A helpful tool for starting conversations about sexuality and sexual health with your child is an age appropriate book. For young children, age 8 and under, they might enjoy having you read the book to them and discuss it. Older children, especially tweens and teens, may not want to talk to you about the book – just put it on the shelf, let them know it’s there, and that you can answer any questions they have about what they read in there.
Other people’s recommended books can be found here:
- Books that Will Help You Talk To Your Kids About Sex by Dr. Jenn
- Body Smart, Body Safe: Talking with Young Children about their Bodies from A Mighty Girl
- Top 10 Sex Ed Books for the Modern Parent from Geek Dad
- Sexual Development and Behavior in Children from NCTSN.
I checked out many of the recommended books from these sites, and wrote up summaries of the books. I also created a comparison chart to show what topics they address, and tooks notes on details about specific wording they use to describe various concepts, so that you can find the one that best aligns with your values and with what you are ready to teach your child.
For preschool age:
- Who Has What?: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies by Harris. Age 3 – 7. Explains body parts, including reproductive anatomy.
- Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Saltz. Age 3 – 7. Covers the basics of the differences between boys and girls, how babies are made and born, and privacy, but no in-depth discussion of intercourse.
- No Means No!: Teaching children about personal boundaries, respect and consent; empowering kids by respecting their choices and their right to say, ‘No!’ by Sanders. Age 3 – 5. About bodily autonomy, consent, how to speak up when they’re uncomfortable.
- What Makes a Baby by Silverberg. Age 3 – 4. Covers conception, gestation, and birth in a way that works whether the child was adopted, conceived using reproductive technologies, through surrogacy, or the old fashioned way… And it fits all families regardless of how many people, their orientation, and gender identity.” Some examples of this approach: “Just like eggs and just like sperm, some bodies have a uterus, and some do not.” “Who helped bring together the sperm and the egg that made you?”
- Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Pessin-Whedbee. Age 4 – 6. Talks about biological sex (a guess based on body parts observed at birth) and gender identity (“who you feel like inside, who you know yourself to be”) and gender expression (clothes and interests.)
For early elementary:
- What’s the Big Secret?: Talking about Sex with Girls and Boys by Brown. Age 5 – 7. Explains anatomy, reproduction, pregnancy and birth. Touches on good touch vs. bad touch and privacy.
- It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Harris. Age 6 – 8. Discusses male/female anatomy, erections, puberty, sex (a basic description of intercourse), sperm, eggs, pregnancy, good/bad touch, and different types of families. Much longer, more detailed than other books – better as a reference book than as a one time read.
- Where Did I Come From? by Mayle. Age 5 – 8. Covers anatomy. Too explicit for my taste.
For upper elementary:
- It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Harris. Age 7 – 10. How a baby is made (from egg and sperm joining through pregnancy and birth), puberty, love, gender, sexual orientation, good/bad touch, and STI’s.
- The Care and Keeping of You (American Girl Library) by Schaefer. Ages 8+. (Note: there is a second book in this series for ages 10+ that covers more advanced topics.) Covers understanding their bodies and taking care of their bodies, so puberty, but also hygiene, nutrition, fitness.
- Will Puberty Last My Whole Life?: REAL Answers to REAL Questions from Preteens About Body Changes, Sex, and Other Growing-Up Stuff by Metzger & Lehman. Age 9 – 12. The authors have been teaching two parent-child classes in the Seattle area for decades (For Girls Only and For Boys Only), and have spoken to thousands of kids and parents. Answers around 400 questions, about boys and about girls. I’ve worked with the authors for years and highly recommend their approach. However, a few reviewers on Amazon do note that some of the topics may be too mature for a naïve 9 or 10 year old and felt they were better suited to older childen.
Comparison of Content
- Body Parts: Hands, arms… the parts you can see. Vagina, labia, urethra, uterus, ovary. Penis, scrotum, testicles. Illustrations of internal anatomy, and external in both children and adults. Puberty.
