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by Alicia Guinn

Does the thought of teaching your kid about the birds and the beesmake you quake in your boots? In survey after survey, the greatmajority of American parents claim it's their responsibility to educatetheir kids about sex and sexuality. They also admit that they never getaround to the job.

Comprehensive sex ed gives kids the power to make healthy, happychoices for themselves as adults. Because kids are unlikely to gethonest, sex-positive information from any other source, we've gatheredour favorite tips for helping you talk to your kids about sex.

  1. Be Prepared. This is the most important step! And it's the one that most of us skip.Despite our best intentions to teach our kids about sex, it's easy toprocrastinate, and when we stumble upon our kid playing doctor with theneighbors or masturbating, we often rely on our instincts or what ourparents taught us. The key is to think ahead. As one sex educator says, "You have toact from the assumption that some day your kids are doing to do or saysomething about sexuality that is going to flip you out. It'sinevitable."

  2. Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to

    Think Ahead. Check out some parentingbooks about sexuality like Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids toKnow About Sex, which is an excellent, sex-positive and queer-friendlyguide to raising kids. Sit down and think about your sexual values. How did you learn aboutsex? Do you want your kid's experience to be the same or different?What do you think kids should know about sex? What should adults knowabout sex? Where should they learn this information? What are your ownattitudes toward sex? If you're raising kids with a partner, talktogether about your sexual values, and come to a consensus about theway you'd like to educate your kids.

  3. Talk About Sex. Period. Talking about sex is difficult in a culture that provides us with few,if any, role models. If you have difficulty talking to friends andpartners about sex, talking to your kids is likely to be even moredifficult. Practice talking about sex with your partner or friends. It makes a revolutionarydifference in both your day-to-day and your sex life to have acommunity of friends and other parents in which it's perfectly normalto talk about sex. Start to find vocabulary that seems right to you to use. Brainstormwords and phrases to help you explain sexual issues to your kids. Forexample, a definition like "Sex is adults touching for bodily pleasure"might seems more appropriate than more traditional ways of defining sex.

  4.  Rethink "The Big Talk."Sexuality is such an important part of our lives, one "big talk" isn'tgoing to do the job. Instead of envisioning sex ed as a lecture or setof lectures you give to your kids, think of it as a lifelong learningrelationship. You are a mentor who can give them answers to importantquestions or help them find answers on their own. Take advantage of "teachable moments" throughout your child's life?your friends or family who have a different sexual orientation thanyour own, plots that involve sex in television and movies, pictures ofbirth, a pregnant friend, a preschooler's precocious question. Also, it's important to repeat lessons over and over. We don'texpect kids to learn how to safely cross the street by giving them onebig lecture. Chances are that they'll need more than one talk about sex.

  5.  Expand Your Idea of Sex Ed. Most sex ed curricula sticks to the mechanics of reproduction. And ifyou're lucky, you might learn something about disease transmission,safer sex, and birth control. There are good reasons to teach kids more than those basic themes.American teenagers have the highest rates of STDs in the industrialworld because they've been taught that "sex" is vaginal intercourse.Most of them do not know that oral and anal sex also carry potentialdangers of disease transmission. In our culture, we narrowly define "sex," but some of the mostimportant lessons that kids learn about sexuality have nothing to dowith intercourse or "the sperm and the egg." When we teach kids socialskills?including how to be a good friend?we give them tools fornavigating successful adult relationships. Everyday lessons aboutprivacy, respecting personal boundaries, and consent are all crucial tobuilding a happy, healthy sex life in the future.

  6.  Avoid Adult Think. Kids are literal thinkers, but the traditions of sex ed in our cultureare anything but literal. Lots of us grew up hearing about the birdsand the bees. Or we heard Mr. Rogers sing a song about how "Boys arespecial on the outside. Girls are special on the inside," and we had noidea what it meant. Most likely, our parents thought we were gettinggood, friendly information about the human body. On the other hand, some parents worry that kids might learn "toomuch" too early in their lives and that this knowledge might somehowharm them psychologically. It's important to know that no scientificstudy has found that kids are harmed by honest sex education. In fact, studies show that kids who get solid, comprehensive sexeducation consistently make better choices for themselves as teens andadults, and they consequently have a much lower level of STDs andunintended pregnancy.

  7. Our Bodies, Ourselves

     Be Honest.While it's important to be honest about the information you give yourkids, it's even more important to be honest about how you feel talkingto your kid. If you're happy that your kids come to you with questions,let themknow. On the other hand, if you feel apprehensive talking to your kidsabout sex, it's a good thing to acknowledge that out loud. Try outthese sentences: "I'm kind of embarrassed to talk about sex, but I'mreally glad you asked that question" or "I'm afraid that if I tell youthis, you'll...." You don't have to be the authority about sex in yourkid's life. Ifyou don't know the answer to a question, or feel very uncomfortableanswering one, turn to a helpful reference book like Our Bodies,Ourselves.

  8.  Be Sex Positive. Most of us learn the bare basics of reproduction in sex ed classesalong with the following two lessons: "Don't have sex. You'll get adisease and it'll ruin your life" and "Don't have sex. You'll getpregnant and it'll ruin your life." While we live in a society that floods public spaces with sexyimages to fuel consumerism, there is often no force in our lives totell us that sex is a good, happy, healthy part of growing up. For manyadults, sex is one of the most rewarding and pleasurable aspects oftheir lives, and yet we don't give that message to our kids. Find ways to incorporate sex-positive values in your conversationswith kids. This might include teaching both girls and boys aboutmenstruation, talking about masturbation, being open and accepting ofpeople with different sexual orientations in your own life, definingwords like "orgasm" and "erection," and telling girls where theirclitorises are and how they work.

  9. Share Your Values. Make sure to talk to your babysitter, nanny, or other child careprovider about your sexual values. If you share child care duties withfriends, neighbors, or family members who also have kids, tell themwhat words you use for body parts, and make an action plan with themfor tackling any sexual issues that might come up.

  10. It's Never Too Early. Whether you have a 5-month-old or a 15-year-old, it's never too late ortoo early to talk about sexual issues. Ideally, you should talk to yourkids as soon as possible about bodies and sex. The method of sex ed we've chosen as a society puts off teachingcrucial information about sexuality to younger kids who are unashamedof their bodies and waits until the pre-teen or teenage years. Sadly this is theexact time of life in which most kids are uncomfortable with theirbodies and don't want to have anything to do with adults.

  11. It's Never Too Late. If you've put off talking about sex until the teenage years, yourjob is definitely more difficult, but you shouldn't write off yourresponsibility altogether. It's never too late to say to your kid, "Youknow, I feel really bad that we've never talked about sex. I've beentoo embarrassed to bring it up before.