How do you explain sex and “Free Condoms!” to your kids?

free condoms / trojan condomsRather an amusing situation happened over the weekend: I was in the touristy downtown area of Boulder with G- (8) and K- (4) having a good time wandering around. We’d just stepped out of Ben & Jerry’s after enjoying some delicious ice cream and G- spotted someone across the pedestrian mall with a basket and a sign that said
free condoms
It didn’t take more than a second or two for him to ask “Daddy, what’s a condom?”
Ah, well… Hmm….

Maybe I’m behind the times, but at eight, I think it’s a bit young to talk about the mechanics of intercourse and I certainly didn’t want to talk about the situation with our 4yo right there too – it’s way too early for her to learn about any of this.
I ummm’ed and awwww’ed for a bit, then said “well, it’s kind of like a glove for your finger”
G: “Oh. Is it to protect you from diseases?”
Me: “yeah, that’s kind of what it’s for, good guess.”
So I think I got out of that awkward situation alive, without a big issue or topic that was far too heavy for an eight year old, but it does make me wonder about when do you introduce the topic of sex to your children?
My druthers has always been to wait until menarche for girls and the onset of puberty for boys (e.g., them not thinking girls are stupid but one day suddenly saying “hey, she’s kind of pretty” 🙂 but in this day and age, is that too late? Should you talk about the basics of sex earlier?
I’m pretty sure that my 11yo daughter and 8yo son both realize that it takes a man + woman to have a baby, but that the mechanics of it are all a total mystery to them (or not, perhaps I should just ask them. Might be a great podcast, eh?) And there are, of course, levels of information too. “Men and women like to cuddle up together sometimes” is a whole lot less graphic than “this part goes into that part and then friction and rubbing causes…”
What’s your approach to this, dear reader? Remember that generally we avoid our kids watching TV, movies that are too advanced, etc., but they are immersed in our sexually voracious culture nonetheless, from billboards to magazine ads, TVs in restaurants to playground chatter. I’m not in denial, just wondering, ya know.
Me? I don’t think I learned more about sex than playground gossip until I was in 11th or 12th grade. I don’t ever recall talking about it with my parents, that’s for sure.

24 comments on “How do you explain sex and “Free Condoms!” to your kids?

  1. My take is that kids are ready for answers when they are old enough to ask by themselves. I found with my kids that they wanted simple, but not evasive, answers. In the situtation you described, I probably would have said. “A condom is a little latex sleeve that adults use to prevent diseases when they have sex.” Every time I answered that way, it was enough for my kids when they were that age. If you shy away from the “S” word, you’ll find it harder and harder to talk about when the kids really need to know. It shouldn’t be a big deal. If your 4-year old hears that answer and asks “What’s sex?” You just say “it is something adults to share their love and sometimes to make babies.” Young kids really don’t care about the details. They are just trying to place words into their conceptual framework.
    Sex = part of the adult world. If you shy away from the topic, they are going to either wonder about this mystery that makes Dad so uncomfortable, or they are going to get very confused.
    From your answer, I bet right now your 8-year old thinks that condoms go on your fingers. Straightening out that misconception is going to require alot more explanation some day.
    I learned about sex when I was about 8 from reading a book with my Mom (don’t remember the title, but this was back in the early 1970s, so there can’t have been many!) Then I didn’t think about it again until I was much older, but was then able to be the kid that straightened out my friends’ misconceptions.

  2. I’m really more of the opinion that it needs to be handled, age appropriately, as it comes up. I’ve got books set aside for each of my boys. Understanding your body goes far beyond sexual mechanics, yes, they have to understand what it is for, but they also will have to care for this equipment and what the hormone surges will do to other parts of their bodies. This is the one I’ve got for my eldest (also 8)

  3. Don’t assume they know it takes a man and a women unless you’ve told them.
    They may learn that baby’s only happen to those in love.. or that if they stand on thier heads after sex they wont get pregnant.
    .. all good guesses from a bit of informaton.. but.. uh.. not quite right.

  4. Do you really think your 11 year old doesn’t have a clue about the mechanics? I think you should certainly not underestimate what your kids may or may not know.
    I may not be the norm, but I had a pretty good understanding of the mechanics of sex from the school yard, at a very young age, although, it was mostly ill informed. If you wait until puberty, that could be too late for them.
    Lying about condoms *IMHO* is also a very bad idea. Maybe you should move to Colorado Springs? Remember, STD’s are Satan’s way to punish gay people and infidels. 🙂

  5. My personal feeling is that when mine is old enough to ask me (on her own) “Mommy, what is sex?”
    Then it will be time to tell her. I will tailor my response to her age at the time, but I will be honest.
    What a tough question for every parent!

