It's Never Too Early or Too Late to Talk With Your Kids About Sex
Parents can help children and adolescents have physically healthy and emotionally satisfying relationships. In a recent survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control more than 50% of students in grades 9 through 12 reported having had sexual intercourse. Yet, only 54% of those who were sexually active used condoms, leaving them vulnerable to pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. These statistics highlight the need for parents to help their children navigate the treacherous waters of teenage sexuality.
Ideally, parents should begin answering questions about sex as they arise in a manner appropriate for the child's age. Preschoolers are often curious about the differences in anatomy between boys and girls or how babies come out of a mother's body. If parents enable children to ask questions about their bodies, then children accumulate knowledge at a comfortable pace. This sets the stage for future discussions concerning the more intimate physical and emotional details of sexual relations.
Even with the best foundation in communication, discussing sex can be difficult for both teens and parents. Young teens, whose bodies and relationships with peers are rapidly changing, may feel too embarrassed to speak about what is happening to them. Some parents feel anxious using anatomical language or discussing sex in general. Parents who are honest about their own discomfort put both themselves and their children at ease, making it less awkward to talk about sensitive issues. The sexualized images and messages commonly portrayed in movies, television shows, books, magazine and songs can also help parents facilitate conversations about sexuality.
Generally, it is easier for children to have conversations about sex with a parent of the same gender. Single parents with a child of opposite gender need to gauge their child's comfort level. When it is clear that a teen needs to speak with someone of the same gender, a single parent can ask a close relative or friend to step in. To avoid confusing teens, parents and their substitutes need to discuss their perspectives about sexuality in advance and agree on the message to be communicated.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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