How babies are made: A guide to talking to kids about sex

Talking to your child about sex can be challenging, but it's important to have the discussion at a fairly early age. You want your child to get the correct information from you, and to feel safe talking to you about sex.

Parents talking to their child
Photo credit: © Aleksandra Jankovic / Stocksy United

One day, you'll hear the inevitable question from your child: "Where do babies come from?"

Your child may be especially curious about the mysteries of baby-making if you or someone else close to them is pregnant. Or their curiosity might be piqued by conversations with older siblings or friends at school.

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Depending on what your child has heard from others – some of which may be confusing or contradictory – they may be trying to sort out how the baby gets inside the mother, what the baby is doing in there, and how the baby gets out.

In many children, the interest surfaces only briefly now and then – one of many other things they're curious about. Other children may be a bit more curious about sex and may press for additional details.

Here's a guide on how to talk to your child about sex and reproduction, including some sample answers to questions your child may ask.

How to talk to your child about sex

Start early

With the internet so central to their lives, kids today may be exposed to more sexual content than you were at the same age.

And even if your child's online media access is limited, they may still hear about sex from their peers at school. It's usually better if they hear it from you first!

It's a good idea to start talking to children about their bodies and sexuality in an age-appropriate way when they're developmentally ready. By having an open, honest conversation, your child will understand that reproduction is a normal and healthy part of life for all living things – and that it's safe to talk to you about sex.

As your child gets older and starts exploring their own sexuality, this knowledge will help them make healthy choices. Talking about sex with your child now also builds trust for more challenging conversations in the future.

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Keep explanations short and simple

Little kids don't need to know all the details about sex. For younger children, provide basic information. As your child gets older and is more capable of understanding, you can go into more detail.

There's no one right explanation about sex and babies. It's your choice how much to say, based on your child's existing knowledge and how much you think they'll be able to understand.

Here are a few tips based on your child's age:

Up to 2 years old: Name body parts as your child is getting bathed or dressed using anatomically correct terms.

For a 2- to 3-year-old: In addition to discussing body parts, you can explain what they do ("the urethra is where pee comes out").

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Remember that it's developmentally normal for babies and young children to touch their genitals. If your child does so in front of you, you don't have to say anything about it. You can also use it as an opportunity to explain appropriate and inappropriate touching.

You might tell your child, "It's okay for you to touch your penis/vulva when you're by yourself at home, but it's not okay to do that in front of others. Also, it's not okay for anyone else to touch you there without your permission. Please always tell me or another grown-up if that ever happens."

For a 4- to 5-year-old: This age is when you may be most likely to get the question, "Where do babies come from?", though all kids are different.

Children this age can understand a simple explanation, such as "babies are made when two cells, a sperm and an egg, combine. These cells can grow into a baby in a mom's body."

For a 6- to 7-year-old: By now, your child may be more curious about sex and sexuality, though again, it varies widely. You can explain that sometimes when two grown-ups have sex, the sperm swim out of the penis and into the uterus, where they search for the egg.

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If the sperm and egg meet, that can makes a baby. The baby grows in the uterus for nine months and then comes out through the vagina or a cut in the tummy.

For an 8- to 9-year-old: Older kids are usually starting to understand concepts like romance and relationships and may be aware that people have sex. If not, you can start to enlighten them.

In the coming years, they'll be going through puberty and beginning to explore their own sexuality. They might still not fully understand or know how babies are made at this age, even if they've begun to piece it together, so it's a good time to clue them in a bit more if they haven't already learned.

Preteen to teen years: You'll be able to explore more complex topics with your kids at these ages and stages, including teaching them about different kinds of sexuality and why consent is so important.  

It's critical to discuss sexual assault with your tweens and teens and what to do if they're pressured to do something sexual that they're not comfortable with (such as sharing nude pictures). For teens, be sure to discuss how various contraception methods can protect them from STIs and pregnancy.

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Harness everyday opportunities

Teaching your child about sex doesn't mean sitting down for one forced and awkward "birds and bees" conversation. In fact, it's best to approach sex education as an ongoing conversation, rather than a single chat.

There are lots of everyday opportunities to teach your child the basics. Start by naming their body parts during bath time. You don't have to wait for your child to ask questions, either. Use a pregnancy in the family to bring up how babies are made, or discuss love and sexuality if the theme comes up in TV or movies you watch together.

Try to understand the source

When an opportunity to discuss sex comes up, first get a handle on what your child is thinking and already knows. Ask, "What have you heard about where babies come from?" or "Where do you think babies come from?"

