Talking about the Talk

When do you talk about the facts of life – from the birds to the bees and everything in between? Here, PSP parents talk about “The Talk.”


Recently on the PSP Tween Group, parents were talking about the talk. As one parent asked,


“Curious if any of you have any advice about this. I have 2 boys, one is 9, soon to be 10 years old and the other is 3 years old. My 9 year old is a smart kid, whatever that means. Has scored really high on IQ tests, does well in school it seems without much effort (although he is high energy and has had some conduct issues) etc. But he seems absolutely clueless about sex, but I mean just not interested in asking or caring or anything. I read all this stuff online about being open with them when they ask questions and proceed with teaching them about sex that way, be open to their cues.

So my question is, do we have the talk before he even asks about it? or wait until he brings it up? But he seems strangely un in tune with that part of life, I don't know if he will ever bring it up? Or maybe there is something I am not seeing? I would think so if I asked him, do you know what sperm are and he said yes or things like that. Maybe just ask him questions and if he says he doesn't know, then I tell him?”





Many parents suggested having some reading material at hand to help with the facts. Here are some of their recommendations:


For your Tweens:


It's so Amazing and It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H Harris

The Girls Body Book

Lynn Madras: What's Happening to my Body? (and for Boys)

The American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You

Real Gorgeous by Kaz Cooke

Everything you want Sex (but were afraid to ask)

My Mom's Having a Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler

My Body Myself for Girls


And for Parents:


Dan Savage

Bird and Bees and Kids

Julia Sweeney’s TED talk




Don’t sweat it! Kids mature at different ages:

“You could have described my sons last year. I also have 3 boys who are just a bit older than yours. 12, 11 and ok my 2.5 year old is younger than yours but that’s not the point. My 12 year old (who like yours is gifted and smart but can't sit still to save his life. His super hero power is breaking the unbreakable) for many year, had no interest in girls or sex or anything. When pressed, he said he'd eventually adopt kids but would never marry. He couldn't see the point. Last year when running with his father, he confided that sometimes girls smile at him and isn't that weird? Meanwhile, his younger brother, at the time 10 and now 11, couldn't stop talking about girls. He constantly harassed his older brother on the subject.

Now, the 12 year old has come around and admits to liking girls. My point is they all mature at different rates and I wouldn't worry too much.

As for the sex ed part of it, watch the nature channel. There is plenty of mating shown is unemotional and scientific ways.”


Wait until there is interest:


“I've had a similar situation with my 10 year-old boy, despite years of advising other parents on the benefits of starting the conversation early! I suspect that even though we may think our kids are more exposed to grown-up stuff as compared to back in the day, they actually tend to have more time under adult supervision to protect them from this exposure. Regardless, I've settled for waiting for so-called teachable moments, and conveying the sense of being open to talking. Lately I sense he's a bit more avoidant than uninterested, so I've been bringing up the topic a bit more deliberately at times. Curious to hear from others here!”


Answer questions with patience …and have a sense of humor:


Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist and podcaster, uses Amy Lang as a guest speaker on the savage love podcast whenever there is a question about teaching children sex ed. you can look up the savage love podcasts she is on or check out her website: I find her (and Dan) very funny and practical.

I learned nothing from my parents and spent my teens and twenties hanging out with gay men who I could play house with because sex scared me so much. Thankfully, I am not so scared anymore.... I talk to my daughter about it and she has figured out a lot because our male dog likes to "butt dance" (as she puts it) with all of her stuffed animals. Once we equated mating with the dance--she figured out he was having sex and told everyone at school. good times....I can tell that she is waaay more interested in intimate companionship than many of her peers, but she is who she is. Those teens who went to Planned Parenthood with their moms or sisters in the 80s always freaked me out as a teenager. But I may be one of those moms...

In general, as with every subject, if you answer your child's questions with care and patience you know they will always come to you when they really need something deciphered for the them. I recently got asked what a titty bar was bc another 3rd grader said his brother goes to them. I had to take a deep breath--but I answered and refrained from saying never talk to this kid again or I am going to tell the teacher. (my husband really really wanted to tell the teacher!) ugh...

on another related subject--I have not explored the make love not porn website yet. but Dan Savage talks a lot about the porn talk being just as important as the sex talk because if you don't they will not know how to process what they have seen and that every child eventually will see porn. I agree--I am just not ready for that yet.... he also says that pleasure should be part of the sex ed talk, because if you leave that detail out of the discussion--expectations are way off and most people have sex for pleasure, not to procreate and that should be acknowledged.

