Should a Five Year Old Know about Sex?

statueThank you from the Newshour team for all your brilliant comments on the United Nations’ sex education guidelines. Saturday’s on air discussion is now over, but we’ve continued to receive many interesting views on whether it’s appropriate to learn about sex at an early age. We appreciate your willingness to delve into what can be a very sensitive topic.

Many of your opinions have addressed whether knowing about sex, makes a child more, or less, interested in sex. Halima wrote: “HIV and AIDs are rampant because of NOT knowing about sexually transmitted diseases. Sex information does not promote HIV/AIDS, but ignorance of it can make things worse.” On the other hand Negegir writes: “Children are very curious and like practicing what they are taught. And teaching them about sex as early as the age of 5 means encouraging them to practice sex as early as they were taught.” Thank you again, and stay tuned for Newshour’s next online discussion!

57 Responses to “Should a Five Year Old Know about Sex?”

  1. 1 Halima
    September 11, 2009 at 08:24

    Children of 5 need to start learning about relationships in a simple way, things like sharing toys, and the beginnings of empathy. They also may need to learn simplified “stranger danger” rules for their own safety, but about sex,-no. As chldren grow up they will need to know and understand about thier own bodies, but about sexual relationships – no. that is too complex and scary for little ones.

    • September 12, 2009 at 14:11

      Hector Simfukwe from Zambia. Please dont destroy our cultural values. During the time of our fathers we did not have HIV/AIDS but because of the western culture we now have big numbers of HIV people.Please can you spare Africa you have done enough damage.It is that sex information to children that is promoting HIV/AIDS

      • 3 Halima
        September 12, 2009 at 17:38

        HIV and AIDs are rampant because of NOT knowing about sexually transmitted diseases. Sex information does not promote HIV/AIDS, but ignorance of it can make things worse. Sexually promiscuious, and irresponsible behaviour by MEN in particular is what spreads AIS/HIV. above all. not foreigners, not knowledge, and not informaton.

  2. 4 vijay pillai
    September 11, 2009 at 08:53

    If an education about junk food and keeping weight under control are important for a 5 year old ,awareness of HIV,aids,paediphiles,prostitutes,needles and the likes of depressive statistics are also need to be taught.

  3. 5 scmehta
    September 11, 2009 at 09:02

    No. At least there should be no effort made to let a five-year old know.

  4. 6 Nadir
    September 11, 2009 at 10:18

    It’s very dreadful to read about transformation of sexual knowledge diverting to 5years old.

  5. 7 Dennis Junior
    September 11, 2009 at 12:47

    Honestly, I think it is something that parents should teach to children about sex ONLY at the level of the age…..

    =Dennis Junior=

  6. 8 patti in cape coral
    September 11, 2009 at 12:51

    I always thought that sex should start to be taught when a child starts asking about it, the teaching being appropriate to the age. The way you talk about sex to a five-year-old is not the same way you talk about sex to an 11, 12, or 13-year-old. I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not. I always thought it should be up to the parents, maybe a lot of parents are failing at this, so the UN feels like it has to step in.

    • 9 sadaf seema
      September 17, 2009 at 04:42

      It’s a famous saying THAT ” CURIOSITY KILLS THE ”
      , in today’s era where the media of informations are effectively in to our lives, through internet, you cannot check and balance on the childeren , that snacthing the innocence of life from the childerens before they learn the bascis of relationships, ” post adult state” is the term of todays confused, agetate,generation , as hormone responses when ever sensuality experience, . a afive year child cannot understand but attracts towrds it, so its the parents responsibility to make them understand in a way they does like other normal stuffs of the life and make them understand the basic difference of human and animal’s life. this the best time when they learn the importance of relationships and social bounds , why marriage is necessary when have free sex, thats how we can improve the quality of life as age five is the age when u can install the programme of life in to the mind and it fix for ever. tell your kid before he ask outsiders.

