1. Pre-teens
  2. Development
  3. Puberty & sexual development

Sex education and talking about sex to children: 9-11 years

9-11 years

Talking about sex, sexuality, bodies and relationships in an open, honest way plays a big role in your child’s sex education and sexual development. It’s also important to be prepared for answering your child’s questions about sex.

Talking about sex and sexuality with children 9-11 years

It’s never too early to talk about sex with your child. Talking about sex, sexuality and bodies from when your child is young and as she moves towards puberty can help your child understand that sex and sexuality are normal, healthy parts of life. It can also make later conversations easier.

The main message to get across to your child is that he can come to you for open, honest and reliable information, and that he shouldn’t feel scared or embarrassed to ask you about sex and sexuality.

And the good news is that talking about sex and sexuality isn’t a one-off conversation that you have to get exactly right. It’s a conversation that continues and evolves as your child grows up.

Sexuality isn’t just about sex. It’s also the way your child feels about her developing body. And it’s how your child understands and expresses feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection for others, and how she develops and maintains respectful relationships.

Three steps for talking about sex and sexuality

You can use these three basic steps to talk with your child about sex.

First, find out what your child knows. For example, if your child asks you what an erection is, you could ask, ‘What do you think it is?’

Second, give your child the facts and correct any misinformation. For example, ‘A boy’s penis is usually soft. An erection is when it gets hard’.

Third, use the conversation as an opportunity to talk about your own thoughts and feelings. For example, ‘Boys sometimes get erections when they’re asleep and have a wet dream. This is when semen comes out of your penis. It’s a normal part of growing up. You can’t control wet dreams, so don’t worry if it happens. We’ll just wash your sheets’.

Tips for talking about sex

These tips can make it easier to talk with your child about sex.

Keep language simple and honest
It’s important to explain things at a level that your child can understand. Being brief, positive and factual is a good idea. Your child is likely to come back to you if he wants more information.

It’s also a good idea to use the correct names when you’re talking about body parts. It’s OK to use pet names as well. But using the correct names helps to make it clear that talking about these parts of our bodies is normal and OK.

Understanding the names and functions of all body parts is also an important part of keeping your child healthy and safe. It helps your child know her body belongs to her and means she’ll be able to communicate clearly about her body if she needs to.

Get all parents involved
In families with two or more parents, it’s good for all parents to get involved in discussions about sex. When all parents get involved in discussions about sex, they show children that it’s OK to talk about sex and sexuality. This can help all children feel more comfortable talking about their bodies, take responsibility for sexual feelings, and communicate in intimate relationships when they’re older.

It’s OK to say ‘I don’t know’
Your child doesn’t need you to be an expert – he just needs to know that he’s welcome to come to you to talk or to ask questions.

If you don’t know what to say, tell your child you’re glad she asked the question, that you don’t know how to answer it, and that you’ll look for some information and come back to her. And then make sure you do get back to her.

You could also suggest looking for information together, either in books or online.

Start a conversation
Some children never ask questions, but this doesn’t mean that they’re not interested or ready to learn. If you start a conversation, it lets your child know that you’re happy to discuss sexuality. 

It’s a good idea to be think about what to say beforehand, then pick a good time to bring the subject up. For example, if a family member is pregnant you could say, ‘Aunty Sarah is going to have a baby. I was wondering what you know about pregnancy?’

Prepare yourself
You might feel embarrassed talking about sexuality, or you might feel uncomfortable using words like ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’ to talk about bodies. That’s normal.

If you feel embarrassed talking about sexuality, you can prepare yourself by thinking about what will embarrass you and working on ways to deal with it. For example, you could read a book about sexuality with your child as a way to start a conversation and practise using words you’re not comfortable with. It’s also OK to say to your child that sometimes you find it hard or embarrassing to talk about sex.

Tips for talking about sex, sexuality and bodies: children 9-11 years

At this age, your child might be interested in and want or need to talk about things like how babies are made, or masturbation. Your child might also ask some surprising questions like ‘When did you first have sex?’

Here are some suggestions for handling conversations about these topics.

How are babies made?
If your older child asks this question, you can start by asking him what he thinks. This will help you understand what he already knows.

Then you could say, ‘A baby can be made when a man puts his penis inside a woman’s vagina. This is called sexual intercourse. Sperm from the man’s penis can join with an egg from the woman and then move to the uterus. This is where a baby grows for about nine months before it’s ready to be born’.

You could also talk about other ways families can have children, like IVF and adoption.

You don’t have to wait for your child to ask you questions about this topic. You could start a conversation by saying something like ‘We never talked about how you were born’. Or ‘That woman is pregnant. Do you know how women get pregnant?’

What is masturbation?
At this age, children might masturbate, some more often than others. Masturbation is healthy as long as your child is doing it privately without feelings of guilt and shame.

You could start a conversation with a child this age by saying, ‘Did you know that some children your age masturbate? That means touching your own genitals in a way that feels nice. There’s nothing wrong or dirty about masturbation, but it’s a private activity.’

This can help your child feel good about herself and let her know that you’re comfortable talking about things like this.

When did you first have sex?
If your child asks about your sexual activity and you don’t want to share that information, it’s OK to say, ‘That’s private. But I’m happy to talk about what sex is’.

But these types of questions are a great opportunity for you to share your values about sex. For example, ‘Sex is a private activity that adults who love each other might do’.

Sometimes children don’t ask what they really want to know. You can work out what your child is really asking by turning the question around and saying, ‘That’s an interesting question. What made you think of that?’ For example, if your child asks you when you first had sex, he might be trying to work out what the ‘right’ age is to start having sex.

This age is also a great time to talk to your child about the social and emotional changes of adolescence and respectful relationships in the teenage years, including romantic relationships. Having feelings for people of the other sex, the same sex or both is a healthy way for your child to learn about relationships and sexuality.

Media influences on talking about sexuality with children

Children are constantly exposed to media messages about sexuality, some positive and some negative. 

What you can do
Use opportunities to talk about sexuality or other important topics. For example, a scene in a TV show or a video clip from YouTube might prompt you to say something like ‘Some people don’t feel comfortable living their lives as the gender they were born with’ or ‘Yes, every family is different and some children have two mums or two dads’.

Take some practical internet safety precautions – for example, check what your child is watching on YouTube, talk about rules for using the internet, and if possible make sure you can see your child when she’s online.

You could also check the age-ratings for movies and games and help your child make sense of what he sees in the media.

If your child does look up or come across pornography, try to stay calm. It’s a good idea to discuss with your child what she’s seen and how it made her feel. 

Learning about sex and sexuality at school 

Children are learning about bodies, relationships and sexuality at school all the time, whether formally in the classroom, or informally with their peers.

It’s a good idea to talk to your child’s school to find out how the school teaches these topics, so you know what your child is learning at school. You can follow up on this information at home and also add your family values.

It’s important for children to know the difference between touching that’s OK and touching that’s not OK. Make sure your child knows that he can say ‘No’ to any touching that he doesn’t want and to tell a trusted adult about confusing touch. Personal safety skills will help keep your child safe.

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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