I have a friend with a child of about 10 year old girl. She shared an experience about dealing with her child. The girl seems recently picked up a word "impotent". She asked her parents the meaning of it, parents shied away from explaining it to her. To continue her quest she asked one of her school teacher. The teacher being about 27-30 years old or so also shied away. Not only the girl could not get answer, but her sister ridiculed the girl for asking such question.

the parents/teacher just could have explained the meaning or if uncomfortable could have directed her to Dictionary. or what is the correct age for the children to ask such question?

  • 5
    The whole notion of "taboo" if flawed. Any topic can and should be explained in an age appropriate and truthful way to a child that's asking about it. If they are curious about it they will find an answer somehow and most sources are a lot worse than parents or teachers.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 16:20
  • 2
    Why should "impotent" be tied to a male problem, for starters? Impotent is someone who can't achieve a certain thing. Just use the normal, not sexual meaning for it. Someone can be impotent as in lacked strength to save a loved one, for example.
    – T. Sar
    Commented Jan 10, 2017 at 16:53

8 Answers 8


Keeping in mind that 2 of the 3 meanings of the word "impotent" are non-sexual, you could have likely explained it to a 3-year old.

Personally, I would've had no problems explaining the third meaning to my 5-year old either.

10 year olds who still know nothing about sex to me sounds like they're being raised by prudes, and especially from a teacher that sounds like a really bad course of action. The child is curious, and if everyone says "we don't talk about that", she's going to end up looking for the answer in all the worse places.

  • 4
    A ten-year-old who still knows nothing about sex is being raised in isolation. If nothing else, kids that age are picking up a lot of information, frequently incorrect, from playground rumors.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 20:09
  • 3
    Yes, both in isolation and by prudes.
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 24, 2016 at 21:43
  • 5
    By that age, if I asked my mom what a word meant, she would hand me a dictionary. Didn't really matter the word and it taught me to find answers for myself too.
    – adeady
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 18:55
  • 3
    And anyway, an impotent man is just a man who cannot have children because of an illness - five year old can understand it. And probably tell them that calling someone impotent is considered very, very rude in a very, very unfunny way.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 22:55
  • @mark playground rumors is too optimistic. Kids that age have learned about sex from porn. In my experience working with kids about 90% of children will have viewed porn as soon as they reach puberty, and for girls that is around 10.
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 21:06

Any question that starts "What is the correct age ..." can be answered with "whenever your child is ready".

Here, the correct age to talk about words is as soon as the child asks about those words. You can make almost anything age appropriate.

In this example I'd ask where she heard or read the word, and provide the correct meaning in that context. If she says

"I was reading, and it said 'Bob was impotent with rage', and I didn't know what that meant", well, it's easy enough to answer that.

Children will gradually become aware of the world of sex. This is an opportunity for you to provide context, to explain that some things are just what's shown in adverts or tv shows and are not really what happens to most people in real life.

  • 2
    +1 for asking about context. Don't jump to conclusions...
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 12:33

Always answer your child's questions*

It's rude to skirt around someone's question. Most children are smarter than the adults around them and should be treated with respect.

The correct age for a child to ask these types of questions and the correct age for a parent to answer them is when they are asked. It's a great learning experience, and a chance to introduce appropriate and inappropriate words and ways words can be used.

The issue is how you answer, to not impose judgement or bias, and to answer in a specific context.

  • A curse or sexual word is still just a word--it has a definition, so tell them
  • If it is a word they should not use, explain why (e.g. "this word means something uncomfortable to grown ups and it is mean to use it to talk about people or things. A better word to use is [...]")
  • If they heard the word from you, explain why you used it and/or shouldn't have used it ("Daddy shouldn't have said that. He was very upset that he dropped a bowling ball on his foot, but he still should have used a nicer word.")
  • Don't punish a kid for something you do too and modeled for them

*unless it's not your child. Then use your best judgement to not overstep on someone else's parenting.

  • How would you explain the words "rape" or "suicide" to a 6 year old?
    – user19912
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 1:20
  • 1
    Well it would depend on the child how you word it, but suicide="someone was really sad and killed themselves" and rape="someone forcing someone else to do a grown up thing when they said no". Again, dependent on the child's current knowledge and understanding. It might be uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean you don't have to answer. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 3:38
  • Rape (in my words to a child who asked): when someone physically touches or hurts another person against their wishes. Followed up with an age-appropriate lesson. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 3:40
  • Suicide: when a person kills themselves. Also followed up with an age-appropriate lesson. Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 3:41
  • 1
    I agree with this commenter 100%. Answer your child's questions because if you don't, they'll inevitably ask someone else and you may not like the answer someone else gives your child... Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 3:42

The correct age for a child to ask a question is whenever there is something the child doesn't know and wants to know the answer for. Of course for some ages it may be hard to give an appropriate answer, but the question is appropriate.

For this particular word, it is easy to explain to a ten year old in an appropriate way. 10 year old may be a bit young to explain all the details, but you can give a rough description - "it's a man you cannot have children because they are not completely healthy". If parents and school teacher can't give this simple explanation for the word, that's quite sad. And the (presumably older) sister who (presumably knew the meaning and) ridiculed the girl, that's equally bad.

There are probably question that cannot be answered to a ten year old in an appropriate way - in that case you can always say "you are ten year old, at your age you shouldn't know this word yet, and you are too young that I could explain it to you" - ten years is an age where that kind of answer is understandable to the child, even if unsatisfactory.

  • 2
    When I was 6, my uncle died. My cousin was crying and told me that now she was a bastard. I explained that to my mum over dinner and was then given the definitions of the word bastard. If it is being used in any capacity, knowing what it means is important!
    – WRX
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 0:43

I think not telling the truth and answering questions is a great disservice to our children. I can not think of anything I would be unwilling to discuss with my child. Sure, take care how you approach explanations, but lack of knowledge is far more precarious than knowing things.

