When should you begin talking about sex/genitalia with your children? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
As soon as possible, but in an age-appropriate way.
I have used the clinically-correct terms for genitalia ever since each of my three daughters were born. For one thing, I fervently believe there is nothing dirty or shameful about vaginas.
For another thing, if they ever need to tell me, for example, that someone touched their vagina, I want it to be crystal-clear to me and everyone else what they are talking about.
Yes, it has happened that one of my daughters has announced loudly in public, "Mommy, my vagina itches!" Arguably not ideal, but ultimately, if anyone is offended by the word vagina, that's their problem, not mine.
We have had the "What's the difference between boys and girls" conversation, in which I explain that boys have a different body part between their legs called a penis.
And recently, my six-year-old asked me how babies were made. We were in public at the time. Many people heard her ask, and they froze in anticipation of my response.
I said, "That is a very good question, and I really want to answer it. I'll answer it when we get home." Which elicited a few smirks from the adults around us.
I had practiced for this inevitable day. So when we got home, I explained that when a man and a woman want to make a baby, they feel very loving toward each other, and they hug and kiss and cuddle. Then the man puts a special seed in the woman's body, and a baby starts to grow inside of her body. Nine months later, the baby comes out.
She asked me where the baby comes out of, so I answered her honestly that it comes out of the vagina.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, so I asked if she had any more questions. She said, "No," and went back to her coloring.
If she were older, maybe 9 or so, I would have explained the penis-in-vagina mechanics in more detail. But at her age, I judged this was enough information.
If she had asked me how the man puts the seed in the woman's body, I might have gone ahead and explained it. I think she could handle it. If so, I might add that she should keep this information to herself for now, and not share it with her little sisters or her friends at school. I would explain it's not because there's anything bad about it, but rather because it's the job of their friends' parents to tell them about it, and their friends might not be ready to learn that information yet.
I don't dread these conversations with my girls, mainly because I believe sex is one of the great joys and gifts of being human. I do think it's challenging to determine what's age appropriate - giving enough information, but not too much.
When I was nine and I asked my mother again about how babies are made, she finally told me the penis-in-vagina mechanics. I freaked out a bit, and told her I didn't want to talk about it anymore, which she honored. But later, she bought me some books, which I was more comfortable reading. She let me know if I had any questions, I could ask her anything and she would not be upset and I would not be in trouble.
After that, I approached her with all kinds of questions, which she answered openly and matter-of-factly. She repeatedly made it clear to me that, were I ever to require birth control, I was to approach her and there would be no anger, no judgment. Later, as a teenager, I took her up on that, and she was as good as her word.
I want my daughters to grow up knowing that sex is healthy, normal, and beautiful - even for humans who happen to have two X chromosomes. I also want them to know that their bodies are healthy, normal, and beautiful. But I also want them to know how to keep their bodies (and spirits) safe and healthy when they do eventually become sexually active - hopefully not too soon!