General Question

phoebusg's avatar

How early should children have access to sex-ed? More importantly why?

Asked by phoebusg (5241points) December 14th, 2010

Given some questions on sex asked by suspected teenagers (which is fine by me).

How early would you respond to questions about sex?
A) As early as the questions – or curiosity is demonstrated.
B) A certain age limit.

Please provide a rationale for both cases.

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21 Answers

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

A. You don’t always have to go into detail. My parents told me when I was 3 that babies come from the daddy giving his seed, and the mommy giving her egg, and you put them together and they make a baby. Naturally, I thought this meant that if I got a flower seed and a chicken egg and put them together, I could make a baby….
I was told about sex at age 8, rape and gays at age 9 (two different talks), oral sex at age 11 (because of Clinton), and had health class (including drugs, booze, smokes, and sex) in 6th grade. Absolutely none of those made me feel like doing it any more. The porn, however, did… But either way, I knew I wasn’t ready until I was 19, and lost my virginity a few months later.

Trillian's avatar

If it is not my child, it is not my place to have that discussion. Talking about sex online wih a stranger is really not a good idea, as it makes a child more at risk to making themselves vulnerable to an online predator. And of course, it circumvents the role of the parent. You can have your opinion all day long about what a child should and should not be told, but if it isn’t your child, you really have no business discussing it with him/her.
If it is your child you should know the child well enough to know when they are emotionally mature enough to carry the burden of this information.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I think what a child is told and when should be determined by the child’s maturity and ability to understand what you are telling them. What ever is being told at any given point needs to be age appropriate and given a little bit at a time as to not overload the child with information.

I have nothing against school’s teaching age appropriate health/sexual education at any age. The key is age appropriate. Children in kindergarten can learn about being touched in inappropriate places by inappropriate people, but the don’t really need to be taught the ins and outs of the menstrual cycle or reproductive organs.

I answer my son’s questions as he asks them. That goes for any subject, not just sex. We’ve talked about sex, the differences between a man and woman, where babies grow, and how the baby gets out of the mom’s belly. How in depth we go has depending on how old he was when he asked, how much time he wanted to sit and listen to what we said, and how interested he really was. Sometimes he wanted more information than others.

Likeradar's avatar

I think @seaofclouds has it right- questions should be answered as soon as they’re asked, but the answer should be age appropriate. A young child asking how babies are made or what a condom is should be answered differently than a teenager asking. Sex is a natural part of life, and children’s questions about life should be respected.

Smashley's avatar

Parent’s decision really, but the sooner the better, accounting for the child’s ability to understand, of course. Frankly, most adults I’ve have a warped understanding of sex, and as a culture we would all stand to chill the fuck out and teach our kids a thing or two without getting so uptight.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@Smashley Warped how? Unhealthy relationship with sex? Misinformation?

Trillian's avatar

@Smashley How many kids do you have and how old are they?

faye's avatar

My anatomy book was always available and we talked when they asked. I told the truth and later they’d ask another question and on and on. I tried to be just as open and honest as age allowed. I feel knowledge is never wrong- it arms you to deal with life.


It is the parent’s responsibility to educate his/her child about sex, and sex education at home should never be by design. It should come naturally, like when a child sees two dogs mating and asks what they’re doing——that’s the perfect opportunity for a parent to talk about sex with his/her child. It should never be “Okay, little Johnny’s eight years-old now. Let’s sit him down after supper and get out the ‘All You Want to Know About Sex’ book and teach him what it’s all about!” Lol.

I am an advocate of letting children have pets (if possible). Animals are a great way of initiating sex education——my young children learned when their guppies started mating and had little babies a couple of weeks later! For very young kids, you don’t have to go into great detail and biological study. Just the basics will do.

Kardamom's avatar

As early as they are able to understand English. If you don’t start talking to them about sex and love and relationships and human reproduction early, then you, if you are a parent, will end up being a grandparent much earlier than you had anticipated due to your squeemishness and due to their (the kids) ignorance of the facts. Sex is fun, if you don’t know how or why to prevent pregnancy, pregnancy is what ye shall reap.