  7. 10 Miles Lacey
    September 11, 2009 at 13:37

    I have been asked a few times over the years by young children around the five year old age group about how babies are created (which invaribly involves addressing the sex question) but I felt it wasn’t my place to answer the question because I wasn’t the parent nor a medical practitioner and told them something to that effect. Many children these days are reaching puberty much earlier and they will see a lot of media where sex is routinely discussed or obsessed about so it stands to reason that they will ask such questions and I think they should have their questions answered honestly by the appropriate people.

  8. September 11, 2009 at 14:05

    Thank God, it seems like the UN has finally solved all of our world’s problems, and the only crucial problem left is how to talk to poor five year olds about sex ! :)… I am having my pediatrics rotation these days, so what can five year olds do ?! They can skip on both feet and hop, copy a triangle, dress and undress alone (wow!), their speech is fluent with few infantile substitutions in speech, and guess what ?! They can identify four colours ! :). So in my opinion we should never talk to those little hopping fellows about sex unless they ask about it, and even if they ask about it then we should reply to their questions with the least explicit way possible… They’re innocent little hopping children who can copy a triangle and identify four colours, and that’s how things should remain… With my love… Yours forever, Lubna in Baghdad…

  9. 12 Eileen in Virginia
    September 11, 2009 at 14:05

    At seventeen (more than fifty years ago) I asked my mother about sex and was told ‘You mustn’t even think about sex until after you’re married.’

    My son aged three asked me ‘How does the baby get out of the mummy’s tummy?’ I told him, in words he could understand. A child who asks needs answers. A child who doesn’t ask needs to know anyway, at least by junior school.

    Parents are the obvious teachers, but often fail to help. Schools need to inform at each level appropriate to the age. Teachers who can’t manage that shouldn’t be teaching.

    Where does the UN come into it?

  10. 13 Jennifer
    September 11, 2009 at 14:30

    Re: Should a five year old know about sex?

    I think when children ask questions they should have factual answers. However, that is when children ASK. It is not society’s responsibility to raise people’s children. Setting “global standards” for sex education is ridiculous. It is taking away a key element; that PARENTS have both the responsibility and right to decide what their children hear about sex and when.

    Would a global standard for sex education mean that 5 year olds would learn explicitly how to have sex, birth control, homosexuality, or what? These are not things that a 5 year old should know about. The innocence of childhood is already being chipped away and this is further chipping away at it.

  11. 14 Kelly, from Chicago, IL, USA
    September 11, 2009 at 14:32

    I doubt that the UN will be teaching five year olds explicit sex. I think anyone who is sane and intelligent would agree that if anything is taught it is age appropriate. I learned about sex around 5 or 6, and that’s because I lived in rural Alabama and we saw some cows that were mating. I was upset because I thought the cows were hurting one another. My mother replied that they loved each other and wanted to have a baby cow. This satisfied me just fine and as I grew older I learned other, more specific details about sex.

    I don’t know if sex ed for children as young as five should be mandated by the UN, but I agree that if children ask their parents should teach them in an age-appropriate way. Ignoring it will do no one any good and I agree that sex is an issue that needs less taboo and more discussion. However, if their parents will not address the issue, I think teachers and counselors should perhaps have some mandated guidelines on what to tell young children if they ask at school or something.

  12. September 11, 2009 at 14:40

    I teach art to adolescent boys with AIDS. After hearing every story, after listening to every agony, after seeing every kind of breaking down, I am still often stunned with how abuse works not just as a whipping, but as the beginning of a system of beliefs imposed upon children that are based in fear, ignorance, superstition, and the conviction that children are not fully human beings, and as such are not able to comprehend, form values, form healthy ways to bond, and must be separated from facts, consequences, and the big, bad world. They’re going to be a part of the big, bad world; they’re going to confront it, and allowing them to do so with sexuality being a complete mystery is to set them up to fail not just as children, but as humans on this planet.

  13. 16 T
    September 11, 2009 at 15:27

    Five is too young for them to fully understand. And for some govt. official to dictate this to parents will only make things worse. Ideally, sex education at the right time will cut down on unwanted pregnancies and STD’s.

  14. 17 steve
    September 11, 2009 at 15:49

    My God, the lefties are going to star reading them “my two dads” at age 3 now. wow. enough with brainwashing already.

