Talking about sex

Talking to a child about sex can be difficult for most parents and carers, but it’s important children know about sex – both the physical and emotional sides – and they need accurate information before puberty.

We’ve found that parents and carers are happier to talk about sex (or HIV) when they feel prepared and know what to say. 

Remember, this is not about expecting a young person to start having sex, but helping them prepare well for when they do. Research shows that these early conversations lead to young people having sex later, not earlier.

Younger children

If you are a parent or carer of a child living with HIV, talking about sex with them at a young age means that you are creating a safe space with them where you can talk about ‘private’ or ‘family’ issues and where they can ask questions. This can really help you when you later decide to talk to them about HIV.

Ideally, this should be an ongoing conversation, and in some ways the earlier you start, the easier it will be.

When you are talking to young children about sex, do it in a really simple way so that they understand where ‘babies come from’. You can talk about this being part of a loving relationship. Always use correct scientific words.

Older children

Young people will probably be as equally embarrassed to be talking about sex as you are!

But if you have started talking to them about sex when they were younger, it will be easier. It is best to do this when you are both relaxed. It helps to not be face-to-face, so walking somewhere, on a car journey or doing something like cooking are good times to talk. But make sure it’s a private space.

These conversations could be about sex, puberty and how it feels to be a young person with changing hormones and bodies and having more intense feelings.

Schools cover puberty and what happens to the body during this time, but as a parent or carer it’s important that you explain this to them as well, so that you have good communication with your young person which makes it easier to talk to them about HIV.

It’s important that young people living with HIV understand that there are only a few ways HIV can be passed between people, including having sex without a condom.

They also need to understand that a person living with HIV who is taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) may have an ‘undetectable HIV viral load’. This means they still have HIV but ART has reduced the amount of HIV in their blood to such low quantities that there is zero risk of transmitting the virus to sexual partners.

The phrase U=U (undetectable = untransmittable) is now widely used. Find out more about U=U.

Online resources

There are many books, leaflets and websites available to help parents/carers talk to children and young people about sex, puberty and relationships. Some good sources are:

  • The Family Planning Association where you can buy resources that you can help you talk to your young person about sex.
  • Brook has a website about sex aimed specifically at young people; this is a good place to get more information.  
  • NHS Live Well has sections on talking to children and young people about sex.

There are many places online where you can read about other parent/carer’s experiences with young people and forums where you can post your own comments or questions, such as Family Lives.  

Have a look around and find the resources you like and feel comfortable with.