What?! Talking to young children about porn? You can’t be serious?! Fair enough. I get it, it sounds inappropriate to talk to a 5 year-old about pornography. However, with the average age of exposure being 11 , parents need to be proactive; they need to be the first voice children hear about the subject. As a part of an ongoing dialogue about bodies and babies, the porn talk can be a relevant protective inclusion.
As with any sexual health topic, language about pornography should be age appropriate, and not in isolation.
This blog post aims to present tips for, and the benefits of, having a conversation about sex and pornography with children between 5 and 8 years of age.
As mentioned in previous posts there is a scope and sequence for talking to children about sexuality to make it relevant and appropriate. Anatomical language for body parts is established first, as the child becomes verbal, and an open attitude to talking about bodies becomes the norm. This approach promotes questions and disclosure, which assists general health and well-being.
Once language and comfort are established, children are able to be curious and wonder how the body works. Curiosity leads to inevitable questions, such as, “How did the baby get in there?”, “Can I grow pink hair instead of brown?” or “Why is my penis big now?”- some of my personal faves. Candid answers satisfy the child’s curiosity, but more importantly, demonstrate your availability and willingness to provide honest answers. This approachability lays the foundation for answering future questions that will increase in complexity as your child grows.
With the basis of language and confidence to talk about bodies, conversations between an adult and their youth about sex and reproduction is easier. Depending on the personality, children typically ask about "how babies are made" between the ages of 5 and 8. The answer will reflect your family’s values, which is appropriate and important.
LGBTQ+ parents, or those who conceived via in vitro fertilization (IVF), may want to have more detailed discussions with their child that are specific to their conception story. We've included examples to discuss IVF below, too. These are only examples, your conversation may look different depending on your situation. A conversation might go like this:
Child: How did you and Dad make a baby?
Parent: Bodies are different. Dad’s body has testicles. The testicles make sperm, which is like a tiny seed that’s needed to make a baby. Mom’s body has ovaries. Ovaries make eggs. An egg is also like a seed that’s needed to make a baby. When one sperm and one egg join together, it can make the beginnings of a baby.
Conversation starters for same-sex parents or those discussing IVF:
Two things are needed to make a baby. A sperm and an egg. They are like tiny seeds that join together to start a new life.
If you want to go into a little more detail, depending on your own anatomy, you can tailor the language below to suit your conversation. Here’s an example:
Parent: My body has ovaries that make eggs. I don’t have testicles, which make sperm, like many people with male bodies have. The doctors were able to get some sperm to join with one of my eggs, and that made you!
That may be enough for children younger than 6 years old. However, as children's curiosity and problem-solving increases, the question of how the sperm and the egg come together becomes important. That talk may go like this:
Child: But how does the sperm get to the egg when they are in two separate bodies?
Parent: Good question! The two tiny parts that are needed to make a baby are in separate bodies. One way adults show their love for one another is by joining their bodies together as they cuddle, usually in bed. The penis is able to go into the vagina, and the two bodies fit together like a human puzzle. After a while sperm comes out of the penis and goes into the vagina. This is sometimes called sex. A baby doesn’t get made every time adults choose to have sex, but if the sperm and egg meet up, it could.
Conversation starters for same-sex parents or those discussing IVF:
Good question! The two tiny parts that are needed to make a baby are in separate bodies. Sperm are made in a body that has testicles, and they can come out through a person’s penis and be collected by a doctor. Eggs don’t come out of the body as easily, so the doctor can take them out of the ovary, and join the sperm with the egg to get the baby started. When it’s ready, the tiny sperm and egg ‘seed’ is put into the person who has a uterus, to grow.
Same-sex parents may choose to give both versions of this conversation so their children understand the most common method of conception, in addition to their conception story. Doing this allows for a simple conversation about sex that could go like this:
Parent: When a person with a penis and testicles and a person with a vagina and ovaries want to make a baby, they may join their bodies together in private. This is one type of “sex”. But, there are other ways to make a baby, like the way you were made. Also, when people share their private parts in other ways to make each other feel good, it can be called sex, too.