Talking about sex doesn’t usually come naturally, as @MRSHINYSHOES would have you think. Most kids wouldn’t dream of bringing up the issue with their parents, that’s why the parents need to start talking about it as soon as the kids start to talk, so it’s an ongoing discussion over their young lives. Don’t wait until you see 2 dogs mating or else your daughter may come home pregnant and not know why. And most likely she will want to keep the baby due to sentimental reasons or the fact that she watches “16 and Pregnant on MTV that glorifies under-aged, unwed pregnancies.


@Kardamom It depends on your home environment and how your kids are raised. With my children, it all came naturally, because they own pets. Everything fell into place, so to speak. I think the reason most kids “wouldn’t dream of bringing up the issue with their parents” as you say, is because Western society makes sex and nudity shameful and embarrassing to talk about. I grew up in an Asian family where sex and nudity are no big deal. In Asia, “privacy” is unheard of. Children sleep in the same crowded room as their parents. Many have seen their parents making love. It’s not a thing to be embarrassed about. In Hong Kong, China, and Japan, space is extremely limited. Communal baths where both genders frequent in public was common on every street corner in Japan, especially in the past, but even today. It’s only in the West that parents like to cover their children’s eyes and make fantastic stories about where babies come from (like babies come from a cabbage patch or are delivered by a stork!! Sheesh! And in Victorian England, people used to cover the table legs with long pieces of cloth because they were afraid the table “legs” would be too “suggestive”, too “obscene”. Lol. Today’s Western society’s taboos with sex are remnants of that Victorian past.

Trillian's avatar

“that’s why the parents need to start talking about it as soon as the kids start to talk, so it’s an ongoing discussion over their young lives” Really? And where did you get your child psychology degree? What are your credentials to back up making such an extraordinary suggestion? Should penis, vagina, ejaculate, cunnillingus and fellatio be taught right up there with Mommie, Daddy, up, down, blue and yellow? How would you suggest we teach those concepts to a child who doesn’t know about it enough to even ask yet? Maybe let them watch some porn? I’m intrigued and await your suggestions.

Seaofclouds's avatar

I agree with @MRSHINYSHOES about children’s natural curiosity. All it takes is for the parents really to listen to what their children are asking and to answer the questions appropriately. If things don’t come up by a certain point, yes a conversation is in order. Such as, if your daughter gets her period, if you haven’t talked about it already, it’s time to tell her that now she can get pregnant and go from there. It’s a little harder to tell when that exact talk is necessary for a boy (since you can’t really just go measure his sperm count). It’s just a matter of saying the appropriate things at the appropriate times.

For example: My son realized that girls were different when he was 3. I was changing my niece’s diaper and he was helping me (by bringing me the wipes). He saw that she was different and asked where her “pee pee” was. I explained right then that girls have a different “pee pee” than boys. I told him the correct terms for them as well, but “pee pee” was the word he was comfortable with at that age.

And another example: When we started talking about having more children, he would ask if I was having a baby yet. I explained to him that I wouldn’t be pregnant until daddy came home (since this was while my husband was in Iraq). Once we got pregnant, he asked a lot of questions about how the baby grows and how it gets out.

Children are naturally curious and as long as they are raised in an environment where they are allowed to ask questions, they will do just that. It’s when parents don’t let their children ask questions or don’t take the time to answer the questions their children do ask that they are less likely to ask questions (from my experience).

Kardamom's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES I remember growing up and I never saw 2 dogs or cats or any other animals mating. Most kids in the Western world, and I’m guessing that that is where most of us live, would never dream of asking their parents about sex or relationships. If you don’t start talking to them early about those things, they won’t ask and then it will be too late. We don’t live in a society in which large groups of family members sleep in the same bed. In the Western world it would be considered practically criminal to have parents having sex when their children were in the same room. It would be nice if all kids were naturally curious and everyone walked around naked, but that is not reality. Kids need sex education, and they need it early, otherwise they end up with un-wanted pregnancies and no one knows why.

