How and when to talk about sex with your children

Kids are finding out about sex earlier than ever these days. That's why it's important not to delay having those all-important conversations that every parent dreads.

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  • The "sex talk" may be one of the most feared conversations parents know they must have with their children. But despite being a supremely embarrassing topic to get into, it's also one of the most important conversations you'll ever have with your child regarding their future. But you already know how important this topic is, or else you wouldn't be reading this article. So here is what you're looking for: how to address the topic in a way that is timely, clear and as minimally embarrassing as possible.

  • Make it an ongoing "talk"

  • It might relieve you to know that if you start early enough, you'll be able to skip that pivotal, all-encompassing sex talk altogether. Experts like Meg Hickling, a sexual health educator in Vancouver and author of "The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It," says you should start when your kids are quite young, talking about how the body works. Hickling told Today's Parent it starts with naming every body part correctly when kids are young. Avoiding the words "penis" or "vagina" will just lead to confusion and possibly shame when children get older. As your kids age, you'll begin to teach them about modesty and that there are certain parts of the body that are more private than others.

  • Pinpoint your child's golden age

  • No two kids are developmentally and emotionally ready to hear about sex at the same time. However, as soon as your children go to school, even as early as kindergarten and first grade, they may run across information or hear from a friend garbled ideas about what sex is. If you want to beat the world to the punch, you might want to have a little sit-down with your child before he or she starts school. Parenting.com suggests keeping the message short and sweet at this age. Go with something along the lines of: "Sex is one way two people show love for each other. It's a private thing that only adults do." As your kids age and ask more questions, you'll be able to add on more pertinent information. If they have a general idea of how boy and girl anatomy differs, this will make your conversations easier. When it comes to explaining where babies come from, use anatomically correct and direct language. By the time your child is 8, he or she should be able to handle the idea that mommies and daddies fit together, that men produce sperm and women produce eggs, and that when a sperm meets an egg, a baby is made. Again, base the amount of detail you provide on your child's level of maturity.

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  • Be straightforward

  • The best way to avoid embarrassment is to be straightforward about the topic and, starting early on, invite openness. And remember, your kids will take their cues from you. If you act awkward whenever sex comes up, they'll learn to think of it as a taboo subject. Some parents like to wait until their kids come to them with questions, but waiting too long might mean running the risk they'll get their answers elsewhere.

  • Talk about pornography

  • Children can run across pornography as early as age 6 or 7, as reported by the New York Times, which cited interviews with parents who thought they were safe waiting until their children were older to get web filters or have the sex talk. Unfortunately, kids can access pornography quite easily these days. Sometimes all it takes is an errant click at the end of a My Little Pony video on YouTube. When this happens, it's important to answer any questions your children have and let them know they aren't in trouble for having accidentally seen it. Depending on your family's personal beliefs, you'll likely talk to them about morality and what your expectations for them are. The best option, of course, is to set up web filters before your children accidentally run across pornographic material. You can download apps like WebSafety, which alert you when your kids visit websites with flagged URLs or use search terms that might gain them access to pornography. Being aware of your children's activities will enable you to recognize potential risky behaviors and address them before real damage is done. And if you've been cultivating an open channel of communication between yourself and your child, it shouldn't be a big deal to talk to them when problems do arise.

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Katie Nielsen received her bachelor's in English with an emphasis in technical writing. She has taught English and is a published writer.

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