can mean a couple of things — it might mean asking someone to put their mouth on your vulva, penis or anus. But there are a wide variety of meanings in sexual play when someone says 'eat me.' Usually, though, it refers to a request for oral sex."

— Gigi Engle, sex educator

What are condoms? 

"Condoms are a form of birth control and sexually transmitted infection protection. They provide a barrier between a penis/vulva/mouth/anus, etc. during sexual play. There are male condoms: a sleevelike piece of latex (although there are multiple types of materials, such as polyurethane or lamb skin). 

There are also female condoms or internal condoms: a barrier that goes inside the vaginal canal. Sexual health professionals, myself included of course, highly recommend the use of condoms during all sexual play to avoid the transmission of STIs."

— Gigi Engle, sex educator

General tips for talking about sex with kids

Because there's no way of addressing all the questions your child may ask, Morris has these general suggestions:

  • Keep answers short and sweet.
  • Make sure you answer what the child is actually asking.
  • Find out what the child already knows or is thinking.
  • Answer honestly, but that doesn’t mean you have to tell the whole truth if the full truth isn’t age appropriate. 
  • Let the child dictate if he or she wants any more information beyond the initial question.
  • Ask if they have any questions after you answer.
  • Know you don’t have to answer it all at once or answer perfectly. You can always go back and revisit it on your time after regrouping and researching.
  • (Optional) Ask if they heard the question or topic from a friend, family member, another child, TV or online. 
  • Praise them for asking you about it.

And if you'd like some additional information or resources, Morris recommends the following:

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