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Mayo Clinic Q and A: Talking to young children about anatomy and sex

Cynthia Weiss, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I have two children — a 3-year-old son and a newborn daughter. My son is beginning to notice his anatomy more, touching his genitals and asking questions about his sister. He is noticing that her anatomy is different from his. He also asked how she got into and out of my body. I am wondering if you have advice on how best to answer his questions and address other curiosities that might arise as a result?

ANSWER: Sex education often begins with children's curiosity about their bodies. Here's how to set the stage for sex education — and how to answer your children's questions.

Sex education is a topic many parents would prefer to avoid. If you have young children, you might think you're off the hook — at least for a while. But that's not necessarily true, especially since your recent pregnancy has brought questions.

Generally speaking, sex education can begin anytime, but it's best to let your children set the pace with their questions.

Early exploration

As children learn to walk and talk, they also begin to learn about their bodies. Open the door to sex education by teaching your children the proper names for sex organs, perhaps during bath time. You can incorporate the information into answering your son's questions about his baby sister.

 

If he points to a body part, simply tell him what it is. This is also a good time to talk about which parts of the body are private.

When your children ask questions about their body — or yours — don't giggle, laugh or get embarrassed. Take the questions at face value, and offer direct, age-appropriate responses. If your children want to know more, they will ask.

Expect self-stimulation

Many toddlers express their natural sexual curiosity through self-stimulation. Boys may pull at their penises, and girls may rub their genitals. Teach your children that masturbation is a normal but private activity.

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