  15. 18 Anthony
    September 11, 2009 at 16:04

    My story when telling my 7 year old when he asked about where babies come from:

    “This is how babies SHOULD be born. When a man loves a woman, they get married and they give each other a special hug, and it’s such a loving hug that the man puts his love into the womans tummy, and the baby starts growing from that.”

    Since then we have watched the discovery channel, and he has watched our Geckos mate, so he knows much more. I had to talk to him about the difference between Humans, and wild animals mating.

    -Anthony, LA, CA

  16. 19 Tom K in Mpls
    September 11, 2009 at 16:26

    No age is to young to teach. But each child is different and no government should ever force force the issue. It is up to the parents to control the pace of education. At least until near the age of puberty. Then things get unclear.

    There are excellent arguments for clinical reproductive education and also about the cause, effect and transmission of diseases before kids hit puberty.

  17. 20 Tom D Ford
    September 11, 2009 at 17:06

    Before the Industrial Revolution, when most of the population were farmers, most children would have learned about sex every year when their livestock bred. So nature provided sex education in a natural way and it was not in any way mysterious. They would even have learned about same sex coupling because heifers do something called “bulling”, they hump each other.

    Now it seem that one of the disadvantages of hundreds of years of “progress” is that natures way of sex education has been left behind and people have forgotten about how children used to learn about sex every year of life since they were born.

    Even a baby being carried by her mother out gathering eggs or milking a cow would have learned about sex from chickens and about how a cow has to become pregnant to start giving milk.

    We have generally become ignorant about sex and we ought to fill in the gap left by “progress”.

    Our current lack of sex education is un-natural.

  18. 21 nora
    September 11, 2009 at 17:50

    Sex is life and death for kids as well as adults. Yes, answer their question and protect them with knowledge.

    Distraction from the dangers of post-AIDS reality with statements about brainwashing by reading ‘my two dads’ shows a lack of seriousness and indifference to the gay teen suicide rate.

  19. 22 Tom D Ford
    September 11, 2009 at 17:57

    I encourage folks to go to the UNESCO site, click on education, and actually check into the news release and then look at the draft guidelines, before leaping to wrong conclusions about. “mandates”.

  20. 23 Tom D Ford
    September 11, 2009 at 18:01

    The real question is why haven’t children already learned about sex by age five like nature intended and provided when people were farmers? Why has natures process of sex education become dysfunctional and lost?

    Even before people farmed, back when humans hunted and gathered, children would have seen the yearly sexual couplings of wild animals, would have helped gather the yearly sexually produced eggs from wild birds, would have learned that sex is natural.

    Our children now are not “innocent”, they are un-naturally ignorant.

  21. 24 Emma
    September 11, 2009 at 18:01

    As a soon-to-be-eight-year-old, if 5 year-olds ask how babies are made they should be told.

  22. 25 John in Salem
    September 11, 2009 at 18:01

    The knowledge itself isn’t a problem – 5 year olds have been learning about sex for millenia – it’s the societies they live in that make it a problem. Your neighbors with their “Christian family values” who don’t think it’s appropriate or the child’s teacher who has been trained to see that awareness as indicative of something sinister.
    The kid can handle it. It’s the rest of the world he lives in that can’t.

  23. 26 David
    September 11, 2009 at 18:53

    What did you know about sex when you were 10? Can you remember? I bet the only thing you knew was that you were either a boy or girl and your friends were both boys and girls.

    I believe 2 years to puberty should be the right time for both parents to carefully tell stories of the opposite sex. This could include people’s feeling, hyiene, diseases, footbal, soccar, netball, fishing, dancing etc.

  24. 27 Stefanie
    September 11, 2009 at 19:36

    Why not? Children are much more perceptive and aware than we give them credit for. Children are having sex, and girls are becoming pregnant at very young ages (at least in the U.S.) I believe this is in part due to the fact that boys and girls don’t understand sex, masturbation, pregnancy, and the like.

    Additionally, I think knowledge about sex, etc. at a young age will help young girls understand their rights and their bodies. Women, even girls, who know the difference between consensual vs. non-consensual sex are more likely to say “no” or tell someone when they are being exploited.