  6. Not speaking in relation to your situation, just my own experience:
    I remember being ushered into a secret space and being told about ‘doing it’, by my younger city cousin. we were probably 7 and 5. my initiation into this was done in a way that this was ‘secret’ and ‘forbidden’ etc. there was no way i was going to mom and dad to clear up misconceptions! NOT. EVER. I have always shared honestly and not sidestepped anything with my children (now 5 and 7), and we talk about it without giggling and discomfort because it’s just the way of the world, like how dinosaurs were or ‘what’s up above space?’ children feel sexual feelings from the beginning (documented erections in utero!), why not share that this is real and a part of the world? i can tell you, just because my boys know, it’s not like they are rushing out to try it, or even telling all their friends, because we didn’t give it that ‘forbidden’ mystique. they have always known.
    i think waiting to be asked, you may never be. waiting until they are ‘ready’, may be too late, at least too late to speak about it without putting our own nervous energy into it (and what does that tell our children?).

  7. I believe you should alway be honest and start talking about sex appropriately at a very young age. We’ve already read “The Story Of Me:Book 1 (God’s Design For Sex” ( to our three year old daughter and Book 2 in the series to our 10 year old – he’s ready for the third one now.

  8. I have to agree with your other readers about being open about sex. I asked how babies were made at age five, and when I wasn’t satisfied with sex, they explained what body parts were involved. I didn’t know what an erection was or what an orgasm was until I hit puberty. You don’t have to get into details in order to be honest at this stage. Good luck!

  9. 8 years old is enough. 11 is almost too old to not have had the talk yet. I’m 99% sure that your 11 year old knows a lot more than you think and that most of it is erroneous. If you wait until the onset of menses, she could be doing it by then. (I know a girl who was pregnant at 13) and it’s better that she knows how you feel about it now.
    As for the 8 year old, he is now convinced that condoms go on fingers.

  10. I learned about sex in school in grade 5, at 11. I wouldn’t recommend waiting until your 11 year old daughter starts menstruating. I recall knowing girls in my 6th grade class who were having sex, at 12 years old.

  11. I think they are old enough to know some important things about sex and it’s better for them to explain them what it is about.

  12. Please have a look at books by Meg Hickling. She writes for children and for parents. One of her books, a picture book for children, is the best I’ve seen for young children. It’s about a teacher who comes to visit a young class to talk about body science. Very straightforward covering the basics and giving everyone the correct terminology. Hickling is an award-winning educator and you can see why when you read her books. HTH!

  13. I need some advice, my son is 8years old and he ask me to explain him what sex is, i didn’t know what to say to him and still not sure because of his age, i was not ready for this question from my 8 year old boy. so i told him that i was gonna get some info about it and we can talk about it later. what should i say?!! he’s only 8!!!! where did he hear about it?

  14. My eldest son was also about 8 yrs old when some questions came up. I dealt with it very directly, scientifically, like an educated upper class person, ya know? Got him an age appropriate, clinical yet sensitive book on the facts of life. And he read it and told me, “I don’t believe it–it’s not true!” He was angry and upset. It is possible to overdo the honesty. Just keep giving your child enough of an honest answer for the question at hand until you have a better idea of his readiness for information.

  15. My 8 year old daughter has asked 2 kind of tough questions lately. One was, “what is a period”, I was very honest and I think she was happy with the answer. The other question was “Mom, how did I get my Dad’s eyes?” I have side stepped quite a bit around that question because like in the the question, how do you explain something like this without going into the mechanics of intercourse which I just can’t see explaining to my barely 8 year old little girl!

  16. Teemom4, I can’t speak to the question of the period, but the genetics question seems easy: “Daddy and I both put our best traits and features into the baby mixing bowl and when you showed up, you had some of me and some of Daddy. Like magic!”

  17. I need advice on how to bring up the subject about sex to my 10 yr old daughter. She is a very bright and intelligent young girl.. HELP

  18. Ummm. i might be a bit out of place but im 17 and i learned about sex when i was around 3-7 i was watching the discovery channel when a program came on called the anatomy of sex naturally after watching it I asked my mom and dad for a little clarification and they were kinda stunned. What i suggest you should do is ask them how do they think babies are born and then go from there depending on there answer

  19. I was sexually abused my step-father when I was six years old, and the way it happened was only possible because I was ignorant about sex. So I’m of the opinion that younger is better.
    The exception is that you should probably wait until they get past that age where they like to make up stories and present them as truth for the fun of it. Don’t want them inadvertently accusing someone of molesting them.

  20. my kids (10,9,8 & 7) have been put on a child protection plan because i told them that condoms are used to stop you getting poorly and having babies when you have sex. they also explore their own bodies and found my vibrator and asked what it was for because it looks like a willy. apparently sometimes age appropriate information can be classed as child neglect. (my 10 yo told a teacher she found mummy’s fake willy)

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