I am admitting here and now that this discussion makes me feel old!”


Start with the science then go for it:


“Just chiming in on the discussion, our son is 12 and we've spoken to him about sex since he was probably 5 or 6 first in very simple language focusing on body parts, penises, vaginas, egg and sperm, etc. As he got older both he and I initiated discussions and I added more depth to the conversations about sex, emotions, changing bodies, respecting others as well as yourself, etc.  I also gave him books to read either with us or on his own.  As of yesterday, when I asked him about what the friends of a friend who goes to a different school were like, he said that these friends were described as "perverts." Which prompted me to reply, "What do you mean?" Then he said that the girls call them that because they look at pornography on the web. Then he asked why do people like to watch porn. Hence a response about pleasure, manipulation, computer viruses, money and addiction, etc.  Oh, boy!


I went to a lecture by a sex educator at our son's old school when he was in the 3rd grade. In addition to the suggestion of answering the questions as they come up but not overwhelming the child, the therapist also stressed the importance of talking with your child perhaps earlier than you might think. The main point being that our society readily provides (mis)information about sex, and you don't want your child getting the WRONG information from peers or websites. I would say that it's out there, they can hear it, and they may be talking even if it's not to you.


Take a deep breath and go for it.”


Answer questions when they are raised:


Siblings are certainly different. My twelve-year-old girl still thinks most boys are dorks (though she has acknowledged she has a crush), but my four-year-old daughter has plans to marry a boy in her pre-K class (he's even informed his parents that they're getting married). Last month, my eight-year-old boy asked me what sex was. I said, "What do you think?", and he said, "When a man puts his soft parts together with a woman's soft parts." When I told him he was right, he said, "I never want to have a baby, because I don't want to have to do that."

So, based on my experiences with my kids, plus dim rememberings of my adolescence (I was an incredibly naive late-bloomer), I would suggest only answering questions when they are raised, and not adding any information, in case they're really not ready. At the same token, if you're still watching movies together, or even televised sports (with beer and car commercials), there's no harm in talking about the proper way men and women should treat each other, and
why companies think certain images (however unrealistic) will sell more product. Since you mentioned it's your son, it might be worthwhile to make sure he has a trusted male adult in his life to whom he could take questions and concerns.


Have a few laughs along the way:

Did I already send this to you guys?  Good for a laugh:

Despite her best efforts, comedian Julia Sweeney is forced to tell a little white lie when her 8-year-old begins learning about frog reproduction -- and starts to ask some very smart questions.

Julia Sweeney is an actor and writer who does comedic solo shows that tackle deep issues: cancer, family, faith. Her next book is "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother," on parenting and being parented. She performs regularly with Jill Sobule, telling stories alongside Jill's songs, in their "Jill & Julia Show."

Answer only the questions being asked:

This is great--very funny. She mentions one point that I think is helpful, and that I've read elsewhere: answer only the question that's being asked, no more. If the kid asks one little question you don't need to feel you have to go ahead and tell all. Too much information! He/she will ask more when he/she is ready.

Don’t wait until they are ready. Initiate “The Talk”:

I disagree. I have a 13yo and a 10yo, and neither has ever really asked a lot of questions or expressed much curiosity about sex stuff. This isn't because we've treated it like a taboo subject at all. I regret not having brought this conversation up more directly when they were younger. Don't just assume your kids will ask when "ready" -- what happens if they don't?

Give your Tween books they can read about it:

One of my tools with my children has been to have books they can read. From a very young age, I have had the two books by Robie H Harris, It's so Amazing and It's Perfectly Normal. I used It's Perfectly Normal when I was pregnant with my youngest and my middle child was in Kindergarten, great pictures, a Bird and a Bee are the narrator. It's Perfectly Normal is more about the changes a body undergoes during puberty and keeping your body healthy sexually. While I have spoken at length to my almost 15 year old since she loves to talk about everything, my almost 12 yr old boy, (BOY), is much more reserved about asking anything, so we have had discussions, he asks limited questions, and I periodically pull those two books out and leave them on the coffee table. I think I will do that today since I pulled them out to write this email. It will be interesting to see if my five year old starts looking.