- Privacy and Masturbation: Private parts hide under clothes or underwear. “It’s natural to be curious and private parts and want to touch them. This is something you should do only in private place, like your room.”
- Conception: “When a man and a woman love each other… a man’s sperm joins with a woman’s egg.”
- Pregnancy & Birth: “The baby grows inside the mother’s uterus…. Uterus starts to squeeze…. The baby will come out of the mother’s vagina
- Gender: “If you are a girl, you have [these parts]… if you are a boy, your penis and testicles will grow as you body gets bigger…”
- Two page parent guide at the end about how to talk to children about sex.
It’s Not the Stork: A Book about Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families, and Friends by Harris.
- Body Parts: Vagina, penis. Where pee comes out – penis, small opening between girls’ legs. Illustrations label thumb, ankle and so on, plus anus, buttocks, vulva, nipple, scrotum, circumcised penis, uncircumcised penis, clitoris. “X-ray” illustrations show bladder, urethra, vas deferens, testicles, ovaries, Fallopian tubes. Talks about puberty. Eggs, sperm.
- Privacy & Masturbation: “The parts of our bodies that are under our underpants or bathing suits are called ‘privates.’ If you touch or rub the private parts of your own body because it tickles, or feels good, that’s an ‘okay touch.’”
- Safe / Unsafe Touch: “Everyday hugs and kisses and touch and holding hands with our families and good friends are ‘okay touches.’ … during a checkup, the reason your doctor has to look at or touch ‘your privates’ is to make sure every part of your body is healthy… If a person touches ‘your privates’ or any other part of your body that you do not want them to, these are all ‘not okay touches.’… tell that person “Stop!”… If any kind of ‘not okay’ touch happens to you, tell a grownup right away.”
- Conception: “A sperm from a man’s body and an egg from a woman’s body must come together. When grown-ups want to make a baby, most often a woman and a man have a special kind of loving called ‘making love’ or ‘having sex.’ [Illustration shows man and woman embraced under blankets.] Sperm swim from penis into vagina. [Addresses assisted reproduction.]
- Pregnancy & Birth: Fetal development in detail. Muscles push the baby out through the mommy’s vagina, which stretches… Or doctor makes a cut into the uterus. Covers different kinds of families.
- Gender: Boys and girls alike in many ways, difference is body parts.
What Makes a Baby by SIlverberg
- Body Parts: Vagina, uterus, eggs. Sperm. Some bodies have them, some do not. Parts not illustrated, except uterus.
- Conception: Egg, sperm, uterus – not all bodies have them. “When grown ups want to make a baby they need to get an egg from one body and sperm from another body. They also need a place where the baby can grow.” (This neutral description allows families to then add in any details they choose about what their process was.)
- Pregnancy & Birth: After fertilization, “sometimes this tiny thing does not grow. And sometimes it grows into a baby.” (Allows parents to discuss history of miscarriage.) “…This usually takes about 40 weeks… Some babies are born by coming out through a part of the body that most people call the vagina. And other times, doctors will make a special opening….”
- Gender: Completely gender free.
What’s In There: All About You Before You Were Born by Harris
- Body Parts: Uterus. Penis. Vagina.
- Conception: Babies begin as one tiny cell; half comes from a woman’s body, half comes from a man’s.
- Pregnancy & Birth: Babies grow in a woman’s uterus (just below her tummy). Fetal development – how baby grows, where baby gets nutrients, baby can hear. Mommy’s muscles squeeze and push – baby comes out through a stretchy opening between its mommy’s legs, called the vagina. (Or doctor makes a special cut in the uterus.) “All babies are born into or adopted into their family.”
- Gender: Pictures show a pregnant woman and a man, kids say “Daddy’s on the phone! Our new baby’s been born.” Baby grows a penis for a boy or a vagina for a girl.
What’s the Big Secret by Brown
- Body Parts: Face, chest, navel… nipple, penis, scrotum, testicles, vulva, clitoris, vagina. Includes illustrations.