MyNewtBoobs's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES A neighbor got her developmentally challenged daughter a couple of hamsters just so that they could finally have the sex talk.


@papayalily Great idea.

@Kardamom Unfortunately, the ignorance and shame that children in the West have to deal with regarding sex is the legacy of Western society’s staid, Victorian past. We reap what we sow, and sadly, the West lags far behind the East when it comes to knowledge about sex. I agree with you that perhaps children here in America NEED to be educated upfront and in school, as Western parents are guilty of hiding their heads in the sand, afraid to “expose” their kids to sex. It’s funny how sex is viewed and treated in North America. It’s either treated as something to joke about immaturely, or something “not” to be talked about at all! You’re right, in the West, sex is so taboo that what you said—-“parents having sex in the same room as their children would be considered practically criminal” is not too far-fetched. That’s a shame.

Smashley's avatar

@papayalily – Warped by my standards, anyway. Those who wouldn’t date a porn star, strictly because of their occupation, people who generally look down on BDSM without understanding a thing about it, girls who think their boyfriends are gay just because they asked to be fisted, and generally anyone who is so screwed up that they let their sexual dissatisfaction fester in their minds, without dealing with it in a sane and direct way.

@Trillian – I don’t have any kids personally, why do you ask?

meiosis's avatar

So far, with my five year old, I’ve answered all her questions openly and truthfully. Which means she knows that babies come from mixing a seed from daddy with an egg from mummy. She didn’t ask how the seed gets to the egg, I didn’t tell her. When she does ask, I will tell her. If she hasn’t asked by 7–8 I’ll tell her anyway.

Generally, for very young children, the subject is best approached at their pace.

augustlan's avatar

Sex education (along with all education, really) is an ongoing endeavor, and should begin (in an age appropriate way) as soon as the opportunity presents itself and continue until the kids are grown. Most of our discussions have come about organically, and tend to range all over the place, as most of our conversations do. Taking advantage of ‘teachable moments’ to kick off a discussion is always good.

The only time I ever had any kind of planned talk with my kids about sex was immediately after each of the health/sex ed classes they had in school. Even then, I didn’t plan what I’d say, I just planned on talking. We always discussed what they learned, what – if anything – confused them, and the values we hold surrounding whatever they learned. (For instance, wait until you are ready and in a relationship with someone who values you, etc).

Seelix's avatar

I agree with the idea that questions should be answered as they’re asked. I don’t have kids, but that’s what I plan to do should I have children in the future. Each child matures at a different rate, and will be ready for different information at different times.

I do think that the “birds and bees” talk should be planned, though, based on when kids get the lesson at school, depending on when that is. I remember a very simplified lesson when I was about 7, but nothing else was really discussed in school until I was 12 or so. I may be misremembering, but I appreciate my mom’s talk with me when I was 10. It seems that a lot of girls are beginning to develop earlier these days, so I’d say that the menstruation talk should happen around 8 or 9. The last thing any kid needs is to start bleeding or have a wet dream and have no idea what’s happening to them.

JLeslie's avatar

Without reading the above answers.

I think if a child asks a question about sex it should be answered factually no matter what the age. I would say under the age of 10, just answer the question specifically asked, and no need to expand more, unless the child has more questions. After 10, more information about puberty and sex, even more than maybe the initial question asked might be in order. Especially young teens should be made aware of how and when pregnancy occurs, birth control, STD prevention, and on into the negative consequences of having sex before you are ready and having a baby before you are ready. I think leaving it up to parents is a terrible idea. Don’t get me wrong, I think parents should be involved and there for their child to talk to on the topic, but in my opinion every adolescent should graduate high school understanding the anatomy of their body, not only their sexual organs, but basics about the digestive system, circulatory system, etc. It should be standard in an anatomy and physiology class. I would prefer all 5th or 6th graders get some basics about puberty, before they start changing, so they know what to expect.

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