    So, we will only know the benefits/detriments to sex education at a young age if we implement it! If anything, in the United States it can’t be worse than abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sexual education!

  25. 28 steve
    September 11, 2009 at 19:38

    Should we teach 5 year olds how to play with matches? You’ll create an interest in something they wouldn’t have at that age by teaching it, hence you’re creating a problem by doing that. 5 year olds do not think at all about sex.

    • 29 johnqeniac
      September 12, 2009 at 16:32

      beautiful. If your child asks about sex tell him or her it’s like playing with matches. dangerous. perverse. evil. a good way to create a pyromaniac.

  26. 30 Alan in Arizona
    September 11, 2009 at 20:09

    I’ve always felt knowledge is power. When a child has an intelligent question you give them an intelligent answer. That doesn’t mean describing the sexual act at 5 years old. It means explaining the circumstances in a way they understand so they are not confused. As they get older they learn a little more about the relationships, acts, consequences and health risks. Children are intelligent knowledgeable sponges, but we can’t give them more to absorb than they can handle. But lying and giving them false or incomplete information, we only lead them to problems, misunderstandings and end up with children who don’t know how to treat each other as they grow up. As responsible parents it’s up to us to guide our children with love, knowledge and by setting a proper example. Children need to know at an early age that each gender is special, unique and equal to the other. That doesn’t mean knowing everything about sex at 5 years old. It means knowing the truth for a 5 year old.

  27. 31 jamily5
    September 11, 2009 at 20:11

    five year olds really don’t want to know about sex. when they want to know about babies and where they come from, it is not an opening for sex education. It is just a wondering about how a baby got inside a woman’s tummy. Telling them about sex is taking their innocence, as well as giving them way too much information. Some might say that children should have all of the information that adults have. I say: children really don’t want that information and yes, they are not able or interested in understanding about sex.
    Sure, farm children learn about sex, but it was in a very natural way. And, still, parents did not go into a long lecture about sex, they just kept their answers short and the child learned gradually. My question is:
    Why is the UN involved and what is their possible goal? As if they can tell every parent when it is appropriate time to talk about sex? Don’t they have other things to worry about?

  28. 32 Jennifer
    September 11, 2009 at 20:50

    Re: If anything, in the United States it can’t be worse than abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sexual education!

    What do people have against abstinence? If anything, consider all of the STDs and risks out there to those who have unprotected sex. Nothing should make someone feel more secure than abstinence because it’s the ONLY way to 100% prevent unwanted pregnancy and STDs. Yet, we want 5 year old children to know about sex, what it is, birth control, access to it, etc. At 5 years old? So, what we are saying is that we are giving the kids the keys to the car and allowing them to take off on the freeway.

    Children are having sex because they are not told it’s OK to wait. They are bombarded with sexually imagery every day for $. We have organizations that encourage sexual activity by giving “access” to sex education, birth control, that will help you deal with your “mistake”, etc. Yet, there is not anyone stating to kids that the more sexual partners they have the more at risk they are for contracting a std. Every time they have sex with someone; they are sleeping with everyone that person has slept with too.

  29. 33 Thomas Murray
    September 11, 2009 at 21:36

    I’m with Halima on this one.

    Parents mustn’t force this kind of discussion on toddlers. The prospect can be a little scary for them and could engender a morbid (and unhealthy) fixation on the topic.

    When they ask where babies come from, tell them; but give them the cliff notes version. I asked when I was about five or so, and mom got out the encyclopedia and told me with much clinical detail where babies did, indeed, originate.

    She did not tell me, however, how they got there.

    I learned that the normal way. In middle school gym class.

    –Louisville, Kentucky, US.

  30. 34 Will, British Columbia
    September 11, 2009 at 22:07

    We don’t read Shakespeare in kindergarten but that doesn’t mean we don’t teach children how to read. Sex education at an early age isn’t something to be afraid of because its a part of life and the more children know and learn over time the better. Look at the high rates of std’s and teen pregnancy in the United States, the spread of aids in africa, could early education help reduce this trend? I’m willing to think so.