- Privacy & Masturbation: “You may be curious about…. the parts usually covered up by clothes. Just remember everyone’s privacy needs to be respected…. Touching and rubbing your genitals to feel good is called masturbation. Some of us try this and some of us don’t. However, it’s best to do this private kind of touching off by yourself.”
- Safe / Unsafe Touch: “Whether it’s hugging your parents, wrestling with a friend, or shaking your teacher’s hand, touching brings you closer to someone… If someone doesn’t want to be touched, then respect his or her wishes… If you want a hug you can say so. But no one has the right to touch you in a way that feels wrong or uncomfortable… tell a grown-up.”
- Conception: “Inside a woman’s body are tiny eggs… a man has even tinier sperm. When a sperm combines with an egg, this now-fertilized egg is the beginning of a new baby. Usually the sperm and egg meet during sexual intercourse, when a man and woman fit his penis inside her vagina. It feels wonderful to share this special closeness when you love someone.”
- Pregnancy & Birth: Illustrations of baby, umbilical cord, placenta in uterus. Talks some about fetal development. “When a baby is ready to be born, muscles in the mother’s womb start to tighten and relax… in most births, the baby comes out the vagina…”
- Gender: “Boys and girls wear different clothes. Sometimes but not always… all sorts of toys, games, and activities appeal to both boys and girls…. The only sure way to tell boys and girls apart is by their bodies. If you’re a boy, you have….”
Where Did I Come From? by Mayle
- Body Parts: Illustration of adult man and adult woman, nude. Woman has two round bumps – some call them bosom, titties, or boobs, the proper name is breasts…. The milk that kept you alive for those first few months either came from a bottle or your mother’s breasts. Hips. Penis, vagina
- Conception: “Babies are made by grown-ups. One of them has to be a woman, and one a man. The two people who made you were your mother and your father… are lying in bed together… the man loves the woman… they kiss… the man’s penis becomes stiff and hard… the man wants to get as close to the woman as he can, because he’s feeling very loving to her… he lies on top of her and puts his penis inside her, into her vagina. Making love is a very nice feeling for both the man and the woman… it’s a gentle tingly sort of tickle… the parts that tickle most are the man’s penis and the woman’s vagina… the man pushes his penis up and down… something really wonderful happens which puts an end to the tickly feeling and at the same time starts the making of the baby.” Sperm, eggs, etc.
- Pregnancy & Birth: baby grows in the womb… fetal development… a special kind of stomachache (called labor pains) get closer together… mother pushes the baby out through the opening between her legs.
- Gender: Stereotypical. Talks about men and women, so doesn’t address some of the things that others touch on about how boys and girls might have similar interests and only body parts are different.
Who Has What: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies by Harris
- Body Parts: Head, ear, elbow, belly button… “Between their legs, girls and women have three openings… where pee comes out, an opening to the vagina, and an opening where the poop comes out. Boys… do not have an opening to the vagina.” Penis, scrotum. Shows illustrations of external genitals and internal organs on humans and on dogs. Ovary, uterus, testicles. Touches on breasts and breastfeeding.
- Privacy: Shows that there are clothed people on the beach, and when it shows genitals, they’re shown on children who are in a changing room getting dressed. Text does not touch on privacy.
- Pregnancy & Birth: “The uterus is where a baby can grow until it is born.”
- Gender: “That baby is either a girl baby or a boy baby.” Most things are the same… (interests, activities, most body parts)… but some parts are different… what makes you a boy or a girl… will make you a man or a woman.”
A note about gender. In the chart above, I call something stereotypical if it only talks about men and women in a heterosexual, cisgender context. I say biology if it’s generally fairly diverse (in talking about how boys and girls can do all the same things, or talking about alternate family structures at all) but it still categorically says: what makes a boy a boy is a penis and what makes a girl a girl is a vagina. As modern culture is shifting toward thinking of gender beyond the binary, some of these books may change wording in future editions, but in the meantime, some parents may choose to supplement these books with Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity.