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Forget 'the talk' and start real conversations about sex

Sexual development is a natural biological process that everyone experiences. But how and when do we explain sex to our children?

In the past, parents would have "the talk" one time with their teen son or daughter and call it good. But that isn't as helpful or applicable in today's world. Instead, parents should initiate ongoing, fluid discussions that begin in childhood and carries into the teen years – where kids can ask questions and parents offer information in a non-judgmental and open manner. 

Here are some ways to start these conversations.

Begin with body parts. At a young age, most kids will begin to learn about their body parts, boy parts/girl parts. Maybe they watch mom or dad go to the bathroom, or take a bath with a sibling – all great avenues for engaging them in learning about the body and private places. Sex or sexual activity doesn't have to come into the conversation yet at this young age, but being matter of fact about body parts and not making it silly can set the stage for future ongoing discussions.  

Talk about touch. Young kids will touch themselves without knowing what they are doing because it feels good. Shame or guilt could stifle their sexual development and can cause difficulty with intimacy later in life. Saying something like, "This is something you can do in your own private bedroom or bathroom, not in public," will help children learn where the right place to experiment is with their own bodies. If you notice two young kids exploring with one another, you can step in and let them know that this is not something they are allowed to do with another person at their age, that it is a private thing they can do by themselves alone. Again, make sure it's not with too much emotion, shame or guilt. Help them learn that they are in control of their own bodies.

Follow your kid's lead. You'll know when your child is ready for more information about sex if he or she asks questions or makes comments (even if the child doesn't have a clue what he or she is talking about). Kids will hear things from other kids and repeat it. Some may even act things out. These are great opportunities to observe what your child is hearing and use it as a starting point for conversation. 

With the Internet and YouTube, kids likely see images or videos of things that they wouldn't normally. Many will not understand what they see and the internet should not be the primary source for their sex education.

Puberty does seem to start earlier than it used to for some kids, but we need to remember that even though they are physically appearing more mature, they are not necessarily more emotionally mature. Parents need to be comfortable talking about these issues and modify what and how they say things depending on the child's age.

Explain love. Based on your child's cognitive abilities, he or she may be ready earlier to learn how babies are made and how two people who love each other treat one another. This is a great time to talk about emotional love and physical love and how sex is supposed to be a beautiful act between two consenting adults.

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