The other book that I thought was invaluable was What's Happening to my Body? by Lynn Madras. There is red covered book for girls and a green covered book for boys. These I gave each of them to keep in their rooms. With my daughter, she would pull it out and come and talk to me changes she was undergoing often. With my son, I talked to him about puberty, I think around the time they had the 5th Grade Sex Ed talk, and told him to ask me or his Dad if he had any questions and gave him his book, and told him it had a lot of information and let him know that we were always here to talk to him if he had any questions.


Wait for those “teachable” moments:


I've had a similar situation with my 10 year-old boy, despite years of advising other parents on the benefits of starting the conversation early! I suspect that even though we may think our kids are more exposed to grown-up stuff as compared to back in the day, they actually tend to have more time under adult supervision to protect them from this exposure. Regardless, I've settled for waiting for so-called teachable moments, and conveying the sense of being open to talking. Lately I sense he's a bit more avoidant than uninterested, so I've been bringing up the topic a bit more deliberately at times. Curious to hear from others here!

Learning from siblings but watch out for misinformation:

Well what happened to me is this. I am the youngest of 3, my sisters is 6.5 years older and my brother was 3.5 years older. I got all my sex education from them. So when I was really young, I think in 2nd grade, possibly 3rd, but I know a lot before 5th grade, I was asking my sister what all the curse words mean. So I asked her what the F word meant and she straight out told me and then I asked her questions about it and she answered everything, no color coating. I remember being shocked that that is what sex was. At a bit of a later time, definitely in elementary school and before 5th grade my brother told me what a boner was. Somehow he brought it up when we were swimming. I grew up in Miami, a lot of swimming, and he explained to me what it was and said he can make his do it by thinking of certain things. There you have it. My parents were not the ones to tell me anything. I think I did ask some questions very early to my Mom, but she would brush them off.

Now I went to public school in Miami, this was in the 70s, I was born in '67. I went to a school that I think was equivalent to 321 in Miami (although I am not sure). It was a progressive public school, I remember tables set up facing each other in groups that we sat in and rotated based on subjects and projects we were working on and always sitting in different groups with different people for different subjects throughout the day. I don't know if this is like 321, my son goes to 230 and though they sit in groups, they don't rotate and switch like we did, they only switch when they change rooms for art and science. We had a home group, but then changed for different subjects and I remember this happening throughout the grades. So anyway, in 5th grade as a section of physical ed, I remember they showed a straight up sex ed video. It was a medical video, all in medical drawings, explaining and showing all of it, sex, menstrual cycle, everything, protection, prophylactics, etc. Do they do that anymore? Has anyone encountered that? That would be next year for my son, since he is currently in 4th grade.

Also, a friend of mine who has 2 boys, one is a year older then my 9 year old and her younger one is 1 year younger then my 9 year old. She said they explained everything to them, she said she wanted to explain everything from her and their father's perspective and get to them first before they got filtered info or mis info from their friends and other kids. I thought that was an interesting perspective. What do you all think if that? I thought that was a good point which is why I brought this up here.

Tell the basics and bring it up when appropriate like during a TV show or a movie:

My daughter (10) also doesn't ask or bring it up, well not since little. I've pretty much told her the basics here and there and I also don't want her first ideas to be those she gets from others. She is more sheltered than I was as a child. So when things come up on tv or movies I might makes some comments. But I think she's not ever going to ask, so I have to be offering info. I'm really comfortable talking about it. What I have to figure out is our official position on sex, etc.

She has a little brother so she's seen penises. I didn't at her age!

Dealing with a snowball effect of questions:

House had an episode where a pregnant woman wanted to give her sick husband her kidney(?) so she was going to have an abortion in order to do that. (I may have the story wrong and there was some complication like the husband was a drug addict—or some such thing.)  That started a discussion of what abortion is, if it’s murder, etc.  Talk about a conversation that got quickly serious!

