Health Advice



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

Cynthia Weiss, Mayo Clinic News Network on

Published in Health & Fitness

If your children start masturbating in public, try to distract them. If that fails, take your children aside for a reminder about the importance of privacy.

Sometimes frequent masturbation can indicate a problem. Perhaps children feel anxious or aren't receiving enough attention at home. It can even be a sign of sexual abuse.

Teach your children that no one is allowed to touch their private parts without permission. If you're concerned about your children's behavior, consult their health care provider.

Curiosity about others

By age 3 or 4, children often realize that boys and girls have different genitals. As your son has noticed, his sister is different. It is valuable to offer a simple explanation, such as, "Boys' bodies and girls' bodies are made differently."

As natural curiosity kicks in, you may find your child playing doctor or examining another child's sex organs. While such exploration is far removed from adult sexual activity — and it's harmless when only young children are involved — as a family matter, you may want to set limits on such exploration.

Everyday moments are key

Sex education isn't a single tell-all discussion. Instead, take advantage of everyday opportunities to discuss sex.


If there's a pregnancy in the family, for example, tell your children that babies grow in a special place inside the mother called the uterus. If your children want more details on how the baby got there or how the baby will be born, provide those details.

Consider these examples:

•How do babies get inside a mommy's tummy? You might say, "A mom and a dad make a baby by holding each other in a special way."

•How are babies born? For some children, it might be enough to say, "Doctors and nurses help babies who are ready to be born." If your child wants more details, you might say, "Usually a mom pushes the baby out of her vagina."

As your child matures and asks more detailed questions, you can provide more detailed responses. Answer specific questions using correct terminology.

Even if you're uncomfortable, forge ahead. Remember, you're setting the stage for open, honest discussions in the years to come.

— Compiled by Mayo Clinic staff

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