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Talking With Your Kids About Sex

Sex Education for Parents

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Updated March 30, 2008

Most parents have lots of questions about when to start talking about sex with their children, how much they have to say, how much information is too much, and where to go for answers when they don’t know them. Talking with your kids about sex is never easy, but giving your child honest, straightforward information about sexual health is the best way to support them in having a healthy sexual life, including protecting them from unwanted pregnancies and STDs .

Below are answers to some of the commonly asked questions along with resources and tips that might help you navigate the murky waters of talking with your kids about sex.

Do I have to talk to my child about sex?

Certainly many parents never talk with their children about sex, and many of us were raised without ever getting sex education at home. But that doesn't mean there aren't many good reasons to talk with your kids about sex.

When should sex education start?

While there is no one answer to what age you should start talking about sex with your kids, it’s probably true to say that it’s earlier than you think. Sexuality is an intrinsic part of who we are, from birth to death. And while our sexuality isn’t the same when we’re six as when we’re sixteen, or sixty, it is always there and always a part of us. So the question isn’t so much when to start talking with your children about sex, but how to do it at every age and stage of their lives.

How do I know I’m doing it right? What makes for good sex education?

Lessons about sex can happen anytime, anywhere and with anyone. But all sex education is not created equal. There are a few key elements to good sex education that anyone can follow, whether you’re a parent, a friend, or a teacher.

I’ve never talked to my kids about sex before. Where should I start?

There’s no one way to do it, and many parents dive right in and do just fine. There are some common strategies and equally common pitfalls to avoid when talking with your kids about sex. Also, what you say, and how you say it, should depend on where you child is at:

Is one approach to sex education better than another?

Nothing about sex education happens in a social or moral vacuum. The short answer to your question is that, from an evidence-based approach, there is no question that comprehensive sex education is more effective at keeping children safe than abstinence-only sex education. Most sex education has as one of its goals helping kids delay sexual experimentation until they are ready for it. It is impossible for me to tell you what is right for you and your children. But I can say that research consistently shows that teaching kids about sex does not make them have sex more, or earlier, and I can also tell you that if your children don’t know how to keep themselves safe, they are very unlikely to be able to keep themselves safe. From that perspective more education is better than less.

What websites do you recommend I look at for sex education resources?

There are several excellent website and books that are worth checking out whether you’ve already started talking with your kids about sex, or are anticipating the first conversation.

My kids are getting older, how should I deal with nudity in the home?

This is a very common question I get from parents, even when they have very young children. Whether you're comfortable with nudity in the home or not, there is a perception that there must be some developmental point at which it sends the "wrong message". The truth is no such point exists, and as with most sex education issues, it's most important to be reasonable and consistent, and let your values guide your actions.
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