For some parents, that’s enough for one day. The benefits of having frequent, organic, brief conversations far outweigh one huge ‘Birds and Bees’ talk. Other parents might leverage the ‘moment’ and include a really important protective conversation. It could go like this:
Child: Sex sounds a little bit gross.
Parent: Yeah, joining bodies together might sound a bit gross, but sex should be enjoyable. It should make both adults feel good and very close. There are some important rules that have to be followed to make sure sex is as good as it can be. Sex is for adults. Sex is a big deal. There is a lot someone needs to know in order to make good decisions. A person’s brain, body and emotions need to be ready to have sex.
Sex is between two people who both want to have sex. A person must say YES, in a really sure way. This is called CONSENT - clear verbal permission to do something. It is okay if someone doesn’t give their consent. It’s their choice. To have sex, or not, is a choice.
Sex should happen in a private place. Just like being naked is private, joining naked bodies is something that is private. It is a special thing between just two people. It’s nobody else’s business. Anyone in charge of another person is not allowed to have sex with the person they are in charge of. This rule protects very young people, elderly people, people with disabilities - people who might not be able to stand up for themselves.
If all the rules are followed, sex should be a special way for adults to show love and affection, and it sometimes makes a baby.
You might be ready to give yourself a high-five and leave the conversation there for now. But, the pornography conversation works well in the context of the ‘rules’. So, you could take a deep breath, and go for one last goal! It could go like this:
Parent: Sometimes people make movies of others having sex. Remember how I said sex is a private thing between two people who love and respect each other?. Pictures and movies of naked people are NOT private. Most children who see these movies don’t mean to. They are doing their homework or playing games on the computer and accidentally click on something that shows naked people. If this happens to you, come and tell me right away. I will never get upset with you for telling me. Sex is for adults, not kids. Even if it’s on a screen.
Children will have their own questions and statements to add throughout the conversation, which may lead you in wonderful meanderings. Fabulous! These conversations are merely examples. They are deliberately brief introductions, and are not intended to be a complete discourse.
The hope is that these topics are revisited again and again, in many contexts. Perhaps a T.V. show prompts a reminder about the rules of sex. A visit to the zoo inspires a conversation about gestation. A news story on the radio might elicit a talk about consent. A curious click on a link may lead to a more in depth talk about porn. These examples are also intentionally value-neutral. But we know topics like sex and porn are heavily steeped in values, and it is the responsibility of parents to provide a moral context for these topics. We can’t stress this enough. If you don’t, popular culture, through media, will. And with porn being so accessible, affordable, and anonymous, parents should be the ones to introduce the topic first. The work has to happen prior to adolescence; by then attitudes towards sexuality and porn are more fixed.
The point is, early intervention - as early as 5 years old, promotes comfort and guidance as kids mature and grow. When children are familiar with the language, and have experienced successful interactions with their adults without shame, it follows that they will be more open and authentic as they grow. Parents can provide anticipatory guidance so children know what to expect. As bodies and emotions change through puberty and adolescence, children are able to process each surprise and challenge with the support and advice of their parent.
We know from research on the protective effects of parenting that teens from families with high levels of connectedness have a later sexual debut and are less likely to become pregnant, to use cigarettes or marijuana, or to drink alcohol frequently. That alone should be enough of an incentive to be courageous and talk frequently, but briefly, about things that really matter.
Parents need to decide early about the attitudes their children have about sex and pornography. If you would like them to have a healthy, satisfying sex life in the future, then it is your responsibility to lay a positive framework while children are young and not shy away from the uncomfortable subjects.
Weinberger, J. (2014). The Boogeyman Exists; and He is in Your Child’s Back Pocket. CreateSpace Publishing.
Devore, E. R. & Ginsburg, K. R. (2005). The Protective Effects of Good Parenting on Adolescents. Current Opinion in Pediatrics, 17. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5d09/c3b0848096c5755ebbd1beac7d3bafd4b0df.pdf