  31. 35 Dennis Junior
    September 11, 2009 at 23:17

    Question: Where does the United Nations opinion matters with all due respect on the issue of a 5-year-old needs to know sex….

    =Dennis Junior=

  32. 36 Tom D Ford
    September 12, 2009 at 00:05

    @ jamily5
    September 11, 2009 at 20:11

    “…Why is the UN involved and what is their possible goal?”

    The want to prevent the kind of problems that Sarah Palin and her daughter have, among many others.

    I really encourage you to look up and read what UNESCO says and read the draft of the guidelines, they will answer your questions.

    • 37 Jennifer
      September 14, 2009 at 12:53

      So, you are one of the many that inaccurately believes that Sarah Palin believes in abstinence only sex education. My advice to you is that you go look at statistics for teenage pregnancy. Sarah Palin’s daughter wasn’t the first and she will not be the last to get pregnant during her teenage years. You can educate all you want but you must deal with this notion of people thinking that it’s not possible or acceptable to abstain. Sadly for Bristol Palin; like him or not, she’s attached to a hairball for the rest of her life because she has a son with him. I do hope he grows up sometime and starts being a parent.

      Instead of teaching 5 year old children about sex you need to allow them to be children. As they mature; you need to teach them self worth and the very real risks involved with having sex and that sex should not be taken lightly. It’s not a game; decisions you make regarding it can impact your life forever.

  33. 38 Kathleen Staunton
    September 12, 2009 at 00:18

    Give me a break. Someone at the U.N. is hanging around thinking about talking to five-year old children about sex? What a fantasy!

  34. 39 Samuel
    September 12, 2009 at 01:22

    Sexuality education is not something we can shy away from because its need can surface at any point from when a child is conscious of happenings in its environment. Nothing stops a 3-year-old boy from asking his parent why his twin sister has genitals different from his, a wise response would be that ‘she is a girl and you are a boy’. The nitty-gritty should be held up until children start studying ‘the reproductive system’ in biology at school.

  35. 40 Tom D Ford
    September 12, 2009 at 01:44

    Well, as usual, the way it sorts out is that non-conservatives believe education is a good idea and conservatives believe that keeping kids ignorant is the way.

    How has that worked for you so far, Conservatives?

    I never cease to be astounded by the power of ignorance and fear.

    Oh well, its just their kids who pay the price, isn’t it?

    • 41 Tom K in Mpls
      September 13, 2009 at 15:19

      Ok, you make the assumption that Conservatives are wrong. I would like to see clear proof. From what I have see there are many on both the political left and right that get this wrong. Are you possibly forgetting that the Human Factor means more than narrow political views? Or are you just protecting a philosophy that requires no thought?

  36. September 12, 2009 at 10:42

    When ninety nine percent of adults have not a clue about sex what chance five year olds?

  37. 43 Uchefe Atuyota
    September 12, 2009 at 12:43

    Yeah, soon we will be explaining to a 1 year old how to have coitus, then we will all be dandier for it. Tell me the “ignorance” of the 19th century youth and the “awareness” of the 21st century youth, are the two era in comparison in terms of morality, and the proliferation of reproductive health related issues. Every time the world lowers the bar on morality, the society slips further. Freedom is good and essential to develop a society, but it does not mean we must sacrifice decency on its altar.

  38. 44 James Ian
    September 12, 2009 at 13:29

    I have a five year old daughter who loves being a kid, she doesn’t want to grow up. Why would I want to ruin the innocents and happiness of being a child for her. She has a whole lifetime ahead of her to learn about such things. When she asks I’m sure she and my wife can have an age appropriate conversation about it. My point is why ruin childhood for her. We just tell her that no one should touch her in certain places and if someone tries too, loudly tell them NO and immediatly come tell her mother and father.

  39. 45 theMook
    September 12, 2009 at 13:50

    it’s sad to me that this world is so obsessed with sex that this is even an issue.

