1. Why do I have a willy and she doesn’t?
Girls’ and boys’ bodies are different. Boys have a penis and girls have a vulva.
See the section 'Naming the genitals: What words should I use?' below and use diagrams with the correct names to help you explain the differences between male and female external genitalia.
2. How are babies made?
Mammies and daddies make babies.
If they want to know more:
A seed from a man and an egg from a woman join together and make a baby.
3. How did I get out of your womb?
The nurse/doctor helped you to come out.
When you were ready to be born the nurse/ doctor helped you to come out through mammy’s vagina (or through a special operation).
4. Why aren’t my breasts (or penis) as big as yours?
My body is a grown–up's; as you get older your body will change and grow too. This is completely normal and happens to everyone. If you ever have any questions about your body, I’ll be happy to answer.
The closer your child is to puberty the more detail they may need on how bodies grow and change.
5. What is sex?
Sex means whether you are a boy or a girl. Sometimes people use the word sex to describe a way that grown-ups show love for each other. It can also be how people make babies.
6. What does heterosexual mean?
It’s unlikely that children of this age will use this word but if they ask anything similar you could say:
Heterosexual means a person who likes someone of the opposite sex and might want to be their boyfriend or girlfriend. You can give examples of romantic/ partner relationships.
7. What does gay mean?
Somebody may call themselves ‘gay’ if they are attracted to someone of the same sex. For instance, a boy likes other boys or a girl likes other girls in a way that they might want to be boyfriend or girlfriend.
8. Why does that child have two mums (or two dads)?
Because there are lots of different types of families. You can have families with mums and dads, mums and mums, dads and dads, one parent, step parents, etc.
There are no perfect answers to the questions that children ask. It is up to you to decide what will work best for you and for your child. Below is general guidance around particular sexual health topics.
Naming the genitals: What words should I use?
Many parents have difficulty in using the correct anatomical names for the genitals. However, we recommend that they do so from the start. If you decide to use pet names for genitals, your child should also know the correct terms as knowing and being able to use these words means that they can talk clearly to medical and other professionals about their genitals should there be a need.
You can teach your child the names of genitals in the same way you teach names for other things. If you are changing a little boy’s nappy, you can say “I am just cleaning your penis”, or for a little girl, “I must give your vulva a little wipe.” After a bath, you can introduce the words naturally by saying things like, “I am drying your feet, your legs, your penis, your bum, etc.”
If your child is a little older, it can be a good idea to use a diagram that shows the external genitals so they can see where everything is. You can explain that while many people have pet names for the genitals, the proper names are penis and testicles (males), and vulva (females). These are the words that a teacher, a nurse or a doctor would use.
Later on, you can build on this information by explaining the internal sexual organs.
A short description of the external genitals for parents
Vulva – this is the area of soft skin between a girl’s legs. (Sometimes the word ‘vagina’ is incorrectly used to describe this.)
The vulva includes:
- the labia majora and labia minora (the fleshy folds of skin)
- the clitoris (the sensitive organ at the front of the vulva)
- two openings: one in to the urethra (for urine) and one in to the vagina, which is the internal muscular tube that leads from the vulva to the womb (uterus)
Penis – an organ made up of soft spongy tissue which can become erect because of extra blood flow. It has one opening in the tip called the urethra, out of which urine is passed. After puberty, sperm also leave the body through the urethra (but not at the same time as urine).
Testicles – small round organs which hang down under the penis. They produce testosterone and, after puberty, sperm. One of the functions of testosterone is to help boys physically develop into men.
Scrotum – the soft skin that holds the testicles.
Questions about conception, birth and babies
Small children are especially fascinated with questions about conception and birth, but it’s of interest to most children. Many of the questions are progressive, one leading to another. Short, simple but factually correct explanations should be tailored by parents to reflect the child’s family and birth circumstances, expanding over time to cover the various ways in which children can be conceived and born and the variety of family types.
For more help in having these conversations with your child, download: