Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services

On a scale of ‘totally terrified’ to ‘no big deal,’ how comfortable are you with having ‘the talk’ with your child? This topic can make many parents uncomfortable, but it’s an important part of helping them grow into healthy adults. 

Why it is important 

Sexual health is part of your child’s overall wellbeing and is a normal part of growth and development. It includes things like puberty, consent, and building healthy relationships. Talking about these topics is key to helping your child feel prepared to handle the changes of adolescence, set boundaries, and develop healthy relationships. 

Making healthy choices about sex is another aspect of sexual health. Contrary to what many parents fear, teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex until they are older. They are also more likely to use condoms when they do have sex. Talking with your child before they engage in sexual activities will help them feel prepared to make safe choices and will leave the door open for future conversations.

When to start the conversation

Many parents think about having ‘the talk’ with their child. Instead of a one-time conversation, talking about sexual health works best when it’s many small conversations that happen throughout their life. The specifics that you discuss may differ based on your child’s age, as well as your family values and expectations. Here is some general information about what kids need know by age.

Preschool and elementary school

 It is never too early to start talking with your child about their body.

At this age you can:

  • Talk about consent— Be clear about who is allowed to touch your child and who is not. Make sure they know to tell you if someone touches them without their permission or makes them feel uncomfortable. 
  • Introduce privacy—Explain that some body parts are private and should not be touched by others. Be sure to use proper names for body parts.

Middle School

Middle school can bring big changes for many children.

At this age you can:

  • Talk about puberty—Explain the physical and emotional changes they may experience. Emphasize that these changes are normal and natural. Talk to your child’s health care provider if you have concerns.
  • Focus on friendship— Friendships may be very important at this age. Emphasize building positive relationships through respect, good communication, and consent. 

High School

High school is when many teens begin having romantic relationships.

At this age you can:

  • Discuss safe sex—Provide information about pregnancy and STIs. Some STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea affect teens and young adults more than any other age group. In Wisconsin, over half of the people who were diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia in 2022 were between the ages of 15–24. Discuss prevention strategies and provide information on how your child can access health care.  
  • Emphasize healthy relationships— Talk about the emotional and physical aspects of relationships with your child. Emphasize the importance of mutual respect, trust, and consent.

As parents, we do our best to give our children all the information they need to make healthy decisions as they grow. Talking about sexual health is one more way we can help them prepare for the future. 

It’s ok if talking about these topics feels uncomfortable at first. Look for common teachable moments, such as things that come up on TV, and be open and honest with your child about your feelings and expectations. Let them know they can always come to you with questions. The more tough questions you answer, the easier it will get!

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