  40. 46 Miyamoto Musashi
    September 12, 2009 at 13:51

    This is another example of adults completely forgetting what childhood is. This pernicious robbing children of their childhoods must stop. In America, we have seen it start with schools robbing children of recess, regimenting them in more invasive ways. As adults become more controlling, projecting their own issues on “arranging” their children’s childhood, they put more and more adult concepts on their children. After one, the control freaks look for another. You can bet adults with their own perverse sexual issues are at the core of this. They are abusing their children and don’t even realize it. Leave the children alone! Let children have a childhood!

  41. 47 smith
    September 12, 2009 at 13:54

    its a 50:50 thing, i think it should not be thought because it would endanger young teenager the most

  42. 48 Victor
    September 12, 2009 at 14:00

    I knew quite a lot about sex from a very early age. Certainly younger than any of my friends. I’m not really sure how it happened but any question I had was answered in a way that was appropriate to my age, while being accurate. I also had access to quite a lot of books such as a large junior encyclopedia, informaiton leaflets in doctor’s waiting rooms, etc. I remember asking my Mum why one of my friends thought that babies came from a cabbage!
    It also contributed to an interest in both biology in general and spirituality. I was never told of any connection between sex and spirituality but came accross some books which dealt with that connection and it seemed to make good sense. And viewpoint served me very well when I did finally begin to engage in sex, much later. When sex education was offer at my school at about 12 years old, I found it very interesting but knew most of it already. I remember ask if it hurts 🙂 … teacher gave a very honest answer.
    In my teens, I would definitely say that this knowledge greatly influenced me towards delaying having sex. I say it as both very special spiritually and a great risk in terms of the potential of suddenly becoming a parent!

    • 49 Halima
      September 12, 2009 at 16:42

      thank you for that comment, Victor. I think you are right. Having knowledge is having power over something for yourself. It is one thing to say do not destroy innocence, but another thing when innocence is in danger already to keep someone in ignorance.

  43. 50 Dennis Junior
    September 12, 2009 at 16:11


    I read the New York Times link, and, I am in complete agreement with this idea of guidelines about children knowing about under this ONE RULE===Age accepted protocols…

    =Dennis Junior=

  44. 51 KOLADE
    September 12, 2009 at 17:13

    I think there are issues of more importance than discussing the young ones and sex. By the way somebody should attempt to define what is meant by “SEX EDUCATION” comprehensively so that responses would not be out of context.

  45. 52 Negegir
    September 13, 2009 at 07:57

    Children are very curious and like practicing what they are tought, And teaching them about sex as early as the age of 5 means encouraging them to practice sex as early as they were tought.

  46. September 14, 2009 at 10:15

    I just read through the UN Review of Sex, Relationships and HIV Education in Schools. No where does it say that sex education should start at five years old. It does mention that sex ed has been taught in the fifth, six, and seventh grade successfully. It is good to start then because many girls don’t have the opportunity to go on to middle and high school.

    I wonder how the teaching sex ed to “five year olds” came from started?

    September 14, 2009 at 10:32

    At age 5, its a waste of time to think of initiating a sex educations on most kids. Sex has no meaning to them because even physically and psychologically they are not yet ready for such a specialized subject and may even hamper their exploration minds which is preoccupied by fascination with the world around them and on how to relate. Of interest to them is primarily rewards, punishment and etiquette which prepare them for social responsibilities. Its bad enough to recommend sex education as if it is general vaccination required by everyone. Children are never exploited by their peers but by grown ups and these are the ones that ought to be instructed about sex so that they can guide successive generations on it.

    I learned sex from older kids and not from my parents. Successive learning came from school and through my other explorations. Our parents knew us psychologically and were rightly able to guide and intervene whenever something was bound to go wrong. They achieved this with significant amount of success.

  48. September 15, 2009 at 07:25

    Why do adults always think they know better instead of themselves learning from their children? All adults know is what their own parents, teachers, preachers and other such ignorant creatures have brain-washed them with. While children get their knowledge from within themselves and the desire to know.

  49. 57 Hector Simfukwe
    March 29, 2010 at 07:59

    Am a former student of Journalism at Evelyn Hone College in Zambia.I feel you people who are pushing that children are given sex education have an hidden agenda which we in Africa do not know.

    Can we please respect other peoples culture especially Africans.I don not agree with you

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