Talking to your kids about sexual health, puberty

Conversations about puberty and sexual health should start early and continue often to help children feel comfortable talking about their health and sexuality.

Growing up in today’s world presents different challenges than even a couple of decades ago.

However, some things don’t change: It is important for parents and guardians to start conversations about puberty and sexual health early. Discussions should be relaxed and informal; any awkwardness will subside if you are confident and straightforward, and if you keep the lines of communication open. Opening the conversation also will make it easier for your child to come to you later on when more questions arise. How do you talk to your child about sexual health?

How to talk about sexual health and puberty in girls

Parents can start talking about puberty with their daughters by age 7 or 8. Continue looking for opportunities to discuss changes that happen as a girl grows into a young woman. For example: Talk about when another family member is growing taller or a sister is developing breasts. This can help the conversation feel “normal.”

“The Care and Keeping of You,” a book divided into two age-appropriate volumes for reading and discussion, and “What’s the Big Secret?” for younger children are useful resources.

The conversation about ever-changing bodies should be ongoing and reflect every stage of life, so use your best judgment about being appropriate. Focus on these topics of discussion:

  • Female reproductive system (using correct names for genitalia)
  • Menstruation
  • Tampons, pads and other hygiene products
  • Irregular periods
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Breast self-exams
  • Finding the right bra
  • First gynecological visit (between ages 11 and 13; bring the following information: date of last menstrual period, medications you take, lifestyle and health habits, family health history)
  • Pap smear
  • Pelvic exam
  • Sexual harassment and bullying
  • Sexual attraction and orientation
  • It’s OK to say “no” (virginity)
  • Birth control
  • Pill, patch, ring, shot
  • Condom
  • IUD
  • Body hygiene
  • Internet safety and “sexting”

The first appointment with a gynecologist is a time for preventive care and discussion, privately and with parents. Taking your daughter to the first gynecological visit may be nerve-wracking for both of you. Be sure to give your daughter privacy, but be there with her to ask the doctor questions if she is too nervous to ask herself.

Norton Children’s Gynecology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

Schedule an appointment with a pediatric gynecologist.

(502) 559-1750

How to talk about sexual health and puberty in boys

With boys, ages 10 to 12 are a good time to begin the puberty and sexual health conversation .

While boys are still immature at those ages, starting the conversation can help children understand the changes they will undergo during the puberty. Boys should also have yearly genital exams and parents can stay up-to-date with recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some topics for discussion:

  • Male reproductive system (using correct names for genitalia)
  • Gynecomastia (enlarged breasts in men)
  • Erections
  • What’s normal?
  • Wet dreams
  • Testicular exams
  • Testicular injuries
  • Sexual attraction and orientation
  • It’s OK to say “no” (virginity)
  • Condoms and birth control
  • Voice changes
  • Hair growth
  • Body hygiene
  • Internet safety and “sexting”

Raise any uncomfortable topics with the child’s primary care provider or a pediatric urologist.