This post includes mature content, and is written for parents.
Sex ed is being discussed more and more, both in the media and at home. From abstinence to proactive protection, more parents than ever are making a point to answer their kids’ questions at home. Whether you are a stay-at-home parent, or a CEO of a fortune 500 company, keeping the dialogue open (not just about sex!) with your kids is the best way to maintain a familial bond.
This guide is for the 21st Century parent, looking to educate children of all ages, including older teens. Each of these books has a suggested age range; please keep that in mind before bringing one of these books into discussions with your kids.
1. What’s the Big Secret? by Laurie Krasny Brown
Appropriate age: 4+
Approach: Best used to begin the conversation.
Answering questions such as “How do you tell girls and boys apart?” and “Is sex a dirty word?”, What’s the Big Secret? covers only the basics. It is a great resource for young families, and is one of the easiest ways to start a real, if simple, conversation. When you read this with your youngster, you will begin the most important dialogue of your child’s life. In the end, knowledge is both power and a journey, and this book is the welcome mat on your way out the door.
2. It’s Not the Stork! by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
Appropriate age: Around 5+, use your judgement.
Approach: Quality reading time, and answering questions.
This is a great resource for answering young children’s questions. The text in this book is moderately explicit, using terms such as penis and vagina, but has no explicit images. The adults do things “under the covers” in the illustrations, but the text does not evade answering questions. Advertised for kids as young as 4, remember to use your judgement. If nothing else, it’s a great book for the first “talk.”
3. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle
Appropriate Audience: Around 5+, use your judgement
Aproach: Quality reading time for one-on-one discussion.
Where Did I Come From? has been popular for generations of families. With tasteful but accurate illustrations, kids are introduced to the basics of life. This is a great book for answering enough questions to put off a bigger “talk.” Some readers may be a little taken aback by the level of information provided to young kids, but I encourage its use anyway. It answers all the right questions, and provides a “cute” picture book for learning anatomy. Great for the kindergardener coming home with more questions than you are ready for.
4. It’s So Barely Noticeable! by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Appropriate audience: 6-10
Approach: Quality reading time for one-on-one discussion.
This hilarious little book was a big hit in our house some time ago. Pre-tweens will enjoy reading it, and will get a laugh out of the comic statements made by the children in the book. It is a great book for elementary age kids, and remains a steadfast resource for years. This is mostly a basics book, but it addresses different kinds of love, relationships, and the difference between “love” and “making love.” Easily the best sex ed book for its age group.
5. What’s Happening to Me? by Peter Mayle
Appropriate audience: 9-12
Aproach: Read with your kids, and use the book as a guide for how much to say.
This is a fun book. Using humor, honesty, and sympathy, What’s Happening to Me? grabs the attention of kids, and eases the embarrassment for both kids and parents. The content is humorous, but doesn’t quite rise to the challenge of appealing to teens. It covers both sexes very well, in an accessible format that lets parents slowly tread forward. Most of this content will be covered around fifth grade, so if you are looking to get ahead of the public school education, this is a great resource.
6. It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Appropriate audience: 10+
Aproach: Read some together, then let the book do the talking. Answer questions appropriately.
This is our household favorite. With two pre-teens in the house, we need a no-nonsense book available to keep questions answered (preferably by the book). This thorough guide to changing bodies, growing up, sex, and sexual health does a great job covering all the bases, including embarrassing erections! The newest edition now includes a chapter on the safe use of the Internet. The illustrations are for older kids, but are creative and eye-catching. If you are looking for upfront and non-biased information, this is easily the best bet for anyone over 10. Definitely use your judgement, though. You know what’s best for your kids.
7. What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys by Lynda Madaras
Appropriate audience 11-15
Approach: You read first, present book, answer questions.
This Book for Boys is a great resource for your up-and-coming preteen or teen. Touching on all the bases, including steroids, acne, diet and exercise, romantic feelings, voice changes, and so on; Madaras uses a straightforward and sensitive writing style to deliver information to teens looking for knowledge.
This is also a great tool for parents. While reading it, I learned a bit more about what was happening to me as a teen, learning about topics that weren’t covered well in my public school sex ed classes. Make sure to take note of questions you have while reading this book; likely, your teen will have similar questions.
This book will be an ongoing tool for your teen, proving to be a source of relevant information for many years. It even discusses what puberty is for girls, but as an aside, and written for boys.
8. What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls by Lynda Madaras
Appropriate audience: 11-15
Aproach: You read first, present book, answer questions.
In a similar vein to What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys, this Book for Girls tackles hard topics in an open and sensitive way. Written for pre-teens, What’s Happening to My Body? covers breast development, reproduction, menstruation, growth and growth spurts, body hair, diet and excercise, romantic and sexual feelings, and puberty for boys.
This is a book designed for pre-teens and teens to be able to pick up at their whim to learn at their own pace. If/when you give this book to your child, encourage them to read it, and come to you with any questions. Definitely a book for encouraging independence, your child will read it again and again. Bonus? Single dads, and guys like me–who don’t have sisters, but now have daughters–can read this book to bring themselves on par with the knowledge that is appropriate for their daughters.
9. Sex: A Book for Teens by Nikol Hasler
Appropriate audience: 16+
Aproach: Leave the awkward “talk” behind, and give them the book. Trust me, they’ll read it.
Sub-titled, “An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex, and Safety,” Sex: A Book for Teens is not a light read. Without apology, Hasler tackles masturbation, foreplay, kinds of sex, gender and identity issues, birth control, STDs, and when/how to actually have sex.
Illustrated by Michael Capozzola, the pages practically turn themselves. The relatable and frank writing style encourages teens to know the facts, and then provides all the information they might want. Above all else, this book pushes discretion, safety, and forethought. Leave it in your teen’s room, and the rest takes care of itself.
Sadly, this book is out of print. Keep an eye out for used copies, though, it is a great resource.
10. Sex for Guys by Manne Forssberg
Appropriate audience: 16+
Approach: Throw it at your teen and run away (maniacal laughter optional).
Let’s be frank: Guys talk about sex, sometimes more than they should. For teenage guys, it’s often crass bravado and unapologetic bragging. Unfortunately, those guys don’t really talk about the important stuff. Sometimes, they have questions about things they don’t want to ask about, such as masturbation, pornography, STDs, and sexuality as a whole.
Sex for Guys is a book for all topics, and all questions. With frank and honest information, this book manages to provide information for the inquisitive mind without lecturing. Covering topics from first kisses and the loss of virginity, to the big “O” and gay sex, this is not a book for the faint of heart, and includes blunt and candid quotes from boys and girls discussing their experiences with love and sex.