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Overview

In our society, your child will read, hear and learn about sex, no matter what you do. At times you may feel alarmed by the amount of sexual information that your child will come into contact with, whether on television, the Internet or through their peers.

It's important to remember that you can still be a large part of their sexual education. As a parent, you have the ability to give them the tools to make their own healthy and safe sexual decisions as well as to look critically at messages about sex that your child may be receiving in their daily life. How? Create an open and honest dialog with your child that enables comfortable discussion about sexual health topics.

There is no evidence that learning about sex leads to more sexual behavior or earlier sexual experimentation. In fact, studies have shown that children who have parents that give them honest information about sex have healthier sex lives. You are still a large part of your child's life and if you choose to give your child and yourself the respect you both deserve, your words can go a long way in starting them down a path of safe, healthy and enjoyable sexuality.

Be Honest
Honesty is one of the most important things to remember when discussing sex with anyone. It might feel uncomfortable and awkward, but being honest and open will benefit both you and your child immensely. You can have mutually respectful, age-appropriate and educational discussions about sex. Resist the urge to ignore the topic of sex or oversimplify answers to your child's questions. Acknowledge the nervousness and awkwardness you both may feel. Let your child know you are committed to being honest about all facets of sex with them and that you expect the same from them. Your actions and words will be an example and can hopefully compel your child to be honest and respectful with you as well.

Avoid Fear and Shame
Sex is a natural and healthy part of life. Even if the thought of your child ever having sex terrifies you, avoid using scare tactics or embarrassment to teach your child. This will cause them to equate sex with bad, uncomfortable feelings. Children who have been taught to equate sex with shame may rarely ask questions, even when they need help. Talking to them about sex in a positive way can make them feel intelligent and in control of their body and sexuality, which can lead to a lifetime of self-confidence, sexual and otherwise.

Listen
Never have a one-sided conversation about sex! Always ask your child what they think about the topics you are discussing. Ask what they have already learned and how they feel about the topics. Asking these questions first can let you get an idea of where your child stands. It can show that you respect them as a person and encourage honesty, allowing you to tailor your discussions to their needs. Don't interrupt or chastise if you don't agree with them, let them finish and leave those discussions for later. Your child may not agree with all of your ideas about sex, especially as they become teenagers, and this might be understandably upsetting to you. Despite this, allow your child to articulate their beliefs without judgment. This will allow you to better understand your child and to more easily explain your thoughts. By listening you will probably learn quite a few things about your child, their views and the state of sexuality in their peer groups.

Plan Ahead
As early as possible, think about your ideas and values about sex and sexuality. Writing this down may help:

  • Think about growing up and how it felt.
    • Did you hate or love your changing body? Did you develop early or late?
  • Think your sexual experiences and what you did or didn't enjoy.
    • Did you feel unprepared for dating and sex? Were you eager to start experimenting?
  • Think about your morals and those of your family and community.
    • Does your religion influence your views about sex? Do you disagree with some sexual practices?
  • Think about what you wish you had been told as a child or teenager.
    • Were you terrified when you had your first period or wet dream? Did you feel comfortable talking to your parents about sex?

Now think about how you want to pass on these ideas to your child. Think about what you want them to know as well as how and when you want them to learn it. Make a loose timeline. When do you think it is appropriate to teach your child about orgasms? Birth control? Sexual assault?

Remember that even your best-laid plans will go awry and be prepared to deal with that. Children will ask about sex earlier or later than you expect, they will ask surprising questions and they will be confronted with difficult situations. Realize that you cannot orchestrate every piece of your child's sexual education, but by thinking about your own views on sex and deciding how you want to discuss them with your child in advance, you will be better prepared for whatever situation may arise.

Do Research
You may not remember everything from your high school biology class. New methods of birth control may have gone on the market, sexual trends have changed and statistics about sexually transmitted diseases are different than they were even a year ago. Before you can empower your child to make responsible and healthy sexual decisions, you should be sure you know the facts yourself.

Do some research. Read books about talking to kids and teens about sex and review the facts of sexual biology, safer sex and sexually transmitted diseases. Take out books from the library, use the resources available on the Internet and talk to your and your child's doctors. Internet sites like those for the Center for Disease Control ( www.cdc.gov ) and the World Health Organization ( www.who.int ) are great resources for finding up-to-date statistics on sexual health. Talk to other adults about how they learned about sex and ask other parents how they tackle this issue in their homes. Talk with the teacher of your child's sexual education or health class and ask what they will be learning, so you can discuss the lessons with your child as a jumping-off point. Always make sure your information is medically accurate and up-to-date.

If your child asks a question you don't know the answer to, don't avoid it or lie, be honest in admitting your ignorance and try and find the correct answer with your child. This can be a learning experience for both of you.

Talk Often
Many parents take a "Birds And The Bees" approach to discussing sex with their children. This is when sex education comes in the form of a lecture that attempts to convey all sexual knowledge at once.

Frankly, this is not the best way for parents to talk about sex with their children. Many small, casual discussions about sex over the years is a much more healthy and helpful method. This allows lines of communication to open between parent and child, making these conversations less awkward for both parties. It also allows your child to feel more comfortable asking questions because the topic is not uncommon. Making age-appropriate books about sex available in the house is another way to keep discussions about sex flowing.