Combining conversation with school:

At 321 the 5th graders this year were split into separate sections of boys and girls from their homerooms for 4 weekly classes in the winter.  Men teach the boys and the girls get their female homeroom teachers.  I have a girl, and she was happy with the instruction and the discussion that occurred in those classes.  They were taught about puberty and discrimination and sexual orientation and cliques - more than the anatomy and physiology.  All very developmentally appropriate.  Parents are given advance warning and a chance to opt out if they don't want their kid in those classes, but I didn't hear about anybody absent for that reason.  


My girl was asking about the details of sexual anatomy and function in kindergarten, right alongside "Santa isn't real, is he?".  I know she was hearing from friends, and a friend's babysitter's son was probably the information source for most of it.  Obviously, a discussion with a 6 year old needs to be limited...  But I think kids whose interest is piqued will always be able to find things out from other kids, and mostly those who don't want to know will just let it float right by until they're ready.  It seems to me there's an age when it's time to make sure the facts are straight and there are no unanswered questions and the door is open for ongoing discussion.  That age is probably sometime around 9 - 12 but depends on the kid and the family and the peer environment, etc.  Before that the kid may ask questions but not be looking for "the whole talk."

Talk about it openly and provide your tween with reading information:

My parents never told me anything - nothing about my body and nothing about sex. I was not inquisitive and basically had no curiosity about any of those things. When I went to sleep away camp I was embarrassed time and time again because I had no idea what any of the late night bunk chit chats were about and I always asked questions that prompted the entire bunk to erupt in fits of giggles. I was furious with my mother for years about that and wished she would have taught me.

So...I've taken it upon myself to broach the subject with my children even though they have not shown any signs of interest or asked a single question. I got a few books "It's So Amazing" and "The Girls Body Book" and I would sit down at bedtime and read with my then 8 yr old. I think it really boosted her confidence to have an understanding of these things and to know that she can openly ask me anything about her body and sex. She also liked that it was something that we did together - it was definitely a bonding experience.

My younger daughter is 7. I will wait until she is 8 and repeat the process with her. My 9 year old will go to sleep away camp this summer and I feel good that she will not learn about these things from her fellow campers.

Obviously we all have to do what feels comfortable for us but I think it's also good to consider the consequences of not talking about it. What consequences are there to having an open dialogue with your child about their changing body? It's such an awkward time and having someone to talk to could really help.

Have reading resources at hand:

I was a little older (maybe 12), but my mother had “Everything you want Sex (but were afraid to ask)” on the shelf. That let me know that she wanted me to be knowledgeable and that it was okay to read about it. She also had “The Sensuous Woman” (by ‘J’) that I still have for sentimental reasons (it’s unreachably high on my bookshelf for the time being). Her having these things available gave me a feeling that it’s okay to be curious and also that she was available. (I also came home one day and asked what “jerk off” meant. She told me about masturbation and blow jobs (I was probably 16 or so).)

More advice for arming your Tween with reading material:

My parents never told me anything and it didn't even occur to me that there was anything to know. In sixth grade there was an incident on the playground where my lack of knowledge became public, and remembering it can still make me burn with shame. I vowed at that moment that my younger sister would be spared a similar fate. 


When my sister turned 7 (I was 19 at the time), with my parents' permission I approached the subject with my sister. I found an age-appropriate book and read it to her. The book really didn't go into much detail (this was 1987, and I couldn't find much); it showed animals body parts and how they worked to make babies, then explained that humans do the same thing to make babies. I told her to feel free to come to me with questions; she never did. When she was 10, I got a more explicit book with more information; she was embarrassed and didn't want to talk about it with me, but I showed her where the book was shelved in case she wanted to look at it.


Years later, she told me how grateful she was to me for arming her with this information.”



“When my (now 12 year old) daughter was about 7, the birth of her best friend's little sister prompted some questions so I bought her the book, Where Did I Come From & told her if she had any questions I would be happy to answer them. At first she had none but slept with the book under her pillow. I checked in with her again and again she was not interested in talking. A year later a friend told me about the American Girl book and I got her that. She was more open by this point to talking, mainly about breast development, something that was just starting for her, so was very interesting to her. I followed her lead and answered questions as they came up.

The summer before she turned 11, I bought her some books about her period and an emergency kit for her bag. Again I checked in after the fact to see if she had questions. She was pretty uninterested in talking to me and said she felt she had all the info to answer her own questions. When she actually got her period later that year she was prepared and confident.