If your child comes to you with a question, avoid a misunderstanding by first responding: "What do you think?" How they answer could tell you what they really want to know.

Use correct language

Using appropriate language will help avoid confusion and lessen the sense that sexual topics are taboo or embarrassing.

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For example, telling a child that the baby grows inside the mother's tummy can be confusing, since that's where food goes. Instead, tell your child the baby grows in a place inside the mom called the uterus.

Use anatomically correct terms for all other reproductive parts, too, including penis, scrotum, vulva, and vagina.

Be matter-of-fact

You want to be someone your child feels safe coming to with uncomfortable topics, someone who will give them the truth and relieve any worries. So try not to seem overly embarrassed or serious or laugh at your child's questions, no matter how absurd or uncomfortable they might seem.

Do your best to answer calmly and succinctly, which will convey respect for your child's natural curiosity without any judgment.

Buy yourself time

It's okay if these conversations feel difficult. If you're at a loss for an answer or can't keep your composure, say, "I'm not sure. Can I find out more and get back to you?"

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Then be sure to pick up the conversation as soon as you feel ready, which helps build trust with your child.

Be inclusive

Conversations about sex are a great opportunity to explain diversity and the many different types of families. Try to use inclusive language when possible to avoid excluding gay, transgender, and gender-nonconforming parents, as well as those who have conceived with in vitro fertilization (IVF) or adopted their children.

You don't have to go into the details of gender identity or IVF, but you can offer a broad overview. For example, you might explain that some people have penises and some people have vaginas, but the body parts they have on the outside don't always match how they feel on the inside. Or say that sometimes doctors help an egg and a sperm to meet.

Invite follow-up

After you answer your child's questions, praise them for being brave enough to ask. For example: "What a good question! Ask me some more whenever you want." Doing so encourages your child to feel comfortable talking to you anytime.

Expect lots of questions over the years, depending on your child's personality. It's very normal for kids to be curious.

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Use an outside source

Books provide perfect opportunities for talking about sex and birth. Here are some that might help:

  • Before You Were Born, by Jennifer Davis and Laura Cornell (ages 2-3)
  • What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby, by Heidi Murkoff and Laura Rader (ages 2-5)
  • What Makes a Baby, by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (ages 3-7)
  • It’s Not the Stork!, by Robbie Harris and Michael Emberley (ages 4-8)
  • It’s So Amazing!, by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley (ages 7+)
  • Sex Is a Funny Word: A Book About Bodies, Feelings, and YOU, by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth (ages 7+)
  • Growing Up Great!: The Ultimate Puberty Book for Boys, by Scott Todnem (ages 8+)
  • Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls, by Sonya Renee Taylor (ages 8+)


Many adults feel awkward talking about sex with their children because they don't have much practice having these types of conversations – and because they're afraid they won't know what to say once the discussion gets going.

If the idea of talking about sex with your child makes you anxious, try rehearsing your answers in advance, either alone or with a partner or friend.

Answers to common questions about how babies are made

How are babies made?

A sweet and simple explanation will satisfy very young children. Tell them that a sperm joins an egg to grow into a baby. If your child asks for more details and you think they're ready, you might consider telling them, "When two grown-ups have sex, one person's penis goes into the other's vagina. Sperm comes out of the penis and goes into the uterus, where there might be an egg waiting. If the egg and sperm meet, that makes a baby."

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What's sex?

An older child might be curious about the act of sex after hearing about it on TV or from a friend. Or maybe you forgot to lock the door, and your child walked in on you having sex.

Share the general message that sex is a private act between adults: "Sex is one of the ways two grown-ups show their love and affection for each other. It's done when adults have private time together. It's different from how I express my love for you. Sometimes sex can make a baby."

How is the baby going to get out?

Tell your child that babies usually come out of the mother's vagina, or sometimes through a cut made in the abdomen. Age-appropriate books about pregnancy and birth (with pictures) can be especially helpful to give kids a clearer understanding.

Why doesn't everyone have a penis/vagina?

You can keep it simple, explaining that bodies are made differently. Some people have a penis, and some people have a vagina.

School-aged children may ask more complex questions, including what a period is and why boys get erections. Use similar tactics as covered above – including reading age-appropriate books together – to approach these topics.

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Colleen de Bellefonds
Colleen de Bellefonds is a freelance health and lifestyle journalist. She's raising her toddler daughter and newborn son with her French husband in Paris.