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Talking with Kids About Sex

Even the most authoritative parents can be reduced to blathering blobs of babble when the topic is s-e-x. Yet, educators agree that only parents can communicate family values in addition to accurate information when the ...

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Even the most authoritative parents can be reduced to blathering blobs of babble when the topic is s-e-x. Yet, educators agree that only parents can communicate family values in addition to accurate information when the subject is sexual health and safety. If you're scared to death to talk about sex with your pre-teen, you're not alone. Not only do most parents dread talking about sex, most kids are anxious too. The guidelines listed below may make the task easier.

When should I talk to my child about sex?
Believe it or not, you're getting your child ready to talk about sex from birth. Whenever you name parts of the body or help children with self-care skills like using the toilet and bathing, you're setting the stage for more in-depth discussions about sex. Most child development experts believe it's important to talk about sexual health and safety in some detail before puberty. So, plan on talking with your child while he or she is in third grade or earlier. After the "big talk," be prepared to continue talking with your child as they enter puberty, begin dating and have questions. Look for teachable moments like school assignments, news reports, movies or children's questions when there is a golden opportunity to share information, advice and your values.

What should I talk about?
It's important to provide accurate, age-appropriate information that your child can understand and handle emotionally. Use the correct terminology for anatomy and sexual behavior and keep the door open for any topic. Parents should be prepared to discuss the following topics:

 The changes that will occur during puberty
 Reproductive systems in both sexes
 Sexual health and hygiene
 Sexual intercourse, including oral sex
 Forms of sexual behavior besides intercourse, such as necking, petting, masturbation, outercourse (achieving orgasm with clothes on)
 Male-female relationships including the differences in sexual urges of boys and girls, dating and violence in male-female relationships
 Possible negative physical and emotional consequences of sexual intercourse like sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, the emotional fallout when a sexual relationship ends
 Sexual orientation

How do I talk to my child about sex?
There is no right way to talk about sex. What's important is that you are willing to do it. Here are some ideas that can help make the talk less agonizing and more productive.

 Determine your feelings and values. It's O.K. to tell your kid you're uncomfortable and that you would like him to postpone sex.

 Get accurate information, but don't worry if you don't know it all. It's fine to say, "I don't know the answer to that question. Let's check it out together."

 Choose a time and setting that is comfortable for both of you and free from interruptions and distractions.

 Use books or videos if they help you communicate accurate information and your values.

 Be a good listener. Acknowledge and accept the child's feelings.

 Leave the door open for future conversations. Tell your child, "I'm glad we were able to talk and I look forward to talking again."

Parenting is a tough job and talking about sex with your son or daughter can be really tough. Because you are the expert on your child, you're the best person for the job.

Source: Tim Jahn, Human Development Specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County