Most recently, my mother sent her several great books including, What's Happening to my Body and My Body Myself for Girls. I read both before giving them to my daughter and learned a few things myself-which allowed me a way to approach a check-in discussion with my daughter.

I have found that this approach (hand her a book, then check in) has worked well for my kid, particularly because she is a voracious reader and she was able to approach me only when she wanted or needed my input but she has always known I am available for a frank, open, age appropriate discussion.

There are a lot of great books out there that are written in a voice that appeals to this generation and I for one have been grateful for these helpful tools.

I agree with what a lot of others have said about how important it is to provide information for our kids so they can feel empowered about body changes, dealing with the subject around peers etc.

I had a very liberal, hippy mom who told me the birds and the bees at age 5 (which I promptly shared with my little brother) and sent away for a book and period kit for me when it became time for that. She also had the Our Bodies Ourselves book for women which I read whenever I wanted.”


“These posts about being embarrassed by not knowing the facts make me want to revise my take a little. Because our family has both girls and a boy, we have had all kinds of discussions of the difference in boys' and girls' equipment that might not come up in other households. We've made a point of using proper names for things, while explaining any slang that the kids might have heard, and, when I was expecting, we inadvertently brought home a book from the library book with explicit diagrams (My Mom's Having a Baby by Dori Hillestad Butler) that my then-7-year-old daughter was a little shocked by, but which turned out to be an easy way for her to digest the facts (and try to explain them to her brother).

Books are such a great way to give your kids information without forcing an awkward discussion. When my daughter was 10 and her friends started developing a bit, I made my favorite book on women's bodies (Real Gorgeous by Kaz Cooke) available to her. Thanks to this thread, we will be picking up a boys' version of What's Happening to my Body very soon, so that we're prepared.”

Force the facts:

I am the mom of a 17-year-old girl. It's been a while since I wanted to make sure she knew about sex.

I just wanted to say that I think it's important, when they cut you off or seem to zone out when you are trying to provide information that you don't figure that they aren't ready. I know that sometimes I was secretly relieved not to have to continue with talking about stuff that could be pretty uncomfortable for me. But I made myself return to the topic--not every day for sure, but once in a while, and I talked as much as I could before she actually stopped me or walked out of the room out of earshot.

Over and over again, on this topic and others, I find that she absorbs much more than she acknowledges out loud. I was struck by the fact that she's doing the same thing as we plunge into the college search--it provokes a lot of anxiety in both of us but I try to stay calm and keep talking. And the next time we talk about it, I find that she actually listened and absorbed a lot more than I thought she did. My daughter has (mostly) been pretty good about communicating with me (and I know that I am extremely lucky about that) but I think it's worth considering that even if they don't acknowledge that they are listening or absorbing the information, at least some of it is sinking in.

Likewise providing reading material. The American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You was extremely helpful. But I think it's worth the trauma to parent and child to make sure that your kid knows that you are there for them to talk, one on one.

My parents (my mom actually; I can't imagine my dad ever telling me anything about sex!) never told me anything. I learned from a book at a friend's house that was conveniently located in the bathroom, and that I discovered when I slept over. I was about 10 or 11 and I couldn't believe that grownups actually would do such a thing. I made sure that my daughter knew the facts beforehand, and as someone said Dan Savage advises, I made sure she knew by the age of 9 or so that people have sex because it feels good, not just to make babies. My younger brother learned about sex from his friends, followed by learning-by-doing, and I paid for an abortion for his girlfriend when I was in college and he was in high school. So three cheers for the mom who reported that she made sure her sister knew the facts.

My daughter asked enough questions early enough that she knew her facts earlier than classmates. Of course I remember the phone call from her third-grade teacher that she had told a group of girls talking about how much they liked a boy in the class that when a boy likes a girl, his wee wee goes up (and trust me, she knew the word "penis"!). Some of the parents were not happy and I did have a talk with her about discretion, but the teacher told me that some kids whose parents don't talk to them about sex have many completely crazy theories--it's on the girls' minds. Although I don't have a son, I know it's of interest a little later for boys. But they have to deal with the crazy girls, and there are some crazy girls pretty early.

Good luck to all!