I have a friend who was a parent at 14. Her parents did not think she was 'old enough' for sexually explicit explanations and voila -- she was unprepared.

When I was six, my friend told our class that dogs got puppies by rubbing noses. She was ridiculed for months. Hardly serious -- but knowledge is power.

"Where did I come from?" Know what they want to know. From India? From Mummy's tummy?

I think honesty is always the best idea, unless you have a very specific reason and you've thought about what could happen when the truth comes out.


I think this depends on rather you are the parent or not of the child.

1. If you are the parent.

If you are the parent I suggest answering the question fully from the moment it asked. There is never an age that is too young if the child is asking the question, and sometimes it's worth volunteering some words that they aren't asking about, like Penis and vagina, and teaching them as well.

I suggest this for many reasons, partially because I feel that honesty is a great thing and encourage using it whenever possible with kids. However, I also think these taboos are quite harmful to children, especially in the modern age. Taboos lead children to be unable or unwilling to ask parents about things they need to know about as they grow older, and ultimately can lead to the kids making mistakes because they have to learn about these things through experimentation or have false information from some school yard rumor they thought was correct. To treat topics, particularly sexual ones, as taboo now increases the odds of STD and unintended pregnancy when they child is old enough to be curious about sex and has limited useful information for it and do not feel comfortable asking parents or other trustworthy adults about it.

This example is pretty trivial, lack of knowledge about what impotent means is not going to lead to a child making mistakes later in life. However, treating it as a taboo teaches the child that they can't ask you about certain subjects which they have questions about. It starts a pattern of silence and disconnect that makes a child feel unable to come to the parent when they have important questions like deciding when their ready to have sex or wanting to be on birth control because they 'know' they can't talk to their parents about sex. If, instead, the parent answers the questions clearly and without hesitation or concern, at a level the child can understand, the child learns that they can talk to their parent about anything. It's a small step towards keeping the dialog open with the child when they are young so that they can discuss more important things later.

Thus if I was her parent and she asked I would explain it means someone is not able to do something they want to (the general definition) with some examples. I then would also add that when used to refer to a man it may mean the man has trouble having children/getting his wife pregnant (if they are really young, and aren't ready to understand all the detail of sex) or they have trouble having sex (if they are 10 and old enough to be able to understand more detail and I've already hopefully given them at least a brief understanding of the idea that sex is how someone has a child). I'd allow the girl to ask questions from there and answer them, elaborating on specifics when/if the child asked, letting them determine how much more detail they want and feel capable of understanding.

2. Not the Parent

If you are not the parent then I would be very cautious, because you don't know how the parents feel about these sort of words and concepts. I've volunteered with allot of kids and ran into parents that range from new-age hippy to ultra-conservative. I've had kids tell me they didn't dress up for Halloween because it made baby Jesus cry and girls who didn't know what their period was when it happened.

Unfortunately when you are not the parent you need to act with an extra level of caution to not do something that violates the parents since of right and wrong. A child may go back to the parent and describe what you taught them, and it may get translated by the child in a way to make it sound far worse, or the parents may simply be so uptight they would be offended about your giving any answer. Thus it's best to not be as forthright unless you know the parents and are confident they would not take offense at your giving an honest answer.

So if I were the girls teacher I would explain the other meanings of impotent, lack of potency, but simply neglect to address the sexual meaning. This would likely suffice, but if they child was asking in such a way that I couldn't neglect addressing the other meaning in context I would be tempted to do what the teacher did and send her to check the dictionary; though I would try to play it up as a learning exercise rather then because it was a taboo I was avoiding answering if at all possible. I wouldn't like having to be less forthright with the child, but when your in a role of guardian for others children you have to be very cautious about this and it's safest not to risk offense.


One size doesn't fit all. Also one age is not correct for all.

As others point out, there is no a single 'correct age to discuss words', there only is a correct or incorrect (also appropriate or inappropriate to the age) way of explaining words when a child asks.

A taboo is something everyone knows but no one talks about. So the child will also know it some day. It's up to you adults, as parents or teachers, to provide a safe and correct way of learning the word (1), as well as explaining that (2) and possibly why (3) the word is 'forbidden'.

1, 2 and 3 may but sometimes needn't be explained at the same time.


Here's a personal anecdote

When I was about 5, my mother and I were travelling on a crowded bus through the countryside. I saw two pigs in a field - one had climbed on the back of the other and seemed to be doing some kind of dance.

I said loudly to my mother, "What are those pigs doing?"

My mother hesitated and looked a little embarrassed, she said, "They are mating".

At that age I had heard that some animals "mate for life" and for me that just meant the pigs would stay together as a couple. I had no concept of mating being about something called sex.

I just said, "Oh", and believing that the pigs were now married, thought no more of it.

The point is that children will ask within the sphere of their knowledge. They don't need a complete biology lesson. If they have further questions they will ask.

All that is needed is a simple answer. As suggested by others, first ask the context - it might not be about sex. If you decide that it is, then say something straightforward.

For example:

If a man is impotent, it usually means that he can't have babies. There are other meanings but I think this is the one you mean, am I right?

Then see where the conversation goes from there. The child will only ask what already makes some kind of sense within their current sphere of knowledge.


If they don't hear it from a reliable source, they will hear from other children. I remember being told at school by another child that the word "f*ck" meant that a man pees inside a woman. It sounded horrible so I quite understood why it was considered a dirty word! Children get some weird ideas from hearing gossip from their peers.

P.S. Why did I remember the incident with the pigs? It was simply that my mother seemed embarrassed. I thought it strange at the time but never asked why. It was only years later that the penny dropped.

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